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Chalkie: Put the craft back into smut

Michelle Loubon
Trinidad and Tobago Guardian
5th Jun 2009

Reigning 2009 National Calypso Monarch
Dr Hollis Liverpool.
Dr Hollis Liverpool, fondly known as Chalkdust, is best known for his cleverly crafted satire in kaiso. In 2009, My Heart and I gave him his eighth Dimanche Gras crown. Recently, Liverpool, who is also Associate Professor of History at the University of T&T, gave another glimpse into his character. Liverpool showed his appreciation and knowledge of smut. It took the form of a lecture-Smut in Calypso: From Immorality and Jamette Behaviour to Creativity and Craft-at Nalis Library, Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain.
Before launching into smut, Liverpool remembered his days as a student at St Mary's College, Pembroke Street, Port-of-Spain.
He said a priest told the class, "History is for big people. This lecture is history and it is for big people." He defined smut as a term given to songs, that, devoid of the figures of speech to hide the sexual content that is contained within the lines, may be considered to be obscene and even immoral. The gist of Liverpool's paper was while smut started off as lyrics equated with immorality and jamette behaviour, calypsonians, in time, turned the lyrics into a genre of calypso that was characterised by creativity and craft.
He said one of the chief reasons for people's aversion was "smut deals mainly with sex and for most people singing about matters of sex in public is not in keeping with the dignity of the human being." "Sex itself is a very personal and private act, designed by God for the reproduction of the human race," added Liverpool. Quoting anthropologist JD Elder, he noted in the pre-Emancipation era, women sang the smut and the men concentrated mainly on songs of boast and pomp. When he traced smut's origins, he found "most cultural traits of the enslaved African, such as calypso, the stickfight and Carnival, can be traced to the West African forefathers who deposited such traits on the plantation during the era of the African slave trade."
Rejection of smut
More importantly, Liverpool discovered unless smut calypso is craftily constructed, it would be rejected by the calypso lovers of today. "It would seem singers do not understand how to create smut anymore. "Many of today's singers lack the craft needed for the creation of good smut," added Liverpool.
He also shared Barbados Nation's view that today's artistes "do not have a command of the English language. It is a reflection of the failure of the education system." Liverpool added: "The evidence suggests unless smut calypso is craftily constructed, it will be rejected by the calypso lovers of today." But all was not lost. "The answer lies in education," he said. He paid kudos for UTT's plans to award performing artistes with diplomas and certificates.
More evidence for smut decline
Chalkdust quoted Express columnist Raffique Shah, who noted in 2009 the reason for the decline in good smut was the fact that today's singers lacked the craft needed for the creation of good smut.
"Today's singers lack the craft of leaving the vice to the listeners' heads and the melody," he said. Shah also suggested the quality of today's double entendre was below standard.
In the newspaper article Soca music and moral decadence, Dr Kwame Nantambu made the point that calypsonians who tried to sing smut were "lewd, explicit and immoral," and they exhibited "vulgar, pelvic-gyrating behaviour." He pointed out that in Sparrow's Mae Mae and Kitchener's Sugar Boom Boom, the women did not lose their humanity. "They were treated with respect...when you reach home gie yuh man some," said Sparrow. In 2009, Newsday columnist Marion O'Callaghan also made the point, "in good calypsoes sex was veiled."