Winford James

Dr Winford James

Danielle Williams’ jazzed-up rendition of the national anthem at the closing ceremony of Carifesta XIV was found to be “unacceptable” by President Paula-Mae Weekes who implied that it was not sung “in its original music” and that Danielle used artistic licence in her performance —e.g., addition of an introduction and a coda—to vary the song. President Weekes called the rendition “a discordant note” in the Carifesta XIV celebrations.

When I read her observations, I wondered i) where she got her ideas of unacceptability from, ii) what other things about the anthem she found unacceptable, and iii) what remedies she would pursue if she were persuaded that there were other unacceptable things.

To answer the first question, I went to the Constitution and the website of the President’s Office. But the former does not even mention the anthem while the latter invites us to treat it with respect in the same kind of language used by the President.

Here are excerpts from the website:

“The National Anthem should be accorded the respect due to it when played, and on no occasion should it be treated with scant courtesy. While it must be played in the original music, the pitch, speed and tone can be changed.”

“When the Anthem is being played, all persons should pay respect to it by standing to attention.”

“There is no law that says you must stand for the National Anthem, it is simply protocol.”

Note that the website preaches respect for the anthem via protocol and what appears to be arbitrary stipulation. Notice the use of the hortatory, if not obligatory, “must”. The anthem “must be played in the original music”’.

But who says so? Where does that (legal? moral? ethical? religious?) requirement come from? Is there some law or set of protocols outside of the Constitution authorising it?

It does not appear that Danielle intended any disrespect towards the anthem. On the contrary, she may have thought that, by sprucing it up, she was honouring it. I have heard jazzed-up renditions by other artistes, like Mavis John and Denyse Plummer, that sounded pretty exhilarating. And we all know about numerous American singers seeking to personally embellish the American anthem.

I think that the President echoed the excerpts cited above and that they predate her ascent into office and so could hardly have been initiated by her. However, she has certainly embraced them but I do not know on what grounds. I need to be pointed in the direction of such grounds.

The second query is what other things about the anthem she finds unacceptable. But she does not say, which does not necessarily mean that she finds none. She might however be interested to know that I have found some. And they have nothing to do with its rendition, but everything to do with its creation.

One of them is that the anthem —I have used the version on the website of the President’s Office—is poorly structured. In a composition of 12 lines, two of which are repeated, there are at least two errors of structure. (Elsewhere, there is a version in which “find” is used instead of “finds”, bringing it to three.)

First, the phrase “This our Native Land”, consisting of a demonstrative pronoun (“this”) followed by a juxtapositioned noun phrase (“our Native Land”) is used as a vocative or addressee term—an impossibility in Standard Englishes. Pat Castagne, the author, should have omitted “this” and written something like “Native Land of ours”.

Secondly, the conjunction “and” is used to join a fact-like statement (“Here every creed and race finds an equal place”) and a wish introduced by “may”. But Standard Englishes disallow the joining of statements and (“may”—introduced) wishes. Which suggests that the wishful sentence “And may God bless our Nation” is out of place structurally.

Another thing that is unacceptable about the anthem is that it is essentially lacking in inspiring ideas. Yes, the phrase “Forged from the love of liberty” speaks to the importance of freedom; the metaphor in “the fires of hope and prayer” could perhaps encourage us to believe in and realise our dreams; and the declaration of the two islands standing side by side and of every creed and race finding an equal place could lure us into the self-deception that all is honky-dory.

But they hardly reflect a personal or nation-building character and blueprint. There is nothing to stir our passions. There are no high(er) principles. There is no call to action.

We have been singing this song since 1962 blissfully unaware of its deficiencies. But when it is playing, I personally find it difficult to sing the lines with the poor grammar, structure, and ideas. Is it disrespect when I choose not to sing?

It would seem to me that jazzing up the anthem is far less acceptable than perpetuating poor composition.

Will the President be persuaded to fix things?

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