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The Progress of Winsford 'Joker' Devine
- A Review Reporters
Posted: January 22, 2007

The book, 'The Progress of Winsford Devine' 
The book, 'The Progress of
Winsford Devine'
The book, 'The Progress of Winsford Devine', records the literary prowess of the ingenious songwriter, Winsford 'Joker' Devine. Over the past 40 years, Joker has written Calypso and Soca songs for many of the top singers including Crazy, Sparrow, Machel Montano, Singing Francine, Mighty Trini, Charlene Boodram, Sugar Aloes, Marcia Miranda, Karen Asche, Poser, Baron, Explainer, Blakie and Austin. However, the contribution of this master songwriter, who hails from Patna Village, Diego Martin, to the Calypso artform has largely gone unnoticed. The book contains contributions from Alvin Daniell, Lincoln Depradine and journalists Nandi Ogunlade and Terry Joseph.

According to the eloquent Nandi Ogunlade, "Devine embraces a noble tradition as calypso is part of a rich cultural tapestry that evolved from the memories of enslaved Africans. As a soca composer -distinguishable from calypso by its crammed beats per minute and eclectic blends with eastern, soul, reggae, rap, pop, jazz and other musical forms- he has spearheaded a musical evolution with mellifluous melodies for voice, brass and steel instrumentation." Nandi acknowledges that not every Devine lyric is profound nor every rhythm sweet, but argues that cushioned within the 600 strong catalogue are timeless gems that have influenced cultural movements, shaped political thought and fueled his nation's propensity for bacchanal. Nandi's observation seems a fitting tribute to the lyrical genius of Winsford 'Joker' Devine.

Lincoln Depradine briefly outlines the history of Joker Devine who was born in the rural area of Morne Diablo on August 15th, 1943. Devine later moved to Nelson Street, Port of Spain - an area buzzing with creativity - and it was here 'among the crème de la crème of Steelband artistes that the Devine legend would blossom.' Depradine notes that in the peak of his career in the 1980s, Joker averaged about 40 songs every Carnival season, many of which found favour in the court of public opinion.

The book however is not a direct biography of Joker but a collection of his lyrics which span a 40 year period. Winsford Devine's mass of writings are an eclectic mix of poetry, social commentary and party songs. His party songs especially those with a double meaning of a sexual nature has, as Nandi Ogunlade puts it, fueled his nation's propensity for bacchanal. Many of these songs have been popularized by Sparrow and Crazy. Nandi notes that his themes span science, geography, civics, economics, civilization, culture, technology, history, socialization, development and a multiplicity of subthemes. One of his compositions, 'Progress', sung by King Austin, was voted 'Calypso of the Millennium' by the Trinbago Unified Calypso Organisation (TUCO). Progress is a haunting song that calls attention to nature and direction of our development:
"Prophets everywhere gaze upon the
horizon and declare
That judgment will come
As the savage hands of unscrupulous
Men defile everything pass by
Time is running out as we eat and drink
Species at the brink of being extinct
And I think no one can deny that the
price of progress is high, real high"
Among his classics are 'Don't Rock It So', 'Memories', 'Every Shadow Walk With a Gun', 'Guardians', 'In Time to Come', 'Somebody', 'Steelband Woman', 'Take Me Back Africa', 'Too Young to Soca' and 'River of Tears'. Sparrow alone has sung over 60 of his songs including: 'This World Don't Like Nothing Black', 'Phillip My Dear', 'Marajhin', 'Queen of the Band', 'Rope', 'Saltfish', 'Isolate South Africa', 'Ah Digging Horrors' and 'Survival'. Joker's lyrical content portrays a concern for social class issues, environmental destruction, history, culture and politics as they relate to national development. Devine's song, 'Save our Domestics' sung by Singing Francine addresses both class and gender discrimination in a sensitive and creative way:
"For her jobs are overly strenuous
and her recompense very small
Yet in this constant struggle around us
No one thinks about her at all
She is a toy for the master
A slave for the mistress
Each day from six to six
She got to clean out the toilet
Dust out the closet
Put up with the children's tricks
Do the cooking, the washing,
the shopping, the scrubbing
Take all the hysterics
It is high time somebody somewhere
Do something
And save our domestics"
Indeed, a common thread that runs through many of his songs is a strong concern for the interests of ordinary people and a critique of the direction that society is going. Joker's focus extends past the boundaries of Trinidad and Tobago to issues of Caribbean and international importance. For instance, his song, 'Man: The Warmonger' is a telling analysis of the present international arena:
"Man invented weapons of mass destruction
To annihilate all his enemies
But until Armageddon
He won't understand
His real foes are his ideologies
Like colonialism and slavery
What comes out of the human mind
Often leads to intimidation and discord
Due to man's constant aggravation
And his disregard for the law
We may be facing extinction
Via war: WAR
Man will make war for gold and material riches
Man made war in Iraq and Afghanistan
And say he fighting for democracy
Next he may well attack Syria and Iran
While his fellows look on passively
In two worlds he slaughtered millions
But it seems like man never learns
From his transgressions"
The life and lyrics of Winsford 'Joker' Devine reflects a striving to express the nature of his social space. From the sexuality and bacchanal of the dance floor, to the majestic pan woman and the ingenious steel pan movement, to the topical social and political issues of the day, the Joker is equally comfortable. Though some may say that Joker's 'bacchanal' songs contradict his songs of nation building, this is a view that Joker is quite aware of, and all in all, this mix gives his vast collection of lyrics an interesting flavour. Furthermore, his struggle for his (copy) rights as told in the book is an important part of the due recognition and recompense being accorded to this lyrical genius for his contribution in articulating the stories and issues of our time.

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Winsford 'Joker' Devine Turns Latest Medical Setback
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