By Neil Marks
GEORGETOWN (Reuters) - Calypso lyrics decrying corruption and excess have so irked Guyana's government that new songs from the popular Caribbean music genre have been banned from state airwaves.
Calypso music has long been a proud and central feature of life in Guyana, a laid-back former British colony of just 750,000 people on the northeast shoulder of South America.
But the politically spicy lyrics of some recent songs have been too much for the government. Staff at the government-run National Communications Network, or NCN, received a directive this week prohibiting the broadcast of new calypso songs.
Public Works Minister Robeson Benn was so angry at one tune on NCN radio that he drove down to the station himself "to find out what the hell was going on," an official spokesman said.
"It was slanderous," the minister said afterward. "I hold it as my right to go to the station to intervene in an activity which I think impacted me as a citizen and also as a minister."
One of the calypsos that offended authorities blasts the government's corruption record.
"With all de corruption dat taking place, we is de ones fe (they) blame, while dem a thief, thief, thief," the song, which won a local competition, goes in the local creole language.
"Calypso lyrics are spicy," said the piece's singer, Lester Charles. "Either you laugh your head off or it get you real vex."
President Donald Ramotar recognizes Guyana has a corruption problem but says its scale is exaggerated.
Six-time national calypso champion Geoffrey Phillips, who goes by the stage name of "The Mighty Rebel," described the state media ban as "petty and disgusting."
"Calypsos are the spirit and passion of the people," he said. "If we are being forced to tone down, then calypso would lose its soul."
(Writing by Girish Gupta, Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Peter Cooney)