Trinidad and Tobago

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Emancipation episodes

By Terry Joseph
July 15, 2005

Part II

Among the gaggle of foreign entertainers who debuted in 1971 and became internationally famous during the final quarter of the 20th century are the likes of Elton John, ABBA, Donna Summer and Carole King, none of whom contributed fresh philosophy, quite unlike my friend and first-cousin, Lancelot Layne, whose intervention that same year did not bring him similar fortune.

But then Lance had no interest in tailoring his creative work to pamper market forces, choosing instead to deliberately pursue a contentious line, making musical comment that targeted those whose works dominated local radio space without adding even a micron of value to our cultural fabric. In fact, his two best-known works fired lyrical salvos at on-air DJs who favoured imported works, telling them in unequivocal terms to "Blow 'Way" or, even more pointedly, "Get Off the Radio."

For Lance saw slavery as a continuing yoke, evolution simply trading-in Massa's cork-hat and whip for mass-marketing of often frivolous concepts through music and movies, putting in new bondage contemporary African-Trinis, with deceptively attractive songs that meant little in cultural terms and even less as part of the larger picture. He supported indigenous art with a degree of passion most would consider fanatical, arguing in defence that his intensity would at least have measurable influence on the final average.

"Emancipation means different things to different people," he once said to me, adding his heartfelt position that everyone needs to be free of whatever constitutes oppression, be it the nebulous, intangible or physical burden.

It was Lance who first told me the British celebrated Emancipation Day, albeit for no greater reason than repeal of a law, the Red Flag Act, which originally demanded motor car owners have a man walk ahead, waving a warning of potential peril from their vehicles.

"If they feel fully liberated by revocation of a silly law, we must allow them to revel that," he said, "but we must also study what has us in bondage and find ways to shed that load and celebrate that victory." He was clear on the point: A holiday to mark Emancipation was something of substance and he was willing to do battle for it.

In that same pursuit, his elaborate designs for a masquerade band called Camboulay (1982) showed he was willing to fight for his beliefs at any cost, even if patently prohibitive.

Lance was supremely disappointed that an overtly nationalistic Government would waffle over a request for a holiday to mark Emancipation but was sure some version of his Camboulay dream would one day take to the streets, believed rapso music was a vehicle for establishing cultural independence, felt a visit to Africa imperative and was certain we would live to see the Emancipation holiday reinstated.

It would all come to pass, he pioneering the early rapso breakthrough, bringing out (in collaboration with John Cupid) thousands of flambeau-bearers to mark the holiday for which he had campaigned relentlessly and visiting Ghana to rediscover ancestral roots, in what would be his final season with us.

Interestingly, United Nations Radio was awarded a bronze medal for one of its entries in the 1999 New York Festivals competitions (International Radio Programming), the programme, primarily highlighting UNESCO funding of a documentary on the link between calypso and African high-life music, originally aired in the series "Caribbean Echo".

First broadcast in November 1998, the programme details Lance's travel to Africa more than 250 years after abolition of the Atlantic slave trade and his meeting and collaboration with musician Koo Nimo of Ghana, originally captured in a 1988 video production, "Crossing Over", which was co-produced by Banyan and the National Film and Television Institute of Ghana.

It was his crowning moment. He had fought for the things in which he believed and won at every sequence, only to see the country that would eventually claim pioneering status in the proclamation of an Emancipation Day holiday descend into the conflict of July 27, 1990. Ironically, he collapsed not far from the crossfire after coming into the city to witness that event at close quarter; succumbing on the following day.

Writing in the Daily Express on August 11, 2000, one of his daughters, Niasha, twin sister of Anuska, noted: "As the nation observes the tenth anniversary of the attempted coup of Trinidad and Tobago, my family and I commemorate this date for another major but notable reason.

"I feel the need to remind the nation about daddy because his spirit should not be forgotten. His aggressive love for and commitment to Trinidad and Tobago was unending and his contribution immense," she said.

I couldn't agree more.

Part I | Part III

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