Update again (July 25th 2017): This story has been fast moving so this update may already be dated. But last I read, Queen Ivena was being told she had to either remove the ‘offensive’ lyrics or lose her spot in the semi-finals (which went by last weekend), and last I heard she opted for door number 2. This may be the last update as I don’t want to get too deeply in to this as this space belongs to Wadadli Pen (maybe at some point, I’ll write about it on my own blog), but the writer and journalist and free thinker in me is disturbed. It’s one thing for the PM to follow through on his threat to sue for defamation (though honestly I’ve heard calypsoes more scandalous than this one e.g. – this calypso did call names and I was a child but I remember adults lapping up each line). It’s quite another thing, if the reports are true, for the body responsible for staging the calypso show to deny a calypsonian access to the platform given to calypsonians to sing their song (in a matter that has not yet been ruled on in the courts, to the best of my knowledge). This seems to be a harder line than the Carnival Development Committee took in 2010 when, in response to legal action involving objectionable lyrics by another artist, it reportedly said, that it can only advise an artist not to sing the song, not compel them to. Banning an artist from the stage feels unprecedented (stand to be corrected on that but I remember, through the years, even artists banned from the radio got to have their say on the stage). If the court rules that libel or slander has been committed, that’s one thing (it’s a risk). But this precedent (i.e. the Festival Commission’s change your lyrics or else you won’t get to perform), once set, can potentially affect not only the single artist but the art form as a whole (the internal pressure calypsonians and writers in general then feel to not offend and how that then re-shapes what they produce and dilutes the role of the calypsonian and the artist in our society). This concerns me as a writer and as someone who through Wadadli Pen pushes the literary arts (among which this site has consistently counted calypso) as an avenue for expression.
Update: According to the Daily Observer newspaper, Saturday 15tth July 2017, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne has followed through on his threat to sue former Calypso Monarch Queen Ivena. “Queen Ivena was served on Thursday with a copy of the claim filed by Rika Bird & Associates on behalf of the Prime Minister,” according to the Paper. He reportedly claims severe injury to his character and reputation. The singer, based on the report, remains resolved not to change her lyrics (per his demand) as the song makes its way through the elimination rounds in the singer’s 2017 Calypso Monarch competition run.
At this writing, this posting of the song, ‘Nasty‘, is at over 7500 views and counting with majority up-votes/likes and user comments: e.g. “this is real calypso”.
A bit of context: There’s a calypso, by Antiguan and Barbudan Scorpion, which declares ‘Calypso go call Your Name’, and that has always been a hallmark of the art form, a folk music tradition that gained prominence as the voice of the people in a time when other platforms for free expression were not available. If you check our lyrics data base, you’ll see that speaking truth to power (via social and political commentary) is something calypso prides itself on. It does so via lyrical masking (symbolism, metaphor, pun, double entendre etc.). Just as often, though, names are called, and the cut is sharp and pointed. Ivena, who became, in 2003, the first female Monarch (as calypso is still a male dominated field), is the self-declared Razor Lady and has landed some cuts in the past. Usually politicians, often the villains of calypso, take it in stride, an alleged radio ban here or there, not to mention allegations of rigged calypso competitions; the chatter gets loud (to understand how loud you’d have to understand how topical Carnival is in season, across the Caribbean, summer in Antigua, and how intrinsic the voice of the calypsonian is to Carnival even with the popularity of soca), but lawsuits are rare. However, rare is not the same as never, and here we are. We try to stay out of politics here at Wadadli Pen, but we’ve covered calypso, an oral literary art form, on this site, including posting song lyrics, song writer credits, and artiste profiles, including this one on Ivena. It seems only right to share this local calypso battle, especially as it’s specifically over lyrics, and has now gained regional attention.
Antigua and Barbuda’s The Daily Observer reports on the possible legal battle between Prime Minister Gaston Browne and calypsonian Lena “Queen Ivena” Phillip if she does not change a line from her song, “Nastiness” [also known as “Nasty”]. The article does not quote the critical content, but you may check it out on YouTube. Queen […]
As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, With Grace, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved.