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Our spouge: ever rest or resurrection?

There is perhaps no sadder sight in human endeavour than abject failure wearing a satisfied smile.

Or the furrowed brows of old men and women reflecting on what could have been had they stayed the course.

Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley handed out a spouge award last week to Sach Moore. The participants in that act of immense pathos are nominally irrelevant. But that the occasion arose within the context of spouge having already having been laid to rest by other arms of the powers that be must have been enough to stir Jackie Opel’s dust to tears.

The German poet, dramatist and philosopher Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe once said that art is long, life short, judgement difficult and opportunity fleeting. Spouge presented an instance of carpe diem, but our musicians, in particular, and our people generally, did not seize it. We have failed spouge, and the occasional concert, November 30 remembrance, or the perfunctory presentation of spouge awards, are simply the trappings of a wake.

In the 1960s, Dalton Bishop aka Jackie Opel would have rubbed shoulders with the likes of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer while he was one of the stand-out artistes in Jamaica. On his return home his fusion of ska, calypso and rhythm & blues resulted in the hybrid called spouge and it became very popular in Barbados. This was an era when a proliferation of bands played spouge –– The DraytonsThe Barons, The Checkmates, The Sandpebbles, Blue Rhythm Combo, The Dynamics –– and many more.

Opel’s tragic death in 1970 did not diminish spouge’s popularity. Indeed, his demise probably initially created more impetus among the bands to play spouge, and for a while the beat held its own among the other genres such as calypso and reggae. Spouge even spread to other regional territories and was particularly popular in St Lucia where it was performed by the likes of Boo Hinkson & The Tru-Tones. That some of the islands had their focus on Barbados was no surprise.

After all, this was a country that produced musicians of the stature of Percy Greene, Collis Rock, Ernie Small, Clifton Glasgow, Keith Campbell, Mike Sealy, Richard Stoute, and many more.

But while calypso has grown and reggae has mushroomed and metamorphosed across the globe, spouge has foundered. Our musicians and quasi-cultural protectors, in the words of T.S. Eliot, have occasionally just mixed “memory and desire” at official spouge functions. But it will take more than this to stir a dull root with some spring rain.

That spouge was abandoned is an understatement. Radio stations and deejays who masqueraded as broadcasters were complicit in the crime of “spouge-cide”. But the greatest offence has been perpetrated by our musicians.

Notwithstanding the size of the two nations, while Jamaica has produced 168 reggae albums this year up to August, not even 20 spouge albums have been produced in Barbados over the past 30 years. While no one has to tell a primary school child in Jamaica what is reggae since the music is part of the consciousness, there are some teenagers in Barbados who are likely to go searching in a cologne or exotic birds catalogue for information at the mention of the word spouge.

There are no spouge festivals. Spouge plays no part on our radio stations. Spouge plays no part in Crop Over. Spouge plays little or no part in Independence celebrations. Spouge plays no part in television or radio adverts. Spouge plays no part in automated interludes on telephones. Spouge introduces
no broadcast or televised programmes.

The same spouge songs are played every November 30. Spouge’s persevering pallbearers often remind one of Eliot’s query: “That corpse you planted last year
in your garden, has it begun to sprout?”

But is there anyone or anything capable of producing a Lazarus effect?

Some have suggested that Barbadian superstar Rihanna be encouraged to record a spouge album and are of the opinion that if it becomes a huge commercial success in the United States or Europe, then musicians at home might be moved to commence its exhumation. The thought, perhaps, is that we have previously adopted imported fads such as throwing dirty sneakers over utility lines; wearing dingy underwear exposed above the waistline of our trousers; health-threatening bucket challenges; rap and hip hop. So why not adopt spouge? Again!

This year’s spouge award went to “an old man” –– as it had to. And next year’s spouge award will also go to another sexagenarian –– as it must. And therein rests the problem. Those trailblazers of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s passed the baton that was evidently dropped –– and not truly retrieved.

And now today, almost typically, while awards are being handed out and received with broad, time-beaten smiles, our children still do not sing
a song in spouge.

Must our natural and genuine sound stay apparently interred? Shall it stay lying in silence and peace? Does it truly deserve that eternal rest with its maker?

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