Passing of gentler T&T

Trinidad Express February 15, 2000

The following is the eulogy which Ms Bishop prepared for delivery at yesterday's funeral ceremony for Lord Kitchener, Aldwyn Roberts:

MAYA Angelou has written:

"Great souls die and our reality,
bound to them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds,
formed and informed by their radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance of dark,
cold caves"

Aldwyn Roberts, the Lord Kitchener, the Grandmaster and the Road March King of the World was born in Arima on the eighteenth of April, 1922.

He was taken from us on the eleventh of February 2000.

And today, we are gathered to bid him a final farewell.

The details of his life are well known by now. The media have taken care of that.

We know, for example, that he was educated at the Arima Boys' Government School and that by fifteen, he was already singing calypsoes.

We also know that between 1938 to 1941, he was the "chantwell in the Sheriff Band" and the Arima Calypso King. We find him singing in a sort of roving brigade, having left Arima in 1942.

In 1944, he was singing in the Victory Tent on Edward Street and made an early name there for himself singing "Green Fig Man".

Notoriety was to attach itself to him the next year when the Police banned his song "Yankee Sufferers" which he had been singing in the House of Lords Tent, also located on Edward Street.

In 1946, Kitchener returned to the Victory Tent where he sang "Tie Tung Mopsy" and "Lai Fung Lee (Chinee never had a V-Jay day)".

The very next year, Kitchener and Killer opened a tent on 100 St Vincent Street, collectively known as The Young Brigade.

According to Atilla, the Young Brigade would parade the street every night after their show, singing,
"Every one knows or have been told That the Young bound to capture the Old So tell them we are not afraid We're going to mash up the Old Brigade"
In 1947, Kitchener left Trinidad going to Curacao, Aruba and Jamaica eventually landing in England where he was to stay for 15 years.

We all know that when Kitchener returned to Trinidad in 1964, he found the calypso world dominated by the Mighty Sparrow and for years thereafter, a critical highlight of any calypso season was evidence of the friendly rivalry, manifested in song, which existed between these two calypso icons.

Kitchener himself remarked, in 1993, that the presence of what he called "The Road March Mafia" had made him retreat from the business of composing Road March music.

But "The Road", "Mama, this is Mas", "My Pussin", "Sixty-seven", "Miss Tourist", "Margee", "Mas in Madison Square Garden", "Rain-O-Rama", "Winston Spree" and "Flag Woman" are all examples of Kitchener's gift for composing music for Carnival revellers.

It is not without good reason, therefore, that he has long been established as The Road March King of the Trinidad Carnival.

All of us here will agree that through his calyspoes, Kitchener has been recording and defining the society and the times whether he was abroad or resident here. Who will forget:

"I am over here Happy in the mother country ..."

So that when we include the fifteen years of his sojourn abroad, he has continued to speak of, to and about the people of Trinidad and Tobago for more than half a century.

And the example which he has set in that time, is one of competence, consistency and devotion to his calling.

What must concern us now is why the whole country has received the news of his passing with such manifestations of universal grief.

It is not as through the Grandmaster was snuffed out before he had achieved the biblical life span of "three score and ten years." It is not that he hasn't left behind a legacy, packed with word and melody of such richness, that the students of the future will have their work cut out, if they seek to evaluate and analyse - the Grandmaster's musical bequest to our country ... a country which he obviously loved.

I want to suggest instead that our grief is an acknowledgement, however unconscious, of the fact that Kitchener's passing marks the end of an era, a time of a kinder, gentler Trinidad and Tobago. A little reference to local history will make this point clear.

Kitchener sang in the period which stretched between the disturbances of the 1930s and 1946, the year in which all local adults could vote for the very first time.

He continued to sing throughout those years which culminated in the rise of nationalist politics and the achievement of independence.

If ever this society can claim to have a Golden Age, it is then.

We had no money of course but the steel drum had began to mature and become the sophisticated instrument, which it is today.

Beryl Mc Burnie's "Little Carib", Torrance Mohammed's "Arawaks", together with the artist, Alf Codallo, were probing the history and the culture of this place, giving the lie to the historian who had remarked that there were no people here "with a character and purpose of their own."

The Federation failed, but Carlisle Chang, M P Alladin and Sybil Atteck were laying a ground which Ramkisoon and Boodhoo were soon to follow.

It was the same road which was to give rise to "Best Village" on the one hand, and Carnival geniuses like George Bailey, Harold Saldenah, and Cito Velaquez, on the other.

Kitchener was thus singing at a time when our citizens were confident in themselves and could face the future with hopeful anticipation.

If today we cry because we have lost Kitchener, let us understand that we are crying for ourselves.

Because his passing has drawn a line between hope and possibility on the one hand and disillusionment and despondency on the other.

When we look at the example of Kitchener's life, his conduct, his deportment, always with a hat, tie and suit, his songs masking naughtiness with double entrendre, singing of persons and circumstances with wit and style but never with malice, we find that he continued to be an exemplar even when there was less and less in Trinidad and Tobago which was exemplary.

We can therefore understand the magnitude of our grief. But the poet Angelou reminds us:
"History, despite it's wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, but if faced With courage need not be lived again,"
And if this appreciation is to mean anything, if these words are to count in any way, then they must exhort us to return to those values which made our people less anxious and confused, and our country an altogether better place.

"Let us not", as St Paul tells us, "be weary in well doing for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not".

Maya Angelou continues:
"And when the great souls die,
After a period peace blooms,
slowly and always irregularly.
Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never to be the same,
whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be.
Be and be better.
For they existed."
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Created on ... April 18, 2000