Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the authors do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by John Godard
Possunt Quia, posse videntur (They can because they think they can).
Last week, veteran St Mark’s and The Lodge School scholar Mac Fingall decided to retire from his 40-year career hosting a calypso tent. As he prepares for a more relaxed phase in his life, I would like to pay tribute to a man who has been instrumental in transforming the entertainment scene in Barbados through a highly professional approach to the field.
A relatively quiet man at home, Mac stormed into 1982 as a member of the presentation team for the award-winning performance of the legendary “Mr. Harding” by Red Plastic Bag (RPB) onto the entertainment stage. At the time, RPB was a member of the Conquerors Calypso tent.
However, by the next year Mac had formed the Untouchables, which starred The Bag and also included a number of young Calypsonians, mostly from St. Philip and St. John. Among the performers was the inimitable Duke Check ED shirt, the nomenclature of which was expanded nearly every year by Fingall, who realized that the Duke could be a draw with his long, humorous title and unique presentation. The Untouchables was professionally organized and provided guests with a full entertainment package. Mac himself was a manager, MC, comedian and calypsonian.
Fingall’s wide and varied experiences in Barbados, Bermuda and the United States were reflected in his comedic offerings. He has an elephantine memory and an ability to take truth and make creative comedy. Few know that his jokes about his sisters Patsy and Gail and the much-respected Vicar/Principal of St Mark’s, Rev William Brathwaite and, to a lesser extent, Rev Stephen Fields, were based on true events.
Also, many of us he knew well had to duck and hide when visiting the Tent of the Untouchables for fear Mac would make us the butt of his humorous plays. He was remarkably creative, able to turn the most mundane incident into groundbreaking comedy. The American accent he sometimes used on stage as well as his “movements” helped him a lot in his presentations.
What the audience saw on stage was the result of careful thought and preparation days before a show. His attire was carefully chosen to match the subject matter of his presentations and it took him hours to fine-tune exactly what he wanted to do and say, a practice I believe he inherited from his father, who was a presenter in the 1950s Service of Songs was and 1960s.
As a performer, Mac wanted to entertain but also make listeners think. Even when you were laughing, you were thinking about what the Maestro had just said.
But Mac wasn’t just a comedian; His talent as an MC was hard to match.
He paid attention to how he introduced each performer and was an expert at attracting and holding audiences’ attention while they awaited results or while a problem was being fixed. The truth is that he left nothing to chance, a skill he had honed as a teacher.
Fingall was a grossly underrated Calypsonian. People often looked for fun and even sexual innuendo in his songs and often missed the seriousness of his lyrics. He wrote a range of social commentaries ranging from educational and nationalistic to risqué.
Of particular interest were his portrayals, which reflect love and concern for Barbados. “No Bayan”, “2009” Written in 1987: “The gap is still the same”, “Folly”“Barbados is part of Trinidad‘, among other things, were cleverly constructed and designed to make us stop and think about where our country is headed.
On the surface, “Foolishness” came across as nonsensical calypso, but if we listen closely to the lyrics we realize that the Calypsonian is holding up a mirror for us to see some of the realities of Barbadian society. “The gap is still the same” emphasizes the stagnation of the economic situation of the black masses compared to our white counterparts.
“Barbados belongs to Trinidad” draws attention to what some call the “Trini takeover”. The foresighted “2009” Mac granted a peek through a time machine to see how Barbados was in danger of being controlled by another ethnic group.
Needless to say, this calypso caused much controversy and aroused much fear among our Indian brethren. Those of us who know Mac well knew that it was not his intention to be xenophobic. Rather, he took an honest look at what he saw as a potential future challenge.
in his song “No bayan”, He did not reject non-Bajan women as suitable wives for our men. However, he found it odd that such a large percentage of our guides seemed to consider beautiful local girls unworthy of marriage.
Mac has always had a genuine interest in the Caribbean working together in the face of globalization and threats to our sovereignty. That’s why he wrote the excellent song “United States of the Caribbean”. The gun violence that plagues our country is captured in this calypso “Somebody knows”.
Our retiree is well known as a former gym teacher at Lodge School. There his knowledge and skills made the school a hugely successful sports, cricket, football and basketball powerhouse.
He had a reputation for being a harsh disciplinarian, almost forcing his charges to go beyond their abilities. He made no excuses for lack of effort and made parents worry about the workload of their loved ones. Ultimately, however, they praised him for turning their boys and jills into young people who were ready and able to take on the world.
He was a teacher at The Lodge School when it experienced some of its darkest days. His love for his alma mater inspired him to organize a “Lodge School, we are fight back concert” and to lead efforts to get a bus. During its 277 years as an educational institution, The Lodge School has produced many outstanding men and women.
Few can credibly argue against putting Mac among the best. I am convinced that, guided by the school’s motto, he did it because he thought he could. Have a restful, healthy, and productive retirement, Mac. But can you crack us one last joke before you go?
John Goddard, retired but always an educator.