Tag Archives: freedom

Calypso Battle

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 […]

via “Queen Ivena” gets ready for battle — Repeating Islands

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.

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Congrats, Dr. Lightfoot…Troubling Freedom Launches

“We don’t treat our Haitian brothers and sisters the way we should based on the price they paid for us to even imagine freedom.” – Natasha Lightfoot speaking at the launch of her book Troubling Freedom: Antigua and the Aftermath of British Emancipation January 2nd 2015 at the Public Library.

Troubling Freedom

Dr. Lightfoot signs copies of Troubling Freedom at the launch event organized by the Friends of Antigua Public Library. (Photo by Barbara Arrindell of the Best of Books/Do not use without permission and credit)

Dr. Lightfoot was speaking of our Haitian brothers and sisters, the very ones who imagined freedom, fought for and won it, in the process showing all still in bondage what was possible. The opening of that window of possibility – where enslavement was not the pre-destined fate for every African in the Western world – is something, she suggested, for which Haiti is still paying (beyond the reparations they were forced, in the ultimate example of historical irony, to pay to France, their colonizers).

Haiti was not the theme of her presentation but, in the free ranging discussion that followed the introduction of her book, she referenced it as the most significant rebellion/revolution of its kind in the west, perhaps globally, for its time. I reference it here as an introduction to what I believe to be the theme of her book (as yet unread) that after freedom the real work of being free, in a society not built to accommodate the idea of you as a human be-ing, much less a human free-ing, began. Sitting there in the too hot room on a Saturday afternoon, one had the sense the discussion could go on for some time as everything she said opened up another area of inquiry, certainly in this attendee’s mind.

When she spoke of the Moravians and how they provided social stability for roughly 50 percent of the newly freed while at the same time using the stability they offered to ensnare them, obligate them, control them not caring for the consequences to the actual lives of the people beyond their obedience to the rules of belonging, that raised questions about the role of the church in society. When she drew parallels between tourism and sugar, that potentially opened a whole kettle of fish among a people still uneasy with the implication of tourism being everybody’s business when that business and the profits thereof are owned by a few. My own question – unanswered due to lack of time – was prompted by her comment about the patterns of violence within the black family post-slavery; and it had to do with how much of the psychic damage of slavery and colonialism is still with us – what if any progress has been made toward healing.

Like many there, I left the gathering eager to read the book which quickly sold out, prompting on site book seller, the Best of Books, to take orders.

Someone raised the question of whether the book would be taught in our schools – this was met with skepticism as the history taught in our schools, still, is rarely about us as written by us.

Though I haven’t read it, I daresay, just on the strength of the discussion, the scope and breadth and accessibility of Dr. Lightfoot’s responses, that if the tone of the book reflects anything of this engagement, it would be a welcome addition.

For more on Dr. Lightfoot’s Troubling Freedom: Antigua and the Aftermath of Emancipation, published by Duke University Press, and, for that matter, for more on other books of Antiguan and Barbudan history, visit our non-fiction listing.

Natasha and Brenda

Dr. Lightfoot, right, with Brenda Lee Browne, former Wadadli Pen judge. Photo by Barbara Arrindell of the Best of Books. Not to be re-used without permission and credit.

The event was held at the Public Library and I do hope that the Library will take the strong and responsive turnout as a sign that the community is hungry for more of this type of thing; and eager to see the library become a cultural hub in Antigua and Barbuda. I know I am, and I know we can.


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, Fish Outta Water, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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Latumba and Liberation: an Independence Reflection

It’s Independence season as I post this, the 32nd anniversary of our Independence here in Antigua and Barbuda to be exact; and for some reason I’m in the mood for Latumba, that hoarse-voiced calypsonian of my early childhood. I think you’ll see why.

Culture must be Free is my all time favourite Latumba song. Perhaps because as a writer/an artiste, I aspire to live up to this ideal: “…I go sing what I see, I go mirror society, culture must be free, they can’t muzzle me”. Perhaps because of the poignancy of his perfectly imperfect voice and the potency and defiance in sentiments like “my heart cannot buy it, my conscience reject it” as he sang of offers to sell his soul for success. I related to this even before I knew/understood what it meant and to this day it breaks my heart the ease with which we and our leaders, and some of our calypsonians, sell our souls (and sell out our country) for a mess of pottage – short term returns at the expense of our long term sovereignty. In my imagination, Latumba, certainly the persona he projected in this narrative was above all that and one can hear the outrage in his voice as he sings of how “they lock teachers up in prison, and they beat them up without reason, innocently keep them in jail, and like slaves they refuse them bail…”. In that moment, what he’s saying to me is that some things are not for sale, certainly not his artiste soul. And “they don’t even bound to play my songs on none of them two radio station” – such a petulant sounding turn of phrase isn’t it? You can almost hear the childish “humph!” at the tail end of it and the childlike certainty of a world of right and wrong. Though I now understand that the world is all kinds of grey, the moral high ground that this song occupies is strangely appealing, certainly when it comes to the aspirations of freedom and fairness that are at the heart of our striving for Independence…and lately reparations.

