Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Sunday, May 25, 2003  

There's a local song - not sure who the singer is - that was popular when I was a child, called "Tantie Say". It had a very hummable tune and a catchy chorus that went, "Tantie say, don't go down dey [there]/Down by the river, it ain't have no water". Those were the only words I knew; I wasn't interested in the rest of the lyrics. But I was puzzled: why would Tantie forbid this guy from going to the river if it was dry? Surely a running river would pose more of a danger.

Yesterday I heard "Tantie Say" for the first time in years, and I decided to listen to the lyrics. There are the opening lines: "You're sixteen, and you're so young/Don't know evil, don't know wrong".


No need to quote more than that, I'm sure. (And if you don't get it, well, as the saying goes, "If you have to ask...")

It wasn't exactly like the time some years ago when I found out that my favourite song from childhood, "Puff the Magic Dragon" wasn't exactly about a boy and his dragon. (It took some time for me to accept that one.)

But it did make me think of the art of double entendre, once the hallmark of so much of our music. It was such a clever example of the masquerade, of the ability of the proleteriat, in its forms of artistic expression, to be subversive and yet be seen to be conforming to the idea that others had of them, as feckless and barbaric.

Now that they've decided to fully embrace the stereotype of themselves (with government and other sanction, encouragement and patronage, of course) as 24-hour party people, such things as double entendre and other aspects of the traditional carnival are practically no more. It is only, as I've written before, in steelpan where things are largely as they were (despite bourgeois designs on the artform).

posted by Jonathan | 1:09 PM 0 comments


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