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Carnival 2013

‘Don’t be played for a fool!’

Sunday, February 3 2013

A review at Kurt Allen’s ‘Political Sin-Phony’ by Shereen Ali

Kurt Allen’s 2013 song “Political Sin-Phony” is a political commentary set to a slow boiling rhythm, with hints of both Indian and African creolised music blending into the mix.

This satirical song may need a couple of listens before it sinks into you, and you realise that the song is not only biting, but would make for a good J’ouvert tune too. The song comments on our politics through the metaphor of an orchestra of “politician-musicians,” all trying to play a symphony. What they lack in style and talent, they compensate for in endurance: the bad music they make is as strong as sin. The result? A long-suffering audience, bamboozled by raucous, toxic noise, unable to think clearly.

The metaphor of politicians as fake musicians, conducting us all into some weird trance of belief, works well. Instead of taking place in an opera house, the scene for this bawdy symphony is an “Uproar House.”

Criticising political figures is a time-honoured theme in Trinidad calypso. Kurt Allen continues this tradition, channelling his cynicism at recent political happenings into images of Parl”liar”mentarians who orchestrate events to their own advantage. The “Political Sin-Phony” calypso, posted on Allen’s YouTube channel, has a little animation amplifying this idea: it shows a crude, burlesque gang of cardboard jokers who are all “conducting” events on a stage, in a lurid atmosphere of high melodrama.

Unlike calypso songs of yore, Allen’s political subtext is not very low-key or disguised; indeed, the message is up-front and centre-stage. The piece can be seen as a protest song: a call for public awareness of the political manipulation of citizens by those in power. In “Sin-Phony,” the messages of political duplicity and institutionalised corruption are conveyed with the insistence and tenacity of a relentless drumbeat, as Kurt Allen expands his observations. The song warns against the consequences of an unjust legal system in which major figures accused of crimes never seem to pay any consequences: “The system will always fail / Once the big fish not making jail.”

It is a very topical observation, given current (and past) events involving alleged crimes of big businessmen who have yet to be prosecuted after many years. No-one, it seems, is “making a jail,” or even coming close to being judged innocent or guilty.

If executive bandits can escape punishment, then bandits at street level may feel it’s open season. Although Allen never explicitly makes this link, the listener is free to speculate on such connections. Indeed, the line “The bandits see us as bait” might just as easily refer to white-collar bandits (“high class” criminals who steal millions) as blue-collar bandits (“lower class” criminals who do crime on a smaller, albeit more violent, scale).

Some images in “Sin-Phony” have an apt, succinct clarity. “Bridges replaced by gates”, for instance, concisely suggests how people’s natural desire to reach out and connect with each other can be slammed shut by the gates of fear, prejudice or mistrust.

No political party group seems exempt from Allen’s scathing indictment. The symphony of State is transformed into a “sin” of fake actors, a burlesque pappyshow which is a travesty of democratic ideals. The idea is echoed musically: at the end of the chorus, after the escalating, almost hysterical “Uproar-Uproar-Uproar” phrase, the melody, for just a moment, squashes slowly downwards like passed gas, as if to demonstrate this orchestra’s flatulent offerings.

Like serial killers, Kurt Allen’s “serial politicians” have a deep recidivist streak, singing the same old “heartless, dread songs” over and over.

In a calypso whose dominant mood is one of outrage and anger, it is only in the very last section that we find a little bit of gentle, silly humour:

“Well we have to repair the Speaker

It functioning like a Tweeter

Terrible acoustics

Causing feedback and static”

“Speaker” could mean a public talker, or a loudspeaker, or the presiding officer in a legislative assembly, or even the belief that any politician is just a flawed electromechanical device to emit distorted, high frequency sound - in short, a Loud (empty) Speaker. It’s up to you to decide. Now dat is Kaiso!

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