Sprinkling water on a bed of chives in Siparia, chairman of the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) South Zone Ras Kommanda (Steve Pascall) said: “I am lucky to have survived Covid-19. It was a horrible experience. Oxygen was not going to my brain. Still recuperating. It’s good therapy when I transplant cabbage, cut sugarcane and fertilise my chadon beni, as the leaves are looking a little jaundiced.”
The 60-year-old reflected upon his encounter with Covid 19 around July 14-the same day former TUCO president Brother Resistance (Lutalo Masimba) died.
In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Ras Kommanda said: “Devastating news. But when I was going through my jones, I did not want to detract attention from Brother Resistance. I did not want to turn it into a Ras Kommanda pity party. The entire fraternity and country was mourning him. That’s not to say my brother and veteran kaisonian Hammidullah Wahid (Hammy), secretary Cheryl Ann Joseph, children Tenisha and son Jabari and a few friends and family did not rally around me. Hammy brought me lunch when I was in quarantine.”
Ras Kommanda added: “Before Resistance died, I was rushed to San Fernando General Hospital. When he died, I was in Debe step down facility. I had to get oxygen because it was going to my brain. I am still wearing a back brace from that experience. Covid 19 never leaves you completely. I have a lack of co-ordination. I chatted with a neurologist. He gave me some medication.”
Asked how he had contracted Covid 19, he said: “It’s a mystery where I contracted it. I believe it is from being around people. Maybe it’s in the air. I don’t blame anyone. Once I got it, I stayed away from my 86 years old mother (Cynthia Pascall).”
He said: “ I started to get a pain in my lower abdomen. I had my family around me, and one relative had diagnosed negative. I decided to take a PCR test and the results were positive. I went back home to start the quarantine process. It got worse. I started to get an indescribable feeling. I knew it wasn’t good. I had to seek medical attention.”
He added: “At the hospital, I was told I did not know my surroundings. Completely disoriented. Wracked by pain. The pain left ‘downstairs,’ and, moved ‘upstairs’. It was going after my lungs. Thank God, my lungs were not affected. It could have gotten worse. People around me were scared about dying.”
Kommanda spent about two days and three nights struggling to breathe better and regain his natural composure.
“They had to get my oxygen levels up. They just tested you. You had to do a chest x-ray. Then they rushed you to the Debe facility. I was in bed hooked up to an oxygen tank. They had to control my breathing. People who were in a worse situation went to Caura or Couva. I am glad nobody died there.”
“I eat what I grow. Provision and saltfish, fresh lettuce, paw paw. I drink milk, ginger and saffron tea. It’s not easy to trample my insides. I am a believer. I put my faith in God. I knew that if I walked through the shadow of death I should not fear evil.”
Although he survived Covid 19, Kommanda’s still vaccine hesitant.
He said: “ I am not somebody to rush and take the vaccine. I am weighing the pros and cons of it.
I am hoping they would make the Cuban vaccine available. Some people have more faith in the Cubans. We need more independent thinkers. I don’t like the idea of people threatening people to take the vaccine. Read and follow Covid 19 protocols. People should be alert to their surroundings.”
Tribute to Resistance
Now that he can pay tribute to Resistance, Kommanda said: “I shed a tear for my beloved brother. He was a dedicated leader. Passionate about rapso and calypso. He had a deep respect for the elders. Despite what I may tell him, he would take it with a certain amount of respect. A gifted artiste who cared about the environment. Just listen to his message about Mother Earth. His mantra was “By calypso our stories are told.”
He added: “ I extend condolences to the fraternity and TUCO trustee Ann Marie Parks-Kojo (Twiggy). Both of them would host the Saturday show together. I send a word of comfort to his brother Neil Lewis and children. Resistance was an educated man who earned the respect of kings and commoners.”
Sharing his sentiments on the newly minted TUCO president Ainsley King, he said: “I support him. So far, the organisation is running. He was in charge of Tobago affairs. Give King a chance to prove himself among the pack. With the grace of God, I hope everything turns out for the best.”
NCC should innovate to help artistes
At the drop of a hat, Ras Kommanda can slip off his wellingtons and pick up his microphone for an evening of entertainment at Kaiso Showcase, Palm’s Club, San Fernando. The dreadlocked singer is renowned for his nation buildings songs like “Slackness”, “Sando Alive” and “She Never Write Me”. He can sing the late Shadow’s (Winston Bailey) classic “Poverty Is Hell” with pathos.
But he admitted that Covid-19 had changed the face of entertainment, and rendered hardship on artistes.
“I have a meeting with my executive soon. We are just bent on engaging in virtual survival. We want to put some plans in place for Calypso History Month in October. I don’t forsee Carnival in 2022. So there won’t be a traditional tent. It’s tough for people to get money to buy tickets. Different kettle of fish.”
He added: “We are grateful for the local support. But he majority of people who are paying for the shows are people in foreign. Maybe we can do a stint with Gayelle or artiste Myron B. People would have to sing on their CDs.”
Kommanda also felt the National Carnival Commission (NCC) should find innovative ways to help artistes.
“We could assemble a four- or five-piece band. If NCC was willing to sponsor it, not an exorbitant sum. But a tidy sum. Artistes have not been working. We have thousands of registered members. But only about five or six soca artistes are out there, as they say, “eating a food”. People are still recording. Simmering in a stew of creative juices. The spin doctors should find a way to help artistes.”
Kommanda, a graduate of Chaguaramas Youth Camp, has always been fond of children and young people. In 2018, he dedicated Sparrow’s (Slinger Francisco) classic “Education” to the beautiful children attending La Ciudad De Brazil Christmas Society’s “August Affair” 2018 event at San Rafael Community Centre, Arena Road, San Rafael. And what advice would he impart to young people? “ Whatever you like, follow your heart and your dreams. God has given each of us gifts.”