Q: Archbishop J, what is the greatest threat to our democracy?
I believe the greatest threat to our democracy is that we have become a nation of sleepers. Pause for a moment and think of this statement. When was the last time you heard a great political commentary Calypso—one that spoke to the heart and soul of our nation?
When last did we have a national figure who gave himself or herself above and beyond, for the sake of the nation—without counting the self-benefit? When last did you see a Carnival band that fired your imagination and invited you to dream big and get excited about Trinidad and Tobago?
A trauma response
If, looking back over the last five years, you cannot say when to any of these questions, then I am afraid I may be correct. We have become a nation of sleepers.
In 1991, the year after the Muslimeen coup led by Abu Bakr, some like calypsonian David Rudder kept pushing at our consciousness with his ‘1990’ and ‘Hoosay’ compositions.
Others turned to avoidance and the banal in their Calypsos that year. Super Blue came out with ‘Get Something and Wave’, a major Soca song that lacked political commentary in which the singer issued commands, followed mindlessly by the crowd.
That same year, Colin Lucas sang ‘Dollar Wine’, a song about the art of wining and teaching a foreigner to wine. In the song Lucas says, “money is the root of all evil”. The student, a foreign woman, asks for big money wine and she is facilitated. “Dollar, dollar, dollar, dollar” is the chant moving the wine from an art of dancing to a thrusting of the pelvis and thus to the lewd and the crude—so we went.
Also, in1991, Black Stalin won the Calypso Monarch title with two songs, ‘Ah Feel to Party’, his big tune for the year, and ‘Look on the Bright Side’. This completely fitted the mood of the nation.
‘Ah Feel to Party’ was a turn to the romantic and the rekindling the relationship between husband and wife in the face of all the stifling householder chores. There was a need to lighten up and not take things so seriously. I remember the song and cheered when Stalin won. It completely suited the mood of the nation.
The fact is, however, Stalin signalled a shift from social commentary to rekindling relationships. As the song said: “Leave we worries at the doorsteps; for that we have no time.”
If the song is read as metaphor for the nation, then the weight of nationhood was too heavy in 1991. We just had to have some fun. Was this a shift to escape? Or was this a shaman pointing the nation to necessary healing? I believe we took the escape and did not work on the relationship.
His second big tune was ‘Look on the bright side’. This song was advice to look at the bright side and not dwell on all the pain—failure or challenges that we were facing.
While it never mentioned the nation, it certainly spoke to the soul of a broken and bruised nation that had its innocence shattered. The tone was one of mentoring and giving assurance that we will be okay—“the bright side is where we going”; it was encouragement without any analysis or steps towards a way forward.
This was the beginning of the turn to what I call the sleepers. It happens so often in a post-traumatic situation like we faced after 1990. Calypso, which usually interpreted the social, cultural, and political events, turned to soothing, encouraging, and entertaining with Soca dominating the art form for the next few years.
I have often said, once dollar wine turned to big money wine for the US dollar, we lost the plot in sweet Trinidad and Tobago. In 1996, David Rudder would do a critique of this turn with his song ‘Tyrone’, a tie-tongue Soca artiste who was trying to say, “free up yu hand”. What came out was, “pee up yu hand”. As Rudder says: “Two fellows misunderstand and dey do themselves a disgrace, dey had to use the same nasty hand to cover dey face, as de crowd start to laugh them out of the place.”
Although Rudder tries to get Tyrone to sing about the social issues of the day, he was hell bent on the frenetic and the banal.
By turning towards the soothing and entertaining, and big money, our artistes led us to the present culture, which has lost its cutting-edge social commentary and capacity to heal the nation.
There were a few voices in the wilderness, e.g., Rudder, Chalkdust, Singing Sandra, and others, who kept pushing at our consciousness. We willingly turned to mindlessness, entertainment, big money, and pleasure.
Jesus gives us two states that we can live in—either we are awake, or we are sleepers: “Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened by debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life… Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to hold your ground before the Son of man” (Lk 21:34, 36).
The Desert Fathers of the Church saw spirituality as staying awake, the opposite to sleeping which was manifested by “debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life”.
Look again at our beautiful nation. Consider the multiplication of parties that are now orgies. Look at the multiplication of the Carnival events that have no clothes. Look at the costumes for 2023. It is nakedness. We are all exposed.
Look at the pursuit of money at any cost.
The trauma of two years of lockdown has kicked us into a reaction of deeper sleep. Look at the challenge of the many families without work, food, or money. Look at the murder rate that is climbing to astronomical heights. Consider the high rates of domestic violence and the constant challenge of corruption to do normal business in Trinidad and Tobago.
The text says: “your hearts will be coarsened”, i.e., it will be made hard, you will lose the capacity for compassion and feeling. Look at the condition of the sleepers: hearts coarsened by debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life. That describes all too well the road that we have taken—over-stimulation by sex, drugs and alcohol and making money.
What we are facing in Trinidad and Tobago is not just a trauma response, it is a spiritual malady. By turning to pleasure, numbing by drugs and alcohol, and the pursuit of money, we have made these our highest goods—read God.
So much of our present condition can now be seen much more clearly. We are in a spiritual crisis and do not perceive the danger to ourselves, our children and grandchildren, and the nation.
Nah! We much, much better than this! We must beg God to wake us up—to wake up our artistes, leaders, our families and so wake up the nation. This requires significant grace from God and work from us. This is a turn from escape to reworking relationships in this nation so we might find the “bright side”.
Key Message: We have fallen asleep spiritually and coarsened our hearts with debauchery, drunkenness, and the cares of this world.
Action Step: If you recognise yourself or your family in this, turn to God and beg for the grace of repentance and turn back to God.
Scripture Reading: Lk 12:34–36; Acts 16:29–34
Photo by Abdülkadir Vardi on Unsplash