Caribbean musicians getting in tune with Obama

by Jacqueline Charles

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

2 April 2008


Obama Girl, move over. Your “I’ve Got a Crush on Obama” video has got some rhythmic competition and it comes in the form of reggae and calypso from some hot Caribbean icons.

With big-name U.S. celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney already out stumping for him, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama is also striking a chord with Caribbean-born artists.

On the Internet video sharing site YouTube, the pulsating steel-pan-fused Barack the Magnificent, by Trinidad calypso king The Mighty Sparrow, has gotten more than 70,000 hits.

The Mighty Sparrow - Barack the Magnificent

Last month, Jamaican reggae dancehall crooner Cocoa Tea released Barack Obama, a laid-back reggae-tinged tribute that tells listeners, “This is not about class nor color, race nor creed. Make no mistake it’s the changes ... what the Americans need.”

And in South Florida, Boca Raton calypsonian Roger George is finishing up a remake of his calypso-inspired “One Fine Morning,” with new lyrics by fellow Trinidadian David Rudder, endorsing Obama’s message of change.

The trend is not just another instance of pop culture and politics merging in a presidential campaign that have hip-hop stars like Jay-Z and Wyclef Jean endorsing Obama from center stage. It’s an example of the Illinois senator’s growing appeal beyond U.S. borders, and the global excitement enveloping his campaign and candidacy - even among those who can’t vote.

If the race were to be judged solely by the candidates’ perceived foreign policy positions, then Caribbean natives might be singing Hillary Clinton’s praises because of the sentimental attachment to her husband, who visited several Caribbean nations as president.

But in a region that is as diverse as Obama himself, it’s the optimism he espouses and promise of a new day that’s resonating with many Caribbean natives, some of whom are now questioning their loyalty to Clinton.

“Barack is not preaching blackness or brownness. He’s speaking truth,” Sparrow said in a telephone interview from New York, where he lives part-time when he’s not winding his way from one Caribbean carnival to the next.

Regarded as the king of calypso, the Grenada-born, Trinidad-raised crooner who once immortalized former President Clinton with the song “Doh Touch Meh President” in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Sparrow said he was inspired by Obama long before his presidential bid. But it wasn’t until he learned more about Obama’s background and wide-ranging appeal that he decided to pen these words:

“Irrespective of the world that we now lack/If you want it back then vote Barack because this time we come out to vote/Stop the War/Stop genocide in Darfur ... he stood his ground when the war was merely a conception. He said it was wrong so he did not go along.”

“He’s no ordinary man,” said Sparrow, calling Obama a man of splendid vision with the wisdom of Solomon, the biblical king of Israel.

“I see people my age, in their 70s, 80s, 60s, 50s, screaming out in appreciation like when the Beatles first came to America. I can’t believe that older people would react that way. That is one of the reasons why I believe he was sent by the Messiah.”

Cocoa Tea - Barack Obama

Like Sparrow, reggae singer Cocoa Tea, whose real name is Calvin Scott, says he too was drawn to Obama’s message.

“When I see the younger generation in America come out and support Barack Obama and say they want to see all of these things stop; they want a change in Washington where people can sit down and have dialogue with different parts of the world, that really captivated my attention and I had to add my voice to it,” he said in a telephone interview from his studio in Jamaica.

Said Roger George, who initially supported Hillary Clinton: “Every voice makes a difference and if we can all come together as a Caribbean unit, then we can make a huge difference.”

The Obama-Caribbean phenomenon isn’t just limited to songs.

His speech on the economy, in which he quoted Caribbean-born founding father Alexander Hamilton, is getting rave reviews on Caribbean Internet sites. Meanwhile, his chances are being debated on Jamaican blogs, his speeches are the subject of dinner-time debate in tony Port-au-Prince neighborhoods, and his promise is talked about on the streets of Havana.

Even in Europe, where French newspapers have translated Obama’s now famous speech on race, Caribbean natives are following the campaign.

“He’s an American story,” said Guetty Felin, a Haitian-born Paris-based documentary filmmaker who recently spent several weeks in Texas following the candidates and speaking to supporters as part of a made-for-French TV documentary that she and her husband are filming.

Felin, who is married to a French Jew and raising two biracial boys, said Obama has brought a different flavor to American politics.

“This candidate has reconciled me with America,” says the U.S. citizen, who has decided to return to South Florida, after years abroad. “We love this country but we have certain problems with the country. It’s a country you love but it doesn’t always love you back.”

Four years younger than Obama, Felin says his appeal is beyond skin deep.

“We all can claim him,” she said, referring to his diverse background as the child of an African-immigrant father and white mother from Kansas who lived in Hawaii and Indonesia.

“Black folk can claim him. White folk can claim him. Immigrants can claim him. Asians can claim him. That’s the powerful thing about him.”

//Mixed media

Tibet House's 30th Anniversary Benefit Concert Celebrated Philip Glass' 80th

// Notes from the Road

"Philip Glass, the artistic director of the Tibet House benefits, celebrated his 80th birthday at this year's annual benefit with performances from Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Brittany Howard, Sufjan Stevens and more.

READ the article