‘Children are Gift’ heads to La Puerta
November 7, 2018
Purgatory – purified ‘in between’
November 7, 2018

Shadow – a man beyond his time

The Mighty Shadow. Photo source: myvuenews.com

By Fr Martin Sirju

Winston McGarland Bailey aka The Mighty Shadow was the philosopher-calypsonian par excellence. A cultural critic, too. The Church never paid much attention to him. To David Rudder, yes. Not him. A sign that he was a man beyond his time and the Carnival judges hardly got him right—they did eventually when Rudder remarked, “The people correct Shadow papers” the night he won the Calypso Monarch crown in 2000.

Shadow is perhaps most known, even by children, for his classic,Bass Man’. Theologically, it is a reflection on vocation. No seminarian worth his salt should enter seminary without a bass man in his head. A vocation echoes the prophet Jeremiah: “Lord you seduced me and I allowed myself to be seduced.”

Shadow’s way of translating that is “a bass man in mih head”. Jesus had a bass man in his head too, otherwise he would not have shrugged off his family when they sent a message saying they wanted to see him, when he called Herod “that fox” or made Pilate feel small by telling him he was powerless over him.

All calypsonians have a “bass man in dey head” to some extent. However, a bit too often they allow political patronage and prejudice to hamper the haunting sound of the bass.

Shadow’s classic philosophical bard ‘Poverty is Hell’ reflects his own experience of growing up poor, and spending nights on benches in parks in Port of Spain. How far removed from this are the lives of most priests. Too often the Church portrayed morality disconnected from its socio-economic context.

If we want people to be more moral, help raise their standard of living and level of education. There is a kind of moral darkness rooted in poverty that creates its own world of grey that becomes difficult to judge with conventional moral codes.

Shadow invites us to see the poverty, to experience the hell, and discover as the elders have long said, “heaven and hell right here”.

His external demeanor, oscillating as it were between the skulls of Golgotha and the cemeterian abode of Kali, reminds us we have not reflected enough on “dark theology”, especially given our violent Caribbean history.

His black cape, midnight robber hat, unkempt hair, black skin, unconventional topics all resonate with the theologically unconventional, places we do not like to go, like where we find a naked man bleeding on a cross, relegated a fool and a criminal, and a naked woman who cannot be controlled by her husband, who shouts wildly, and lets her hair all hang out. They represent those who cannot be silenced and those brave enough to risk death while speaking truth to power.

Shadow waxed philosophically again when he spoke of “ole age eh have no remedy”. In ‘Scratch Meh Back’ he explores the vulnerability of old age. It was his version of the folk wisdom “once a man, twice a child”.

He tackled culture again when he spoke of the moral crisis in relationships not only occasioned by the lack of money but the lack of proper judgement. This hilariously serious composition exposed the precariousness of love when considerations of money and education are not brought into the wider discourse and experience of romance—“Somebody go horn yuh!”. Here he establishes a wonderful line of continuity with Sparrow’sNo Money No Love’ and ‘Education’.

Back in 2000, he confronted the world with ‘What Wrong With Me’—an immaculate piece on a philosophy of being. He looks at himself with an Augustinian self-scrutiny and wonders at the prejudice and lack of appreciation.

Every president, every prime minister, every religious leader, every business elite must ask himself that question—what wrong with me? I’m sure they’ll find plenty.

Caribbean leadership needs to address what wrong with me?—the hidden insecurities and jealousies that prevent us from having a Caribbean Court of Appeal.

Ironically, Shadow was alluding not so much to what was wrong with him but what wrong with dem?—those who judge others by their externals: how they look, where they live, their colour, ethnicity, sexuality and, as he himself mentions in this age of vagrancy, how they smell.

‘What Wrong With Me’ is a searing critique of social media, too, with its explosion of fake news and fake people. We are who the world wants us to be, Naipaulian self-haters, fabricated virtual identities. And topping Google Trends per capita for internet pornography for more than a year in a row, something really wrong with us.

But my favourite is ‘Conscience’, a theological/ethical appraisal of conscience from the man who would have preferred to plant peas in Tobago.

Here he touches on the most sacred part of the human person, where it is either himself speaking to himself (Spoiler) or himself speaking to God. It is because of a disregard of conscience formation that the highly educated have turned from irresponsible to “unresponsible”.

In a most ingenious move, instead of having his conscience beating him he wants to “beat up mih conscience” … “if my conscience was something I could see, I would beat my conscience mercifully, I would dump it out in the sea or give it to somebody.”

But God intends man to deal with his conscience. And it is because priests and bishops didn’t do so, we weep bitterly over the abuse of children and the abuse of authority.