One of Grenada’s cultural icons in the calypso artform, William “Scaramouche” Elcock has called on the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell to pay teachers their 4% salary increase that was hammered out in negotiations between the regime and the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT).
The 87-year old veteran who is now bedridden said the current government should be mindful that the extra money received by the teachers on their pay cheques would eventually be spent back in the local economy.
In a wide-ranging interview with THE NEW TODAY, Scaramouche said that the Father of Independence, Sir Eric Matthew Gairy and his Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) government that was deposed from power in a 1979 coup d’etat, would have found a way to honour the financial commitment to the teachers.
According to the calypsonian, he is very much concerned about the plight of the teachers and pointed out that Sir Eric whom he described as the best Prime Minister to run the country, would have tapped into the rich Syrian community to work out a deal to find the money to pay the teachers.
“Now hear what Mr. Gairy would have done. He ain’t have the money so he call (name of Syrian businessman) and he say to him, go and give them people that money because the table will spin round and round – that money will spend back in the same country. He (Gairy) will pay them.
Scaramouche said he is confident that if PM Mitchell honours the agreement with GUT and the two other public sector unions on the 4% issue that “the people will spend back the money” inside Grenada and that was basic economics.
“Treat the people nice. Give them (the money) instead of this set of talk,” was his message to Prime Minister Mitchell.
“I don’t want to really meddle with politricks because it is really politricks,” he quickly added.
Prime Minister Mitchell has said that Covid-19 pandemic has left the island’s financial coffers in dire straits and not enough money to honour the salary increase agreement signed with teachers and other public sector workers.
Scaramouche told THE NEW TODAY that Gairy “had more love” for the common man than the current Grenadian leader.
“Tomorrow I might close my eyes but I will dead with that – Gairy had more love than Keith,” he added.
PM Mitchell has been dogged by criticisms over the years that he cannot keep friends and often uses people and dumps then when he no longer has any use for them.
Fingers have been pointed at a long list of personnel who fell out of grace with Mitchell over the years such as former NNP Deputy Prime Minister Grace Duncan, former NNP government ministers, Mark Isaac, Michael Baptiste, Clarence Rapier, Einstein Louison, Jos Whiteman, Elvin Nimrod as well as former party colleagues like attorney-at-law, Reynold Benjamin and the imprisoned Capbank boss, Finton DeBourg.
Stating that he did not like to get too much involved in politics, Scaramouche said that although PM Mitchell has won the most general elections in Grenada, he cannot be compared in terms of leadership qualities alongside Gairy and late Marxist leader, Maurice Bishop.
The calypsonian stressed that both Gairy and Bishop had demonstrated a great love for people and that is something which he found to be lacking in the current Grenadian leader who has been in charge of the island’s affairs for most of the last 30 years.
Born in Mt. Airy, St. Paul’s, the veteran calypsonian said he won the calypso monarch title in Grenada in 1970.
On the issue of his personal well-being now that he is affected by illness, the veteran calypsonian said that prior to Covid-19 which brought the island’s cruise ship business to its knees, he would get something like EC$200.00 from time to time from the President of the taxi association to help him out and that the Grenada Tourism Authority (GTA) sent $100.00 for him for the Christmas holiday.
“This is what they sent despite all that I do for Grenada and tourism but I still appreciate it,” he remarked.
Scaramouche said that when he was active with the taxi association in which he was a foundation member, he used to earn US$160. 00 for every trip he made with visitors to the island.
The cultural artiste was often hired in his younger days to perform on visiting cruise ships and also at some local hotels.
Minister of Sports and Culture, Yolande Bain-Horsford paid Scaramouche a visit on Tuesday, the same day that he came out from the St. George’s General Hospital and days after former calypso monarch, Police Inspector “Raymond “Beast” Matthew highlighted his plight on a Facebook posting.
He said that the female government minister brought “a big basket” of goodies for his use.
