IN CARRIACOU: THE LONG-AWAITED MOTHER AND CHILD RE-MEETING, SEPTEMBER 27-30, 2016   Recently updated!

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(part 2 of 2)

Caldwell Taylor

 

Home is the place where , when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

-Robert Frost

Our drum is the shortest route to Africa, and the Big Drum ritual signifies the unity of

Carriacou’s nine African nations. In order of precedence the nations are: Arada (Rada), Cromati, Igbo, Manding, Temne, Kongo, Chamba, Moko, Banda.

The Temne, Number Five in the Big Drum circle,will celebrate a historic reunion in Carriacou, September 27 to 30. The occasion promises to overcome the pain of centuries of separation.; this sacred  re-meeting will grow our faith in our ancestors and also  in our nation.

carriacou

What is a Nation?

This is truly a macco question. It is so big it compelled the intellectual energies of Frenchman Ernest Renan . In his celebrated 1888 essay “What is a Nation?”, Renan writes: “The essence of a nation is that all individuals have many things in common, and also that they have forgotten many things”.

So the Nation is the site of a strategic loss of memory.

Renan’s important inquiry came fifteen years following France’s crushing defeat at the hands of the Prussian-Germans in the war of 1871 -1872. The Prussian victory hastened the birth of a German nation.

The story of nation-making begins in the seventeenth century; perhaps nation-making helped to incite the struggles that kindled the Thirty Years`War [1618-1648] which came to an end in the Treaty of Westphalia.

The Peace of Westphalia ushered in a rapid decline of the powers of the Church,  opening the way for a secular congregation – the nation state.

In the name of the nation-state the New World was plundered. The nation-state inaugurated `Negro slavery’, and the Church gave generous assistance to the colonizing missions.

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FRENCH DEFEAT AND THE COMMUNE

The French defeat at the hands of the Germans provided the conditions for the rise of the Paris Commune, a radical and revolutionary government that ruled Paris from 18 March to 28 May 1871.


“The Commune was the world’s first socialist working class uprising,” and it warmed Karl Marx’s revolution-seeking heart.

But the Commune did not go to Marx’s logical destination ; indeed Marx’s world -changing prophecy- international proletarian rule- remains unfulfilled. This failure has  caused political theorist of nationalism Tom Nairn to write: “The theory of nationalism represents Marxism’s great historical failure”.

Nairn’s  observation attains greater force in 1979 when two Marxist countries (China and Vietnam) went to war.

Nationhood  is fortress of emotions

“What is a nation? “

Winston Fleury, Carriacou’s Big Drum icon

“The nation exists before all, it is the origin of everything. Its will is always legal, it is the law itself”, wrote Abbe Sieyes, priest and French patriot.

Sieyes’ opinion seems a restatement of Spinoza’s views on the nation in the Tractatus. Arguably the leading thinker of the Enlightenment,  Spinoza wrote: “There is no doubt that devotion to country is the highest form of piety a man can show; for once the State [he means nation – ct] is destroyed nothing good can survive”. 

Hugh Seton Watson asserts that the Nation eludes definition, “yet the phenomenon has existed and exists.”

The Concept of Nation: Lorna McDaniel, The Big Drum Ritual of Carriacou,

Praisesongs in Rememory of Flight

“In written documents of the eighteenth century the evasive term nation appears frequently. The word essential to the ideal of the Big Drum, also appears in the oral literature and vernacular Carriacouns to this day. Operating within two systems, basically, a nation denotes not only a geographical region but a linguistic/ethic group as well.”

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Benedict Anderson: “The nation “is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.”

And let us also remember that there once a time in Grenada when the word nation was often heard. But my great-grand mother and her partisans used the word to describe a family, or sometimes a village.

Example: “Dem Chantimelle people is a warrior nation”.

This concept of nation was almost always used to say something negative. This negativity will hinder our work of nation-making.

