Letters & Opinion

Torturing Culture

Image of David Prescod
By David Prescod

AS we discussed the pruning of government expenditure, someone suggested that if government were to be truly looked at as a business then the first division to be shut down would be that of the Ministry of Education.

We must, of course, educate our children. Except that we are not doing so and we have known that for at least the last 20 years. Upwards of 60% of our children leave school without a secondary education and we know from the CXC results that nearly 50% of them can barely read and write or understand mathematics.

According to the 2017 Common Entrance results, the cut-off scores for entry to the AnseGer and Gros Islet secondary schools were 17.67% in the case of AnseGer, and 13.67% in the case of Gros Islet. For Gros Islet, the maximum score of an entry student was 49.67% so that, in effect, none of the children entering the Gros Islet Secondary School obtained a passing grade. There are at least six more secondary schools with similarly low cut-off entry requirements.

We take this opportunity to congratulate the Ministry of Education for designating the AnseGer and Gros Islet secondary schools as Centres of Excellence in the Arts, and in Sports, respectively, and for offering those children some hope.

We also salute the OECS/USAID-funded Early Learners Programme geared at improving literacy skills of kindergarten to Grade 3 students, and hope that the next step may be to address maternal care and parenting education.

But while the Ministry of Education is targeting excellence in the Arts and Culture as an avenue for our young people, the Ministry of Culture is adopting a different approach and recently told our current providers of excellence in the arts that they had to fund their own way to Carifesta. What message does this send to our potential secondary school artistes?

Then, the Minister of Culture indicated that Government would be paying her way to the event as she had never been and so would have an opportunity to learn. There are two things wrong with this, as while no one would object to the Minister travelling with the delegation, this should be as a demonstration of Government’s support and commitment to culture. That support was not in evidence.

The second thing wrong is that while the Senator has a track record of involvement with sports, she now leads a Ministry, Culture, where, by her own admission, she has to learn. Artistes should not be required to sacrifice for their Minister’s education and if the Government wished to have representation at Carifesta even while promoting austerity, then that representation should have come from within the Cultural Development Foundation.

Things are even more convoluted as the Ministry of Tourism is now promoting a “Soleil Festival” which relies on cultural and musical events to entice tourists to visit. But if the Ministry of Culture is itself not promoting the development of the arts, where are the artistes for the future “Soleil Festivals” to come from?

It gets worse, as in creating this “Soleil Festival”, its designers seem to have completely forgotten the existence of the La Rose and La Marguerite festivals, yet they have included a “Country & Western and Blues” event. So now we have the Government of St. Lucia endorsing “Country & Western”, an aspect of a foreign cultural industry which developed and persists with strong racist undertones, and promoting this legacy as our cultural heritage.

If this sounds harsh, consider the backlash to Beyoncé’s performance of her hit “country” inspired single “Daddy Lessons” at the Country Music Association Awards last November. As reported by the New York Times, (nytimes.com/2016/11/04/arts/music/beyonce-cma-awards-backlash.html?mcubz=3 ), one common sentiment expressed on social media was that Beyoncé “isn’t even what ‘country’ represents”, while other comments were plainly racist.

Music superstar John Legend ascribes the backlash to Beyoncé’s appearance at the Country Awards to racism in America (billboard.com/articles/columns/country/7565697/john-legend-beyonce-cma-awards-america-to-blame).

But don’t blame the organisers of the “Soleil Festival” for their disposition to a foreign culture, as they are simply a reflection of who we have become. We no longer have an identity, have no history and, therefore, no future – or at least, that is the message of those who wish to continue to exploit us.

While we rightly criticize the formal education sector, we pay little attention to the informal mechanisms that shape us and to the foreign cultural penetration to which we are subjected on a daily basis by a highly-efficient mass marketing machine.

There is a purpose to this marketing, however, as there is money in “culture”. Huge sums are involved and those who do not appreciate this might want to note that 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley reportedly earned US$27 million last year (bbc.com/news/business-40933580).

And so this is what we do – channel our money to the development of a foreign cultural industry with the support of our Government while denying support to the development of our own.

“Now, ain’t that something!” Bon FètJounenKwéyòl!

3 Comments

  1. One has to give credit — the column is thought-provoking and well laid-out in the case being made. The mark of a true engineer (a compliment).

    Culture is a multi-faceted subject to capture, particular given the influence of globalization and technology. Increasingly, it seems to lack national borders, which has both its advantages as well as disadvantages with respect to now having a global stage through the internet, the opportunity to mash other cultures into other cultures (music in this case0, but also presenting to challenge of preserving the original musical roots.

    Shifting from that theme, using the introduction of a Country and Western component theme to the event as an example of cultural invasion is a bit of a stretch. Further, equating it to be the music of rednecks is simply inaccurate. That assertion is in the same league as saying to a white woman that if they see a black man walking on the sidewalk in the opposite direction that they should carefully hold onto their purse because the black culture is more often associated with violent crime. It might appear that the columnist is as biasedas he claims the listeners of Country and Western music to be.

    C&W music has been on the island for literally decades. I remember as a teenager several family friends of my parents’ generation, all born-and-bred St. Lucians, that we would go with to small bars in the country, or even in the north (you may remember “Black and White”m only one example of many). They would be playing old-school country, Hank Williams type stuff. And, there were never any white folks there, all born-and-bred Looshans.

    And then I’m on a business trip to Chicago in a white-bread bar with several colleagues, and they were playing Bob Marley, the Might Sparrow, the Soca Boyz and so on. Go figure.

    Like earlier stated, it’s a naby faceted topic with a lot of room for constructive exchange of ideas and and to both recognize and capitalize on opportunities.

    Music is generally a unifying aspect across the world, an opportunity to open our ears to how others celebrate and how they express themselves.

    We’d be doing ourselves a dis-service if we chose to have this lost on us using the excuse of populist nationalism.

  2. Calvin
    Mr.Peter Prescod’s point is steeped in deeper concerns that are riveted to ecological sustainability. The perspective he is pointing us towards is that of the parallel view of culture and its residual aka royalties within its immediate habitat (St.Lucia).
    When invasive species dominate /replace the native species within a habitat, typical results are a voracious hybrid species with LETHAL repercussions for the local ecology.
    Consequently, sustainability of local species is DOOMED.
    Please GOOGLE the fate of native species species in the the Great Lakes (Erie , Huron, Ontario, Michigan etc.) , from invasive species.
    Please note that Comparative studies between human and animal species have guided many of our scientific research in many academic disciplines.
    Promoting our own cultural traditions is akin to marrying a wife and enjoying her sacredly.
    Promoting C& W at the expense of nullifying our own traditions is like buying a one night stand from a jamette.
    Only the PIMP benefitys from said trivial pursuit.

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