The Love I Lost (which begins at 3:55) is perhaps my second favourite of his social commentaries, in part because there’s a memory at the edge of my memory of us kids acting out, in the way we play acted out the songs then, the “Papa stand up, Mama stand up, Sister stand up, and Brother stand up; we have got to unite, unite and fight, fight to regain what is our birthright”. Listening to it now, I realize it romanticizes some of our history, presenting Africa before our enslavement as a kind of Eden (where we lived in contentment and knew no fear and suffered no divisions tribal or otherwise). And while I understand that it was not perfect (nowhere is), it was our home and we were taken from it and it from us to such a degree that many of us still reject it and in some ways it returns the favour. What I appreciate about the song all these years later is how concisely and completely it narrates the history of what leaving did to us: “Then one day, we had to leave, for we were made slaves, yes we were made slaves, my country was conquered my people were captured, my sister was raped, my brother was raped. Then these proud people from that land so far which every body now knows is Africa, we were made to toil in the burning heat, in the sugar cane in the Caribbean…we were chained, chained and whipped, when we were tired, when we were tired. There was no rest, only our sweat to quench our thirst and wounds when we hurt… these proud people …have been brought to shame…have lost their country and have lost their name…” That rasp in his voice and the sadness it achingly captures (as he speaks not only of us who were taken but of those who stayed and were yet colonized while our continent was mined of all her riches, reminding us in doing so that we are part of the same family and part of the same struggle) will make you weepy if you let it…and especially if you consider how lost we still are 179 years into our Emancipation, 62 years into universal adult suffrage, 32 years into Independence.

Then there is Independence in which Latumba calls on Wadadli to arise (i.e. wake up, stand up not just exist “while all around us, the times are changing; men are determined to rise above their present status”).

“With our hearts and hands as one, our conviction must be strong, with a passion for the glory of our land,” he sang. How  have we forgotten this?

“The road may be dark, things may not be the way we’d like them to be, but let us push on, let us try,” he urged. How have we lost this sense of purpose?

I say this because while I know many of us love Antigua and Barbuda deeply, we can be too complacent and too motivated to fight for party over country when in reality no matter which party is in power this is our country; red or blue, her fate is our collective fate.

On Liberate Your Mind, Latumba begins, “how can we be liberated when we are so confused? This country is so divided; there are so many, many different views…shouting blame and crying shame, we all are guilty just the same”.

He urges us to liberate our mind and “rise to the occasion and demonstrate to the world that we all are one; that we in this little country could live in love and harmony, working for prosperity, prosperity, for you and me.”

Is this still too idealistic an ambition? Perhaps, there will always be differences of opinion and there’s nothing wrong with that (it’s desirable, even; checks and balances and all that) but we’ve seen how, as Latumba said, intractability can cripple the State (we saw it just recently with the government shut down in America, a pass to which our young democracy has not yet come …so perhaps things are not that dark). But at our worst wouldn’t it be nice if we could keep in mind that our common purpose is the forward movement of Antigua and Barbuda?

On a literary front, I love how these songs are constructed to tell us a story, make us feel, make us think, stimulate in us a desire to …move beyond who and where we are. It’s powerful writing in my view. And even if you throw out all the Independence (registration, and pre-election, and reparation) fuelled musings worth a listen just as words and music. There’s one other Do You Get the Picture that I’d love to listen to again and maybe share but Latumba’s music is hard to find.

Let’s end on an upbeat note, shall we; Latumba after all was well loved for his road march tunes like Carnival in LA, Supajam and…

Hit Man which not only made us dance (“when my music play, see them break away”) but served notice that small axe can chop down (or aspire to chop down anyway) big tree or the big three like Swallow and Short Shirt (“your time is up, I deeply regret”) and a country man can set the town on fire:

“They say I can’t dance
They say I can’t sing
They wanted to push me ’round
But just like a swarm of honey bee
Sweet and stinging I started singing


For Latumba’s discography, go here.

As with all content (words, images, other) 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, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, are okay, lifting content (words, images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright. 

