Calypso Breaks Free for COVID-19
Before You Relax, Get Vax, says Belize. COVID-19 is infecting the young and the old.
The COVID-19 song challenge pushed up the calypso melody, Sans Humanite, to the Number 1 spot last year on the Caribbean islands and nations as well as among the diaspora. Another challenge would do well to be issued again as the region struggles with high infection, hospitalization and death rates coupled with low vaccination turnouts.
“The Quarantine Extempo Challenge has brought the Caribbean, during this crisis, together,” said St. Marteen calypsonian Andrew “His Majesty Baker Jr.” Richardson, who, some say, initiated the social media contest, according to the Guardian Media Newsroom (May 6, 2020). “The messages give people hope that this too will pass. I believe, once we get over this, that we can do wonders together. We can move mountains.”
Most countries were in quarantine, hoping to keep their heads down and have the virus pass them by. Much has happened since then, some good and some bad. The bad news: the more transmissible variant, Alpha, and, now, the even more contagious Delta variant, with which the Caribbean is now contending. The good: the invention of effective vaccines, which help prevent serious illness and death.
Belizean Prime Minister John Briceno advised that people wear masks, wash their hands, and keep social distance on the Open Your Eyes show on Channel 5 (October 13). Along with these hygienic measures, he pleaded with Belizeans to get vaccinated, pointing out that the majority of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are not vaccinated:
“I shouldn’t be talking, but I will say,” he said, putting his right hand on his chest. “My father-in-law did not want to get vaccinated as much as we begged him and begged him and begged him. Finally, (my wife,) Rossana, tell him, ‘Listen, your granddaughter is 7 months old, so if you don’t want to get vaccinated, I respect you, but you can’t come to my house, ‘cause I don’t want you to get my granddaughter sick or we get you sick and you nuh vaccinated, and we gawn feel guilty.
“Last week, he decided, thank God, that he is going to get vaccinated, so we’re going to take him for his first jab.”
Apparently, the Prime Minister’s father-in-law is only one of many who, recently, has come forward for the vaccine: one jab for the Johnson & Johnson and two jabs for all the rest. On September 16th, 19 percent of the population had been vaccinated fully. As of October 1, the percentage had increased to 31.5, according to the Pan American Health Organization, and a presentation by a medical professional on Up to the Minute: A COVID Live Report on the Belize Ministry of Health and Wellness Facebook page. Belize’s goal is 70.1%.
Belize placed in the second tier of the countries in the Caribbean for full vaccination. Of the 26 nations, the Cayman Islands held the top place (81.6%), Bermuda, 5th (59.8%); San Marteen, 7th (53.6%); Barbados, 14th (36.5%); Trinidad & Tobago (35.5%); Belize, 16th (31.5%): Suriname, 17th (29.1%); Dominica, 18th (29%); Bahamas, 21st (22.2%); Jamaica, 25th (8.5%), and Haiti, 26th (0.2%).
On September 30, Jamaica was forced to dump 55,000 expired doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that had been donated by the United Kingdom on July 30, reported Global Voices (October 8). Vaccine hesitancy caused by lies on social media and the influence of some evangelical pastors resulted in the low take-up.
The Jamaican Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton tweeted:
“The last day before expiration of this batch of vaccines, there was a rush on sites. Over 17k vaccinated on that day. A week before, only 1.5k turned up. Not an issue of sites. The issue is us!”
Thousands of Jamaicans have not turned up for their second dose.
For the vaccines to work well, patients must keep to the protocol of spacing the two-jab vaccines appropriately and remember that they do not take full effect until days after the last dose.
Before the creation of vaccines and during quarantines in the spring of 2020, calypso musicians threw down an extempo challenge to professionals and amateurs.
