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If there was ever a calypsonian who made it his life’s mission to empower “de black man” and reject the stain of colonialism on the Caribbean – it was Black Stalin.
When news of the veteran’s death at the age of 81 came last Wednesday, it reignited conversations about his masterful contribution to the art form over the course of his career which began back in 1959.
Though he had been ailing for some time- the last eight years to be exact, after suffering a stroke in 2014- his passing was a difficult pill to swallow for those who value the depth of his impact.
Dr Leroy Calliste, in his own words and by his own standards, made his mark.
“As a youth I always had two things in mind that I wanted to be successful with. One- a successful career and a two- a successful family. I have a beautiful family home, a loving wife and some beautiful youths…they make me happy with the way we live. Then from a youth I started this singing thing and I always hope that one day that maybe you could put Black Stalin name on a poster and somebody would buy a ticket. And I think today it’s happening and in life- I’m really pleased,” the Caribbean man said in a 1994 interview with Harold Pysadee while backstage at Tilden Hall in Brooklyn, New York.
Twenty-eight years after he spoke those words, Stalin took his final breath surrounded by his family at his home in San Fernando, forever to be remembered as one of the most prolific calypsonians Trinidad and Tobago has ever produced.
“His passing leaves us poorer but his rich legacy of poetic calypso lyrics and haunting musical lines will all live on for our guidance and in his enduring memory,” Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said in his reflections on the five-time Calypso Monarch’s life.
The sentiment is one echoed throughout the Caribbean, as shared by Barbados’ Mia Mottley: “He had a way of drilling down always to the core – his message always rooted in truth, justice and solidarity.”
Though a single article can never encompass Stalin’s indelible contribution to calypso music, we’ve narrowed down our list to five timeless pieces from his extensive discography; songs which speak to our joy, pain and consciousness.
“Judgement morning, I by de gate and I waiting
Because I begging de master, gimme a wuk with Peter
It have some sinners coming, with dem I go be dealing
Because de things that they do me, I want to fix dem personally…”
From Cecil Rhodes to Benito Mussolini, Queen Victoria, Christopher Columbus, Margaret Thatcher, Ian Smith, Ronald Reagan and the list goes on -none would be spared in this immortalized offering, in which Stalin takes listeners along for a conversation between himself and St. Peter at heaven’s gates, about his plan to assert vengeance on colonial masters on behalf the oppressed.
The song earned him his third Calypso Monarch title in what was seen as a close race with runner-up David Rudder who released ‘Calypso Music’ that same year.
Black Man Feeling To Party (1991)
“Leave we worries by the doorsteps
For that tonight we have no time
We go deal with that tomorrow
Tonight we going out to lime
We go do ah little soca
We will do ah little grind
We go do a little back back
And show them youngsters how to wine”
Joy is an act of revolution.
In this piece, Stalin takes fans into his personal life with a party offering which also serves as a love song to the wife of his youth, Patsy Calliste, whom he credits in the final verse for the success of his career:
“When meh fans and them tell meh
They find meh career going rel fine
I does simply have to tell them
You is the driving force behind
You is the one that give meh courage
You is the one that have me great
So for that meh darling
We going out and celebrate”
This type of display of public honor towards one’s spouse was not the norm at that time in kaiso, when many entertainers glorified the idea of the ‘outside woman’.
The mega-hit earned Stalin his fourth Calypso Monarch win and to this day, is a party starter in fetes for people of all ages.
In ‘Come with it’ a tune he released one year later, Stalin defended the 1991 track against critics who accused him of singing smut, retaliating:
“So before them reporters put meh career in more jeopardy
Not me, not me to sing nothing about party.
But when my fans and dem around the world listen to what I have to say
Anywhere that ah go, anywhere that ah pass
They keep bawling out no way!
No, no no, this party cyah done
Black man, yuh fans having fun…”
Wait Dorothy Wait (1985)
Skillful with his pen, Stalin managed to find a way to satisfy the desires of fans who longed to hear him sing about more salacious topics instead of the militant position he often took with his deep dives about politics, colonialism and oppression.
Admitting that he accepted the challenge to write a smut calypso, Stalin journeys through the thought process that leads him back to his true purpose as a vehicle to inspire social consciousness.
The stance in most of his calypsos was rooted in Pan-Africanism and was reflective of the politics of the time- including the Black Power Movement of the 1970s.
Though ‘Wait Dorothy Wait’ zeroes in on global issues like poverty, famine and the fact that “dem politicians still cyah form a Federation”, the chorus is lighthearted enough to have been considered a party tune at a first listen.
It won him the Calypso Monarch title for that year.
Tribute to Sundar Popo (1995)
“Everybody know that we is partner
Since the days of nani and nana
Now that’s de man that really started chutney
And pave the way for Rikki and Drupatee
So now I going to do for you a chutney jam
I must go to the best composer in the land
And the best of de composer, everybody know
Is nobody else but Sundar Popo”
Showing off his versatility, Stalin’s tribute to the King of Chutney won him his fifth and final Calypso Monarch title.
Though he focused much of his career on amplifying the struggles of Africans across the diaspora, Black Stalin was highly sensitive to the government-fueled racial tension between Indians and Africans in Trinidad and Tobago, singing in ‘Nah Ease Up’:
“I ain’t got no group, I ain’t no party
Every constituency is my constituency
Anywhere poor people getting pressure
It is my duty to tell Mr. Divider”
No Part Time Lover (1986)
“You walk about and say I am your lover man
That I am you and you is I
You even say I bring you inspiration
Somehow ah feel yuh telling a lie
For as the one season over
Yuh gone again with yuh foreign lover
And leave me to walk all around town for some other music
To lead me around
I say that’s wrong”
Stalin tackles the long-standing criticism surrounding the treatment of calypso music outside of the Carnival season, warning that “the only way we music will get somewhere is when you love it all de way”.
“This part time lovin is not for me
I’m a full-time lover, not no part time joker
In January you is meh lover
Come on and be de same in September…”
Other honourable mentions from his discography include In Time to Come, We can make it if we try, Sufferers, Ism Schism, Wine Dhanraj, No Woman No and Better Days are Coming.
To our ancestor, de Caribbean Black Man who consistently held up a mirror for us to see ourselves, even when what was staring back wasn’t the prettiest picture- we give thanks. (Loop News)