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Posts Inspired by Emancipation

Bob Marley once sang “emancipate yourself from mental slavery…” a reminder that the march to freedom which began (in a legal sense) for Antiguans and Barbudans on Emancipation Day, August 1st 1834, remains a work in progress. Each year since 2007, Antigua and Barbuda detours a little from the Carnival celebrations (which pays, at best, a passing nod to the reason for the bacchanal). That detour usually takes us to Betty’s Hope for Watch Night. Betty’s Hope is an old sugar estate and we are watching and waiting as we imagine the ancestors (those who had some foreknowledge that freedom was coming) did. This year our first stop was Sea Breeze for (an all local) dinner,

Photo courtesy Akua Ma'at

Photo courtesy Akua Ma’at

sweet jazz music (courtesy Roland Prince), spoken word (a little history from Joy Lawrence – interviewed recently in a Wadadli Pen exclusive), and more spoken word (a powerful speech from featured speaker Mickel Brann). The latter is the first thing I want to share with you as it stimulated much introspection, discussion, and poetry. It begins:

“In a village in the small island of Antigua, big sister to Barbuda, an elder dons his dashiki and attends a town-hall meeting.

He’s there to listen to a lecture about reparations by Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.

He joins the usual crowd, all of whom beat the drums literally and figuratively. They acknowledge the tragedy, the dehumanization that was 400 years of chattel slavery and the residual effects 200 years after its abolition. These effects range from matters temporal to spiritual, physical and psychological, political and economic.

Around that same time, not day but by period, on a radio station that boasts as one of its taglines listen and learn, a female guest host, a regular staple of the show on which she is featured, roundly dismisses Watch Night, what it symbolizes, its aim and objectives and those who fan that flame.

As far as the host is concerned, slavery is long gone and it is pointless to return to any place to honour the ancestors, reflect on their sacrifices and their struggle and how that has shaped or, perhaps, misshaped descendants and other people’s view of them.

In her words, “if I were a slave and I got my freedom, why would I want to return to any place to talk about slavery?” In other words, forget, because remembering is of no useful value.

And the near silence of the callers who are usually vocal on any and every matter is maddeningly deafening.” READ THE ENTIRE Watch Night Speech final

We couldn’t stop talking about the night, the group of us who went together, or, as it happens, writing about it; a reminder that inspiration is all around and within us, in the reality of our past and the uncertainty about our future, and everything in between. For me, as we drove in caravan into Betty’s Hope, I had an inkling of something that I couldn’t grasp; the ancestors’ presence is strong on this night but we’ve moved so far away from them sometimes it’s difficult to hear. Brenda Lee Browne heard them enough to access what they might have been making of the spectacle we made:

“Did you hear them as they stood in the shadows wondering who are the people who look like us, yet smell like Massa on a Sunday morning.

Did you hear them whispering to the Earth Mother to bring their lost souls home

Did you hear the laughter as they looked at our clothes, too new, too well made, undefined by family, lineage or village and so many bare heads and covered breasts

Did you hear the wailing as a spirit connected with an ancestor standing before the fire and yet, could not understand all that is being sung

Did you hear the low music as voices mingled with the rustling of the trees as the ancestors gave thanks that at least they are visited and drums, the drums told them that not all is not lost “

Akua MaatAkua Ma’at, best dressed in the night’s best African dress contest by the way, also wrote as the conversation continued. She wrote:

“You are here!…even now! You never left and you, here, overwhelm my tiny-fraction-of-you spirit. And I want to know …want to feel… just what you felt that night 179 years ago? Did you lie awake willing the dawn of freedom to come swiftly or did you pass your last hours suspended between this world and the one your ancestors comforted you from? What did you feel baba? Was it hope? Did you know, remember, how to hope? What did you do that night mama? Were you raped, again?…the arrogant’s reminder that freedom would mean little for you. Did the cat-o-nine caress you that day?…the flesh peeled from your back as the skin off a too-ripe finger rose, desperately clinging to its source but powerless to prevent separation. What did you think? What did you feel? Did you dare feel…anything… that night?”

I have one more share. It’s not from someone I was with that night as we reflected but from someone who was moved to share after I posted on Watch Night on facebook (and if that post only attracted half as many likes as my other much more trivial post that night, then perhaps this share is  reminder that it’s not the volume but the depth of feeling that matters in the end).

Waiting by Junie Webson

Stamped on this land of my birth
Is my reckoning with time.

Sitting at the water’s edge,
I made this day mine,
By wading through the rifts of time.

Trying to connect with my past
I coded my lineage.
Lost to me is my ancestral home.

Like the dancers under the stick
Bending lower,
My heritage sits in limbo. ( It maybe emancipation day but we are still waiting)

Do you sense a common thread in these pieces (Mickel’s speech to Junie’s poem)?…perhaps a call not to become remain complacent? an acknowledgment that freedom (in all the ways we can be free) still coming but we’ve got to work at it?

Happy Emancipation Day (belatedly).

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