We are united through struggles and triumphs of history.
We are the children of proud generations that yearned to be free
Rainbows of a people resilient and strong
We have created a home where we belong
The greatness of small treasures unearthed
A paradise land where cultures converge
To make West Indian nations colourful and
Our West Indian nations always shining
As one under God
(Lyrics by Ernie Ross and Anil Hardithsingh; Music by Anil Hardithsingh)
The above is the new West Indian Anthem. It was launched on the night of Wednesday, May 10, 2006 at the Haseley Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain, in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, at the start of the friendly football match between Trinidad's Soca Warriors and Peru. Its composer Ernie Ross, a Guyana-born, Trinidad-based advertising executive, who is also Trinidad and Tobago's Honorary Consul to Guyana, introduced it.
Today's "announcement" is more than a week late, since people in the Caribbean (who were not present at the "launching") would have heard of it for the first time on the BBC on the afternoon of May 11.
The first and second significant ironies are that the people of the Caribbean, whose anthem it is, would have been advised about it via a report from London, and that the vast majority would not have heard about it at all. It is likely that relatively few have seen the lyrics and even fewer have heard the music. The media in Trinidad have not made such a fuss about it and their counterparts in the rest of the Caribbean have been equally low-key. That might be taken as an indication that it has not been taken seriously, or that it ought not to be taken seriously; that it is not official and therefore not really worth bothering about. Outside of that football match and the BBC report it is not known whether there has been or will to be any official or public announcement.
One could argue that if it were meant to be, to borrow W.H. Auden's piece of sarcasm, "we would certainly have heard". So, perhaps we could safely say nothing has been imposed upon us thus, and we need not bother.
But that might well be a false sense of security. If we follow the words of His Excellency Ambassador Ross, it is not to be so lightly dismissed. He told the BBC that "it comes out of a need to establish a West Indian identity beyond cricket. ... in fact, it's quite ironic that at next year's cricket World Cup to be hosted by the West Indies, all other nations would have been playing their individual national anthems hoisting their national flags, except the West Indies. It's against this background that the idea for a West Indian anthem came about". And it gets worse. According to Mr Ross, as quoted by the BBC, one Caribbean Head of State was approached; he presented it to colleagues of his at the regional summit last February, and "it got the nod". He continued: "already one sports organisation, the Caribbean Football Union, has adopted it as their anthem".
"So what do you think about the new West Indian anthem?" the BBC asked.
The lyrics are horrible; unbelievably bad and trite. Some of the region's dramatists, poets and others, including Michael Gilkes, Henry Muttoo, Marina Taitt and Romesh Singh, have already expressed their opinions. They seem to agree that the lyrics are "putrid". Their critical appraisals have been very brief and deservingly dismissive.
This from Muttoo, Guyana-born theatre designer and director of All a We fame: "it is not worth my time commenting on the so-called anthem. The lyrics read rather putrid and I haven't heard the melody."
This from Gilkes: "awful lyrics anyway". It would be interesting to hear from the musicians about the score.
Composer Hugh Sam ignored it altogether, while criticizing the overriding principles of its composition.
Taking that quality into consideration, it is therefore further discouraging to hear from composer Ross about how its adoption is to be handled. It is to be sent around the region and each territory "will be allowed to give it their own interpretation," and he stressed, "without altering the fundamentals of the work.
"Hopefully, what we have created here is a vehicle through which people can participate in that expression of West Indian identity and feel proud about it."
Groundswell of resistance
And that leads right into what the artists and critics who have commented on the anthem find most objectionable about it. They find the principles governing the composition and adoption of an anthem to be more important than the fact that the Ross and Hardithsingh composition is nothing to feel proud about. Contrary to the optimism expressed by Ross, it is unlikely that this anthem will unite the Caribbean and express its common identity if there has been no attempt to get the people of the region to buy in to it. Such an emblem as an anthem is too important to be imposed in this fashion.
The calm arrogance of it comes over in the answer given when the BBC asked the obvious question. Why was there no consultation, why was it not open to more public involvement?
"It would always be difficult to get a unanimous decision on a composition ..." Putting it out to competition "would have probably resulted in a hybrid of reggae, pan, zouk or soca. ... an anthem is a classical composition".
It is this lack of consultation that has enraged the artistic community. They have started a groundswell of resistance through correspondence among themselves and with Stabroek News Editor-in-Chief David de Caires, in which Gilkes has commented: "No consultation or contest involved in the decision to create and produce a 'West Indies' (ie Caricom) anthem?!!
"This is serious. Here is a chance to unite the region at the emotional level of a common anthem... and we're told that there is no need to let the people have an input at any fundamental level ??
"This looks, unfortunately, like a piece of crude self-aggrandisement. Awful lyrics anyway. Let's have no more egotistic, amateur 'artistic' private enterprise, especially from our country's diplomatic representatives abroad like saying 'here's my idea of a West Indian Constitution. I think we should adopt it without discussion of fundamentals by the people. They'll only confuse the issue.' What a nerve! The fact that this excellent idea, but fundamentally flawed proposal - to say nothing of the dreadful lyrics - has 'gotten the nod' of some sport organisations and presidents means nothing. Once again the people of the Region (especially its musicians, in this case) will have had no real input into the Region's official launch of an effort to establish its identity through an anthem. Like the absurd logo for the Cricket World Cup. Enough. If we don't trust our people's judgement, how can we represent them?"
Muttoo feels strongly that it should not be allowed to pass so quietly: "This sort of arrogance is what sensible people around the region have been trying to get rid of for a long time. It comes down in the end to whether we want proper procedures badly enough. We allow (have always allowed) our governments to do very much as they please without even a whimper.
"Any attempt at finding a regional anthem should be handled by Caricom and must be an open process. If people study this thing for too long they could end up depressed. Bigger cocks dan we been crowing for a long time now, and where dey get? Ask Derek!"
Muttoo's reference here is to Derek Walcott's outburst in 1989 against Carifesta, calling it a disgraceful waste of money, and against Caribbean governments' treatment of the arts. He goes on to echo Walcott in suggesting that the Caricom Culture desk should be "set up as a Caribbean Arts Council" so that "a lot of the great work happening in the region, work which is, for the most part not being seen," could move around the region.
Yet the idea of an anthem is a laudable, even a necessary one. The commentators are unanimous on this, but Hugh Sam believes "this is too important to be arbitrarily decided by someone with absolutely no input from people in the region who will be singing it."
Romesh Singh concurs: "Perhaps I do not understand the issue about a Caribbean anthem, perhaps if the boys want to produce a piece of music for the people then it is praiseworthy. However, if we are talking about something that is official, emanating from the secretariat and governments then that is another story."
Muttoo is even prepared to advocate it. "[Caricom] ought to be taking the lead in this anthem idea. They should have thought of this long ago and put the idea out there."
Despite the relative silence about the launching of this new anthem, the list of correspondence, comments and criticisms is growing, and the common tone is outrage. It is not an issue that the people of the region should allow to quietly take shape into an official act. Perhaps it is time for those artists who have commented in what has so far been relatively inter-personal correspondence to make their interventions public so that this will not happen.
The Caribbean Football Union has allegedly already accepted this unfortunate song, so we have to make our voices clearly heard to prevent this becoming too contagious among other organizations such as the Caricom Secretariat, the Caricom Single Market and Economy or the West Indies Cricket Board.
If this disastrous trend continues, we might well find ourselves having to listen to it being played every time the West Indies team is about to play in the 2007 Cricket World Cup. But take heart; the number of times it is played might well be few. The way the West Indies are playing these days, you may not have to suffer it beyond the first round.