“The Caribbean Calypso music was brought from the African slaves to the Caribbean who were to work on sugar plantations in the 17th century,” according to UNESCO Cluster Office for the Caribbean (June 11, 2020). “The calypso chants allowed the slave workers to establish a communication between each other, while they were forbidden to talk. Once originated in Trinidad and Tobago, where it was sung in French Creole, it spread out over the Caribbean islands in the 19th century and became a popular Afro-Caribbean music until today, which is now sung in various local Caribbean dialects and languages.
“Calypso has developed its own styles across the islands, including mento, ska, soca music and extempo.
“An extempo is improvised with a rhythmic speech on a given, mostly current theme in front of an audience that itself takes turns in performing. So-called “extempo wars” are competitions between artists whose success is measured by the wit and ingenuity of their performance.”
“In the calypso extempo, it’s whatever you sing, the opponent tries to top that act whether more hurtful or more artfully, but the camaraderie is never lost; competition, friendly,” reported the Guardian Media Newsroom (May 6, 2020).
In 1997, Baker Jr. won his first National Calypso Monarch title. The son of Trinidad & Tobago’s Grenada-born calypsonian, Antonio Mighty Bomber Richardson, he threw out the challenge to family members and to Trinidad & Tobago’s reigning National Extempore Monarch Brian London, who accepted and extended it on social media.
“Included in the now-blossomed extemporaneous saga – some, their maiden attempt -- apart from traditional calypsonians, ae medical staff: nurses, Barbadian frontline and American mother and daughter; Grenadian Dr. Satesh Bidaisee, Professor of Public Health and Preventative Medicine at the St. George’s University, and Trinidad & Tobago’s Dr. Amery Browne, a former government minister.
Other countries that took up the challenge were: Guadeloupe; St. Vincent & Grenadines; Brazil; Saba; Aruba; Anguilla; the United States; Dominica; Barbados; Statia; the United Kingdom; Antiga; St. Lucia; Germany; Martinique; St. Kitts & Nevis, and France.
Trinidad & Tobago’s current Calypso Monarch, Terri Lyons, urged people on Facebook to stay at home . . .don’t go and roam:
On a serious note ‘bout this COVID-19
You have to wash your hands and practice proper hygiene
And social distancing will make corona subside
So please comply and keep you’re a-- inside
Former Calypso Queen of Trinidad & Tobago, Heather MacIntosh, jumped in on YouTube:
The government trying the best they can to pound some sense into citizens
Man, every day they on the TV, asking, begging, pleading with we
Distance yourself, help flatten the curve; do them simple things your nation to serve
Now I adding my voice, telling John Public, Stay home, stay safe and please don’t get sick.
Also on YouTube, Grenadian singer, Jermaine Simon, warned that the virus does not discriminate:
I sit home listening to the news thinking
‘Bout the deadly virus COVID-19
Sad, a lot of people dead and they gone
The rich, the old, the poor and the young.
Grenadians produced a compilation of COVID-19 calypso lyrics.
Yes, man, we need another Extempo challenge as things have gone from bad to worse. There is no room for slacking off.
In its new three-month plan, the Belize Ministry of Health and Wellness projects the rate of positivity to fall below 10 percent at the end of October and 5 percent at the end of November, allowing curfews to shorten from 9 p.m. weekdays now to 10 p.m. and, then, 11 p.m.
With the positivity rate so high, care must be taken around everyone because they could be carrying the virus.
In Belize on October 13, there were 7 deaths; 55 hospitalized; 18 in intensive care units, and 2,710 new active cases, according to data on Open Your Eyes on Channel 5. On one day. Since the pandemic began, there has been a total of 449 deaths 23 more than the previous week.
The population of Belize is about 400,000, according to the World Bank.
In a Belize public health commercial, a young woman gasps for air, like a fish punishing out of water, while wearing an oxygen mask in hospital. Finally, she stops breathing, and a bedside machine shows her flat-lining. Dead. Then, you hear and see her relatives wailing outside the glassed-in room. The final frame shows these words:
The life you save can be yours.