In a career of over 50 years singing calypso Black Stalin has cut a path like no other. He stands in calypso’s pantheon of greats as an original mind, born free and wise and infused with love for all.
His calypso repertoire is one for the ages. Like us, generations to come will seek hope in “Better Days”, be stirred by “Sing for the Land”, find understanding and empathy in “Sufferers”, arise from despair knowing “We Can Make It”, celebrate love with “Feeling to Party”, revel in the joy of each other with “Sundar” and find purpose and conviction in “Wait Dorothy, Wait”. Above all, Black Stalin’s world view as expressed through his music and his own approach to life, has re-defined blackness for an Afro-Caribbean population weighed down by historical dehumanisation.
For all these reasons and more, the City of San Fernando is to be commended for honouring its son Leroy Calliste, known the world over as Black Stalin, by re-naming a section of Lord Street, now called Dr Leroy Calliste Street, for him. Although not physically present at Tuesday’s celebratory event, relatives indicated that Black Stalin was following it from home, presumably via live social media coverage. We hope he felt the love flowing his way.
In paying tribute to the man who calls himself “The Black Man”, San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello underscored the part that Lord Street life played in Stalin’s own development as a calypsonian: “Stalin got his material from the expressions on the street and the everyday cries and suffering of the people. His compositions reflected the life of the poor and working class, and the failure of the delivery of justice, which were all articulated in his songs. His advocacy on the plight of the black man or woman has been consistent on a wide range of issues as he clamoured for social upliftment, dignity and the need for political awareness.”
Among the many honours given to him, including an honorary doctorate from The University of the West Indies, Black Stalin will probably cherish his home-town’s naming of a street for him. A man of legendary compassion and generosity, Black Stalin’s insight is rooted in an intimacy with his community from which he has never strayed, no matter how far and wide his music travelled. Like so many calypsonians before him, he has told our stories in an idiom and with a rhythm that has often made them more meaningful than those told in tomes of academic literature. His work awaits our attention and recognition as source material for analysing and understanding ourselves and our society.
A point to note about Tuesday’s tribute was the ease with which it was conducted. Completely absent was the conflict and rancour surrounding recent attempts to change street names in Port of Spain. Perhaps city officials in the capital will take a cue on how to approach change from a position of consensus.
Naming a street in Black Stalin’s honour is an important step in popularising the importance of his contribution to T&T. The next step should be mainstreaming it through the education system.