The raging debate now taking place on the merits and demerits of one of the Burning Flames’ offerings for Carnival has become somewhat of a staple. The Flames have provided fodder for the critics almost from inception. They appear to be the group that others like to hate for more than one reason.
This time round is no different. Their latest contender for most popular song of the season has stirred quite a firestorm.
In recent times, the Carnival songs, especially the ones which are contenders for the Road March title, have spawned much controversy for, more often than not, the sexually explicit lyrics need no interpretation.
It can be argued that this is nothing new. Calypsos intended to provoke revelry and dance have always leaned towards the risqué and the off colour. However, the new versions have pushed the button much further than it has ever gone before, and in the case of Kicking een she back doh’ has raised the ire of many.
A woman’s advocacy group has gone as far as to demand that the song be banned, while another says not so. This song is worse than no other.
It is noteworthy, though, that amidst the voices clamouring for the banning of this particular song, are those who advise caution, seeing the dangers inherent in such a move.
We, at OBSERVER Media, consider the banning of any song a backward step and a blow to freedom of expression. We have fought too long and hard for the right of individuals to express themselves freely to now have an about face and to advocate for the stifling of expression.
However, we take seriously our responsibility to this society and staunchly refuse to air songs which glorify violence or bigotry of any sort. Annually we put together a team of individuals who vet the artistes’ renditions and if any fails the litmus test of decency we refuse to air these. This year we made the decision not to play a few on account of this.
We welcome the debate currently taking place. We see in it an opportunity for the citizenry to examine their values, to determine what is appropriate or what is not. We welcome the views from the left and the right. We understand the disgust felt in some quarters when a song can be perceived as encouraging violence in its extreme form. We also empathise with the view that once on the slippery slope to censoring where will it all end?
We hold no quarter with the observation that it is Carnival, the time of year where virtually anything goes. Studies have shown the power of music to sway even the most hardened. We would hate to have to write stories of men having done what they are being urged to do in the song.
The fact that the performer is claiming that his sales have soared since the contretemps is indeed an eye opener. Banning songs serves no useful purpose. Counter culture always induces a following like nothing else will.
Like almost everything in life, it boils down to individual choice. We can choose to listen or not to listen. We can decide if we will allow our children to gyrate in the streets to a song whose words convey the worst in human behaviour. It is up to society to determine the values we wish to pass on to the young.
We have as examples the dancehall culture, which has spawned an entire counter culture. Jamaica, where it originated, has had to institute a Broadcast Commission whose role is to determine which of the myriad songs competing for airplay are fit for public consumption. Perhaps the time is right for Antigua & Barbuda to take this particular leaf from the Jamaican experience.
The organisers of the festival might wish to examine their responsibility, especially to the children who are an integral part of Carnival. Many of those who were most vocal in their condemnation of the song were parents.
Meantime, there is nothing to be gained by this beating of our breast every year the annual summer festival comes around. The origin of Carnival dates back to Greek mythology, which has its roots in the god of wine, Bacchus. Carnival, even at its most exotic, is a glorification of the flesh. To pretend otherwise is foolishly naïve.