KING FIAH—MASTER OF POLITICAL SATIRE
By Vellie Nicholas-Benta
For the student of English exploring the literary arts, King Fiah’s In Your Face and Labour Win Again provide delightful listening. As a calypso adjudicator, and student of English, I was immediately drawn to the clever wordplay in both songs. The witty, satirical content is not only entertaining but characteristic of how very familiar, commonplace political and social commentary can be treated with a touch of creativity that adds certain freshness to the topic.
On many levels, both songs are emblematic of calypsos that carry the true spirit of calypso as a literary art form and an archive of social events. Both run the wide gamut of literary devices that include the metaphor, simile, hyperbole, exaggeration, satire, irony, sarcasm, the pun. In addition, exhibition of the ‘masking’ technique of mimicry sung tongue-in-cheek feature prominently.
Without a doubt, on Finals night King Fiah, true to the spirit and intent of Calypso, was the traditional Griot/storyteller and the vox populi (voice of the people)—the people’s newspaper, recorder of historical and socio-political events. It was with great ease, gentle teasing and masterful marksmanship that King Fiah mapped out the social and political landscape in words—satirical ‘memaylippy’ ‘drop words’ that spread out and exposed both sides of the political divide like a sheet! He did it like a boss…and even Massa smiled!
I must hasten to say that King Fiah’s mastery of mimicry in song is quite reminiscent of how our ancestors ridiculed Massa. The poking of fun at authority figures (satire) is very much alive in Fiah’s calypsos. He has definitely carved himself a place alongside the ‘men of letters’ with his literary flair in his compositions. Like the men of old who displayed their oratorical prowess when the governors or high ranking colonials visited, King Fiah exhibited his flair for subtle wordplay to an appreciative audience. The new Massas too, bobbed their heads in admiration of his skilful word play in song.
As a calypso adjudicator, I firmly believe that the calypsonian still has relevance as the voice of the people despite the changes in society and Calypso will always mirror whatever society exists! I am convinced that the calypso has the potential to function as a kind of ‘talk-back’ or ‘las’ lick’ to new Massas who have replaced the colonials.
IN YOUR FACE
This calypso, from start to finish, teases crafty wordplay in the judges’ faces in an almost obscene manner—deliberately, provokingly, daringly!
Here, King Fiah demonstrated his role as the conscience of the people as he, with subtlety, wit and humour, described the revellers’ display of debauchery and vulgarity on the streets. Juxtapose that with the colonials’ fetishizing of Black bodies and Black music, we can infer a sense of disgust and disapproval of such behaviour. King Fiah’s In Your Face is a telling narrative of a once proud people who now validates the colonial Massa’s view of us as being only ‘bodies’ with no soul. “Itsy-bitsy brassiere and panty…cobweb bikini is how they play mas’ nowadays”.
In his usual tongue-in-cheek manner, he incorporates local colour and local parlance with unmatched dexterity of language. “Carnival spellbound”, “everything shell dung” is a topic/thesis statement of sorts—an introduction to a state-of-the- festival address. “Itsy-bitsy anything goes, Festival Office rip off Carnival clothes” and “Festival Office in your face, outta place” provide adequate support to the compelling opener. The scathing, satirical indictment of the powers that be is remarkable! And the imagery, rhyming and meticulous phrasing are all commendable.
LABOUR WIN AGAIN
When political satire is craftily penned and the calypsonian delivers it with great mastery, the result is pleasurable. King Fiah’s Labour Win Again can easily cop the prize as Most Creatively penned calypso for 2018. As political satire infused with a healthy dose of humour, wit, irony, exaggeration, and sarcasm, Labour Win Again demonstrates King Fiah’s rise above mediocrity in writing. Transforming commonplace political events into a literary work of art is the mark of excellence. The masterful infusion of local parlance with scathing political satire is exhilarating! I declare that King Fiah is on his way to earning the title of ‘stand-up comedian of calypso’ with his poker-faced renditions.
The uninspired lyricist would have written, “Labour won 15 to 1 against the opposition.” King Fiah writes: “…quarter past one, de tief in de night come,” as he cleverly weaves into this an election utterance made popular by a prominent political figure. “Mout’ open, teeth drop out” is another incorporation of local colour as evidenced by an unfortunate electioneering incident. “Call Pastor Paul for prayer…” pokes fun at the opposition whilst giving a glimpse into local lore.
The intense wordplay in Labour Win Again is undeniably impressive.
Having had the privilege of deliberating on the judging panel in both preliminaries and finals, I declare, unapologetically, that both compositions are praiseworthy. The pleasure was mine to assess those two pieces. Sadly, despite such culturally uplifting work by Calypso artistes like King Fiah, the Festivals Office’s demotion of Calypso in favour of Soca has struck a sensitive chord in the core of my being. I agree wholeheartedly with King Fiah that the “Festivals Office is outta place and in our face!” Hopefully, King Fiah’s 2019 Calypso adventure will employ political satire that effectively deconstructs/dismantles the animal farm built on political tribalism. A George Orwell of Calypso is not farfetched.
~~That itsy-bitsy $30,000
Brands calypsonians as a dime a dozen
An act of high treason
Void of rhyme and reason
A surety that the coming carnival season
Will find Festivals Office safe and sound in calypso prison.
—Vellie Nicholas-Benta, Calypso Adjudicator/Writer/Social commentator