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Jan 31, 2008

Both campaigns march to custom made music

Story PictureThere’s still a week to go until election day and by now most Belizeans have heard the respective campaign songs so many times that you’re either singing along … or covering your ears. But whether you think the tunes are sickening or sweet, it’s a good bet that the beats are here to stay. News Five’s Janelle Chanona takes a look behind the music.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
In the 2008 election season, the Belizean public has been bombarded with enough political songs to fill an iPod. And while music has always played a role in politics, this year rhythms and lyrics have become a cornerstone of campaigning.

In 1998, the ruling People’s United Party was “Living in a Good country”. Five years later they extended an open invitation with “Welcome to the Party”.

Today they’re asking the electorate to “Believe in Belize”.

Yasser Musa, P.U.P. Public Relations Officer
“Back in the day, Mr. Price would just go on a rostrum, say a few words, explain to the people what he wanted to do and that was fine. But now entertainment, music, these are more sophisticated forms of expressing to people what are your dreams and hopes. So when it came to this song now, we realized that we had to go now even higher than our past mark…which was a pure political song “Welcome to the Party” but you can appreciate that is a partisan song. The new song that we’ve introduced has no P.U.P. words in it, has no party propaganda in it …it speaks directly to the Belizean person.”

In 1998, the United Democratic Party told the Belizean people “We want we country free” In 2003, the U.D.P. was “Red and Ready”. In 2008, it’s “Fi U, Fi We, Fi All Ah We”.

Delroy Cuthkelvin, U.D.P. Public Relations Officer
“I think this year most people think that the U.D.P. has done a better job musically than we did last year, last election. Last election there was a lot of people who felt the P.U.P. won the election with one song, “Welcome to the Party”.”

“Sometimes a lot of talk tends to bore and you have capture the interest of the voter and a lot of people would prefer listening to a song than listen to speeches and talking sometimes. So it’s a softer way of getting the message across and it works.”

But does working for a political party constitute a political endorsement? Believe in Belize was written by the late Andy Palacio but Tremett Perriott is the male vocalist.

Tremett Perriott, Singer/Composer
“I’m not necessarily sure or have too much faith in the Belizean populace as a crowd that they’re able to separate the artist from the party, it’s kinda hard to see and to say that right now because we would like to believe that everybody could separate the artist from the party. And it’s a shame that it would be perceived that way because most of the artists I know who do these things, it’s just for the music.”

Ernestine Carballo, Singer
“People might seh oh I does deh with P.U.P., oh I wanda why deh eh with U.D.P. now? Well I see the light, so to speak, and I know exactly whe deh happen, I no fool.”

Singer Ernestine Carballo offers a unique perspective to music in politics. In 2003, she was front and centre for the P.U.P.

But this time around, Carballo is openly endorsing the U.D.P..

Ernestine Carballo
“I feel whe I sing, I feel whe I sing yu know and I seh it’s time for us to be honest about what we are seeing and what we are feeling and what is going on. As a Belizean artist I’ve been waiting for such a long moment now for me as an artist to express myself even more deeper, to have mi own lee CD out and stuff like that and that no happen so, wah lot of other issues, so I just see it fitted that we as artists should stand up and don’t be afraid to stand up for what we believe in.”

Leila Vernon agrees.

At the P.U.P.’s manifesto launch, Vernon sang for the blues.

Leila Vernon, Singer
“I’m here for my people, I’m here for culture, I’m here for People’s United Party because this is the party that is going to look after, I would say, the culture itself. They have been doing it and they show it already. We have a right to choose, we have soared above politics so this is my choice, I have seen them working very, very good, that’s why I’m here in the company with the People’s United Party. But I was a U.D.P. once and what they have done for the culture is very little. I approached them several times and they told me come back and all kind ah thing and that’s the reason why I’m here.”

Janelle Chanona
“Whether at home, in the office or in your car, you can’t help but feel bombarded. And after a while, you find yourself start singing along to all of them. Isn’t that brainwashing?”

Yasser Musa
“People have to become sophisticated enough to accept all of this bombardment which you have described so well and filter out what it is that they, it’s still your brain you know Janelle, it’s still you Janelle that will have to decide what it is that you like, what it is that you want, what it is that you feel, that is still in your power and I believe that people judge things on who presents the better ideas, who presents the better concepts.”

Janelle Chanona
“So it’s not about the hook, it’s not about the drums…”

Yasser Musa
“The reason why the songs are touching is because you are believe it.”

Delroy Cuthkelvin
“I don’t think it’s that scientific, music is a part of the campaign. We don’t get that scientific about it, it is a way of getting the message across, a way of getting in the mood for elections, that’s all it is.”

“One of the things we notice in these elections is that an unprecedented number of artists have been coming forward with their own lyrics which tells you that out there the issues, the artists are identifying with the issues among all other Belizeans. So the fact that so many artists are coming up with lyrics to sing for us and against the P.U.P. tells me that the P.U.P. is very unpopular and the U.D.P. is very popular.”

Music has always had a place in Caribbean politics. In Jamaica, Bob Marley made history in 1978 when he joined the hands of Jamaica’s warring leaders Prime Minister Michael Manley and Opposition Leader Edward Seaga at his One Love Peace concert. The peace didn’t last but it underscored music’s ability to unite. But back at home is politics helping or hindering the artistic community?

Tremett Perriott
“If it provides you an opportunity to bring out your music, bring out your talent and it is not detrimental to your own person and your family, by all means go ahead and sing your music or play your music or write your music or perform your music. Because that is all we have in Belize. If you notice there aren’t a lot of videos on TV showcasing talent so by all means if you have an opportunity, do it. As my good friend will tell me, do the damn thing.”

Kenny Morgan, Singer
“As an artist I believe I have to maintain a certain independence with regards to what I express in the music so whatever I am expressing today if I see a U.D.P. or any other government in power any time, I as a citizen reserve the right to speak out against what I feel is wrong.”

Delroy Cuthkelvin
“So these people are singing out of conviction. There are some other artists that we have worked with and it’s not only the artists, it’s also the studios we’ve worked with, some of the songs, some of the behind of the scenes work that takes place, there are professional musicians; people who are professional in what they do and don’t necessarily want to be associated with a party and we don’t have a problem with that. We think that it is important for us as a political party, which is aspiring to be the government, to begin to promote local artists, regardless of what their personal persuasion might be.”

Yasser Musa
“People know what is art and people know is politics, that is very clear in my mind. People know that artists are people as well, that they have their own beliefs and they can chose for themselves. Not because you listen to Super G’s “Four Men” and like that song means that you have to be P.U.P. or that you have to be whatever but to me I think people know the difference.”

While music features prominently in the two mass party campaigns, there is a big difference. The U.D.P. songs are dedicated to a national audience.

Delroy Cuthkelvin, U.D.P. Public Relations Officer
“The message in all our songs is a serious message, it is one about saving Belize, saving our patrimony, restoring some dignity and sanity to this nation and that is what we want people to pay attention to.”

The P.U.P. tactic is to nationally promote the party and focus attention on its standard bearers.

Yasser Musa
“We also introduced this whole cartooning, this modern animation and this kinda funny satire. That is important for politics, I’m seeing little kids singing “Mr. Quitar” stuff. That kind of satire is far more important to make fun of politicians than the kind of vindictive and nasty verbal attacks. We have to teach the kids that yes we have to be able to criticize and make fun of our politicians, they are public figures.”

But in a democracy where party politics reigns supreme, no one is really sure if any of those musical messages remains in the voter’s head come election day.

Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

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