Black Stalin (Leroy Calliste) 1941 – 2022, a tribute

The power of calypso to spark debate and “to make a politician cringe” is everlasting. One is reminded on this mournful morning with the passing of Black Stalin, that the ultimate politician, the “father of the nation,” Dr. Eric Williams, who could cut a calypsonian’s hubris to pieces with a short phrase or a sermon, was both antagonist and victim to Black Stalin lyrical artistry and sagacity.

One race (de Caribbean man)
From de same place (de Caribbean man)
Dat make de same trip (de Caribbean man)
On de same ship (de Caribbean man)

In 1979, the classic “Caribbean Unity” was released on an album of gems, To The Caribbean Man, produced by Earl Rodney, and no sooner than we heard that singable hook, the knives came out and acrimony ensued.

Black Stalin – Caribbean Unity

Prof. Gordon Rohlehr reminds us in his essay on Dr. Williams in the Calypso Context that,

“Indo-Trinidadian academics argued that the song excluded all whose ancestry was not African from its construction of a prospective Caribbean identity.”

Rohlehr, Gordon. “The Culture of Williams: Context, Performance, Legacy.” Callaloo 20, no. 4 (1997): 849-888. doi:10.1353/cal.1997.0083.

Eric Williams, not to be left out, and, I assume, to have a last say on national affairs, delivered a 2½ hour convention address at the 25th P.N.M. Convention later that year. Rohlehr again:

“The burden of Williams’s last great ‘sermon’ on the topics of both national and regional identity was that [Black] Stalin’s Afrocentric perspective was too narrow to serve as a basis for containing the construction of either: the nation was multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, the region even more so.”

Ibid.

Well who tell the Doc to do that? Black Stalin’s response was swift and deadly, no pun intended. (Eric Williams died 12 months after Black Stalin’s calypso response.)

In 1980, Black Stalin sang “Breakdown Party” lambasting Williams’s critique of his song as an exploitative distraction from the reality of the growing incompetence of his, Williams government’s stewardship and distribution of the national patrimony. A growing materialism with no control and inefficiency, “the State-sponsored good life and the disintegration of minds, resources and utilities through unhealthy patronage,” were his themes:

Mr. Divider start the habit
Brother, all Trinidadians love it
Now he trying he utmost best to stop it
Brother, I took a look around
From the country right into town
And is a total breakdown fete going on.
Black Stalin – Breakdown Party

Black Stalin do that! Calypso do that! Today, we mourn one of the best to take on the mantle of calypsonian as commentator and archivist of a society’s mores and desires, its history and its future. More than a nation’s or a region’s, yes, he sang on a race’s conflicts, animus and need for cathartic revenge: “This is my time for burning / Peter keep the fire blazing.” He knew he had a responsibility to the people, his fans, his cohorts to be that mouthpiece that will always be quoted. One hopes that his intellectual property is handled fairly and his legacy is safe from interlopers, politicians and charlatans feigning sad concern and offering delayed praise for this man of words, this Caribbean Man. Rest in peace Leroy Calliste, Black Stalin.

© 2022, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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