“She promised to give me something … but promises are for fools, I learnt that,” he quipped.
According to Scaramouche, he told Minister Bain-Horsford that he has never gotten any help from government over the years.
“I thought Mr. Keith would at least remember me Scaramouche,” he said, adding that his situation would never have happened under Gairy’s leadership of the country.
He said: “Mr. Gairy would have taken a hat, passed it (around). Gairy would have taken out $100.00 (from his own pocket) and put in the hat and you (the donors) had to follow him.
Asked who Scaramouche really was, he said: “Scara is a man that come from nowhere”.
The veteran calypsonian disclosed that he got involved in the artform in Trinidad & Tobago in his 20’s as he used to go around the top calypsonians in the twin island republic including the calypso king of the world, Grenadian-born, the Mighty Sparrow.
He said the big break came for him to sing with “The Young Brigade” tent on Nelson Street by its promoters after he walked into their base and performed one of his extempo renditions about the prowess of women which was an instant hit and brought him encore after encore on the opening night by the patrons.
Scaramouche was paid $400.00TT a week, which was a big pay cheque in those days for him to perform in the tent.
“I feel like a big boy – ah used to put out my chest – if you see girls around me,” he quipped.
Scaramouche would like to see government build a home for those aged calypsonians who have contributed to the artform and are now unable to take care of themselves.
“Look at me (pointing to his plight of being bed-ridden) …. all that ah do for the country,” he remarked.
He also suggested that PM Mitchell should have built a school for the artform and hire some of the veteran calypsonians to teach the younger generation about the art of writing and singing calypsoes.
Asked whether the calypso artform has grown and made strides in Grenada in recent years, Scaramouche took a long pause and appeared very hesitant to answer the question.
However, he said that there was a lack of respect for calypsonians as in yesteryear and the men and women plying the trade are contributing to that due to the manner in which some of them dress to appear on stage.
He stressed that back in his days, calypsonians spent a lot of money with tailors to make their suits for shows.
He said that everything now is “a jump and wine” from the modern day calypsonians as he took a poke at the soca artform that is now dominating the landscape.
Asked if soca was killing the calypso artform, Scaramouche said: “I don’t want to tell you yes, I don’t want to tell you no, I don’t want to commit myself. We can’t live in my age all the time but that soca thing – too much jam and wine and too much dirty words in it. If you have a message bring it plain to the people, make it in a humour, make them laugh.
“I could remember when people going home in the night from the calypso tent, you could hear them talking to each other (and saying) you didn’t hear that man you ain’t hear that song he sing. Kaiso is a message, it is something that you bringing to the people to make them laugh – bring it in a humour,” he added.
On his own style in the calypso arena, Scaramouche said: “I never write a calypso yet – never in history – everything just flowing through my head. I could watch you and make a calypso on you (with 3 and 4 verses).”
According to Scaramouche if he did a calypso with 6 verses, he will often forget some of the lines.
“I never sit down and put pen and paper like how I see (Black) Wizard and them do it,” he said.
Scaramouche said that he has fans all over the world and proudly boasts, “I am the man who sing for (U.S President Ronald) Reagan when he came to Grenada.
“I did Prap Ah Prap,” he remarked in reference to the song that depicted the landing of American helicopters and the shoot-out involving heavy artillery with U.S military forces as they battled for the island with members of the now disbanded People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA).
In 1984, then U.S President, the late Reagan paid an historic visit to the island after he took the decision to send troops into Grenada to put down the General Hudson Austin-led bloody military junta that had seized power on October 19, 1983 in a bloody coup in which Prime Minister Bishop was executed.
Scaramouche also said that he sang for the current Queen of England on her visit to the Spice Isle as among his achievements.
The calypsonian was asked as a senior citizen who has lived through many experiences over the years, what message would he like to leave with fellow Grenadians.
“Respect yourself and people will respect you. Never take what is not yours. Never hang your hat where your hand can’t reach,” he said.