Mia Mottley: The Black Stalin was a maestro, griot and true Caribbean leader

“[…] Black Stalin was one of our region’s finest masters of calypso. Both his lyrics and his melodies expertly captured the rhythm and vibe and voice of the Caribbean.

“He was acutely conscious of our shared history, culture, passions and concerns and expressed them in his songs in a way we never could ourselves…”

The following “heartfelt” tribute to late calypsonian Dr Leroy “The Black Stalin” Calliste was offered on social media by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley SC:

The Black Stalin was one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most accomplished calypsonians.

Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I love music. It is key to all that I do. The truth is one of those early artists who centered me and gave me context and perspective was Black Stalin. He had a way of drilling down always to the core—his message always rooted in truth, justice and solidarity.

Black Stalin was one of our region’s finest masters of calypso. Both his lyrics and his melodies expertly captured the rhythm and vibe and voice of the Caribbean.

He was acutely conscious of our shared history, culture, passions and concerns and expressed them in his songs in a way we never could ourselves. In the true tradition of calypso, Stalin was also a griot, chronicling the issues and philosophies impacting our daily lives.

No more so was it evident than in that iconic Caribbean anthem that remains our Holy Grail of the Caribbean Civilization. Who else has more poignantly reminded us that: “we are one people on the same trip coming on the same ship… pushing one common intention for a better life for we women and we children.”

That must be the ambition of the Caribbean Man—even more so, as we get ready to celebrate 50 years of Caricom in 2023!

Not to be limited to the Caribbean region, Black Stalin emboldened those of us fighting the consequences of colonialism and the horror of apartheid with his exhortations to Peter in Burn Dem. This was a powerful reminder of the exploitation and the oppression of black people by whoever and wherever!

Yes his intention was achieved to empower us with the resolve to keep fighting the battle for Justice.

Black Stalin’s songs were really about nation building, a task to which he was as committed as any Caribbean leader. Yes, he reminded us early on that Dorothy and the tales of jamming her would have to take second place to his concerns as to where the oil money went.

Five-time Calypso Monarch, the Black Stalin.
(Courtesy NCCTT.org)

But perhaps his most far-reaching song was yet another anthem, that of the Black Man.

After centuries of dehumanisation of the Black Man and the Black Woman, Black Stalin validated the importance and dignity of the Black Man (after all his hard work and struggles) to be able just to fete with his woman.

Yes he saw us all!

Our Black Stalin reminded us of the real concern of Sufferers—not to be wallowing in bigotry nor to be used as a background for many others in their causes, but in being singularly concerned as to where the next meal is coming from. Never forget it!

We give thanks for the life, work and passion of Leroy Calliste who at the time of our Caribbean nation building reminded us always that: We can make it if we try.

I was unapologetic in using its power of inspiration. A song without boundaries and sovereignty—a tribute simply to the human spirit. This was one of the key songs that I chose during the Covid-19 Pandemic to use on the highways and by-ways across Barbados, as we worked to encourage our people to stay the course and to keep our heads above water.

We urged as he would, as we all knew, that if we simply try and work together “Better Days are Coming!”

We in the Caribbean have lost one of our greatest nation builders. Each word of his, each sentence of his, carefully crafted by a maestro to tell our story of the Caribbean and our people. Our story!

Iconic late calypsonian Leroy Calliste, better known as The Black Stalin.
(via Flickr)

May we work hard to keep his music alive across this Caribbean with each succeeding generation.

May his work inspire others as it has me on my life’s journey!

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