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Caribbean netizens take to ‘extempo’ music to spread COVID-19 safety messages

Raymond from Trinidad and Tobago takes up the COVID-19 extempo challenge. Screenshot taken from a YouTube video uploaded by King Razah.

Trinidad and Tobago is known the world over as the birthplace of calypso music and a key aspect of the genre is “extempo”. Short for “extemporaneous”, this lyrically improvisational form of calypso — which typically involves live contests in which performers spontaneously invent lyrics around given themes — is both popular and entertaining, due in some measure to the biting picong between the combatants of these extempo wars.

Such interactive performances typically include spectators echoing one of a number of refrains, the most common of which is santimanitay!, a derivative of the French phrase sans humanité (“without mercy”).

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, many Caribbean netizens — as well as members of the diaspora — have heeded the call of Trinidad and Tobago's reigning Extempo Monarch, Brian London, to try their lyrical prowess in a COVID-19 extempo challenge. Ian Webster, three-time holder of Barbados’ Calypso King title, also claimed credit for starting the trend — but regardless of who issued the initial clarion call, the riposte was phenomenal.

Among the “first responders” were three-time Junior Extempo Monarch, Kevan Calliste, who would certainly appreciate that extempo, being a competitive sport of sorts, is ultimately judged by the inventiveness of the lyrics, and the poise and confidence with which they are delivered.

Some of the best offerings included Trinidad and Tobago's current Calypso Monarch, Terri Lyons, who urged Facebook users to “stay at home…don't go and roam”:

On a serious note 'bout this COVID-19
You have to wash your hands and practice proper hygiene
And social distancing will make corona subside
So please comply and keep your ass inside

Lyons took the opportunity to challenge some of her peers, including former Calypso Queen of Trinidad and Tobago, Heather MacIntosh, who readily jumped in via YouTube:

The government trying the best they can to pound some sense into citizens
Man, every day they on the TV, asking, begging, pleading with we
Distance yourself, help flatten the curve; do them simple things your nation to serve
Now I adding my voice, telling John Public, ‘Stay home, stay safe and please don't get sick…’

On YouTube, Grenadian singer Jermaine Simon warned that the coronavirus does not discriminate, so everyone should strive to self-isolate:

I sit home listening to the news thinking
‘Bout the deadly virus COVID-19
Sad, a lot of people dead and they gone
The rich, the old, the poor and the young…

In fact, several singers from Grenada got together to do the challenge and send a strong message to the public about how their behaviour can help stop the spread of the virus.

St. Lucian musician Arthur Allain also contributed, causing the country's prime minister, Allen Chastanet, to call him a “true patriot and ambassador”. His tune included these lyrics:

Ladies and gentlemen, the message now is clear
Corona is serious but have no fear
We can win this war, yeah, we can win with ease
All we ask is that you kindly stay at home please…

Of course, not everyone who participated was a professional singer, but many had musical talent, like Trinidadian Facebook user Sonja Tee, who sang:

These are strange times and you know it's true
COVID-19 has changed everything that we do
We were living our lives with normality, going to work, visiting friends and family
We thought that those times would forever last
But this global crisis put that in the past…

This unnamed man from Dominica also offered a worthwhile contribution:

Well, I say it must be a curse, this COVID-19 virus
And it taking over the world, every man, woman, boy and girl
It affecting every country, cripple the world economy
Everybody now search their soul, I say Jah taking back control…

Three generations of the Caribbean diaspora, two of whom are health care workers, also teamed up to do the challenge. The video was widely shared via WhatsApp:

As nurses in the USA, this is what we would like to say:
Coronavirus, ah telling you, man, we don't think that USA has a plan
But we will fight through and through, stay in your house I'm telling you
Wash your hands, wear a mask, and don't get corona up in your ass

Delivering a serious message with a tinge of humour, ambassador and former member of parliament in Trinidad and Tobago, Amery Browne, had the last word:

Some turn to science, some start to pray, some in the supermarket all day
Some spraying Lysol under their shoe, some buy out all the toilet tissue
But from the facts we cannot hide, our social distancing must be wide
So listen to me, swallow your pride, my friend — keep your tail inside

Santimanitay!

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