Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Shout to the Mighty Gypsy

An article about the (silly) flap over a commercial in which a White actor went into a "Be Happy" routine--racist?--annoyed me enough that I ran a quick search for one of the last bands whose cassettes my husband and I bought. Yes, they're still online. Those who can listen to videos may e-meet "Gypsy," the Calypso King of Trinidad and Tobago, here:

He's updated his name to "The Mighty Gypsy," perhaps as a tribute to an older performer known as The Mighty Sparrow, and the title has been updated to "Calypso Monarch" since 1997. Same guy. Here's the list of his greatest hits:

More about him, and how he got his Calypso Name. (Calypso used to be considered disreputable, thus singers traditionally performed under goofy stage names.)

A little more about his offstage life:

When my husband bought the tape featuring the smash hit "Little Black Boy," he'd never been in Gate City and didn't realize that I would want to share the cassette with George Peters (no relation). It is truly a great song. Apart from the coincidence that the Gypsy's legal name happens to be Peters too, another reason to share this particular song with this particular person was that Mr. Peters was a perfectionist about diction. Had to be; he'd suffered some hearing loss before becoming blind. So I thought he might appreciate the Gypsy's flawless, though exotic, diction.

A third reason was that, in addition to flawless diction and a great voice, in "Little Black Boy" Gypsy also had a radical message American "conservatives" ought to appreciate. (After seventy years of helpism, should responsibility be considered a pro-change, thus "liberal," idea?) The older Black man advises the "Little Black Boy" to "go to school and learn" and "show some concern," because "See who's the doctor...the banker...the lawyer...Look at the prison, see who's in there too." Every opportunity is out there for the little boy, including some undesirable ones.

The Limbaugh Show, which George Peters gave good marks on diction, had recently aired a calypso parody about "Rush Limbo," and we thought it really ought to have aired "Little Black Boy." This is a song everybody can love. If not otherwise keen on calypso, at least you can appreciate the one that got the performer crowned Calypso King, once.

Unfortunately, one of my in-laws made off with the cassette before we had a chance to send a copy to the Limbaugh Show.

Well, here's the article that set me off...

As noted there, this web site has discussed racism recently in two serious contexts: sickle cell anemia, a contributing factor to the overly-ballyhooed observation that some people of African descent are underachievers; and HUD "block grants" that single out "black and Hispanic families" as potential residents for low-income housing projects to be shoved into rural communities where low-income families are least likely to find jobs to get themselves out of low-income housing. Serious comments on racism should go there.

As far as consciously or unconsciously imitating accents, whether it's Bob Marley "being happy" or someone else's...I can only regret that Mike Opelka's audience, especially the unknown actor in the commercial, don't have access to a no-name homemade calypso tape my husband brought back from his 1997 visit to Trinidad. If they'd heard that tape, they'd know the tune that goes with what I recommend singing if and when you're accused of imitating any West Indian person, of any color, whose words or music you may feel moved to quote or imitate, however well or badly:

"Not Guilty! Shango say me talk like dee mahn! Shango say! Shango say!"