 

WHO ARE YOUR PEOPLE?

Below, the view of Carriaouan Lebert Joseph, a shopkeeper in Paule Marshall`s Praise for the Widow:

“I’s a Chamba! From my father’s side of the family”, Lebert told Avey, an American visitor to the island. Assuming that all black people were aware of their specific ethnic identities, Lebert turned to Avey and asked: “What is your nation?” Is you Arada? Cromanti maybe?” Yarriba? Moko?” Is you a Manding like my mother, maybe?” (Paule Marshall, Praise for the Widow,1983:167)

Lebert’s interrogation and Avey’s puzzlement remind this writer of one of the more dramatic dialogues in George Lamming’s “In the Castle of My Skin“:

 

‘I like it’, I said. ‘That was really very beautiful’.

You know the voice?” Trumper asked. He was

very serious now. I tried to recall whether I might

have heard it. I couldn’t. ‘Paul Robeson’, he said.

One of the greats o’ my people.’What people?”

I asked. I was a bit puzzled. “My people’, said

Trumper. His tone was insistent. Then he softened

into a smile. I didn’t know whether he was smiling

at my ignorance, or whether he was smiling his

satisfaction with the box and the voice and above

all Paul Robeson.’Who are your people?’ I asked .

It seemed a kind of huge joke.’The Negro race’, said

Trumper. The smile had left his face, and his manner

had turned grave again… He knew I was puzzled…

 

castle-lammingAt first I thought he meant the village. This allegiance

was something bigger. I wanted to understand it….

(Lamming, 1953: 331)

 

 

To live is to belong . The individual is a page in the sacred Book of Belonging.

A nation is a  Bigdrum; it is the dance around the mythic navel of our world.    The Nation nurtures its roots; it remembers its routes.

 

September 23, 2016


BAI BUREH’S PEOPLE COME HOME TO CARRIACOU: “FOR TRUE, TIME IS REALLY LONGER THAN ROPE”   Recently updated!

[Part 1 or 2]

By Caldwell Taylor

Bai Bureh (1840-1908) was the fearless Temne fighter who led the 1898 war against British colonialism in Northern Sierra Leone, and, no joke, in the course of his fight he offered a one thousand pound reward for the capture of the British Governor of the territory! The offer was proclaimed in response to the Governor’s call for Bureh’s capture; this call came with a one hundred pound sterling bounty to anyone who provided information that led to the capture of the rebel leader. Bureh was finally taken and was exiled. The hero returned to his country in 1903, and he died in 1908.

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Photograph of Bai Bureh, National Hero Of Sierra Leone

Death does not kill the hero: Indeed immortality is the hero’s rich recompense.

The hero makes history; and history has curious ways of doing the hero’s bidding.

The hero is a messenger. The hero is the emblem of what the mass makes inevitable.

Historical inevitability sails to a historic meeting in Carriacou– a sun-parched island that

has made more history than it could knead.

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World Renowned Carriacou Artist Canute Caliste

Carriacou made Canute Caliste (1914-2005); May Fortune (1909-1973); Ferguson “Sugar” Adams (1891-1983); and also “Mas’ Fred” F.B. Paterson, plantation owner (Belvedere), legislator, and according to historian Gordon K. Lewis (1919-1991), an “avowed socialist.”

Governor David Alexander Paterson has strong and deep roots in Carriacou. David was the first African-American Governor of New York State. David’s father, Basil (1926-2014), was a widely-known New York labor lawyer and politician. Basil was the first African-American Secretary of State of New York, and the first -African American Vice-Chair of the National Democratic Party. Basil’s father came from Carriacou, to New York back in 1917.

The name “Carriacou” cradles the memory of a martyred people, the so-called Caribs.

Carriacou is Kayryouacou, the Carib-named “island of many reefs.”carriacou_cmpsd_20

Over in Grenada, the Caribs fought to preserve their independence. This fight continued to a precipice where the Caribs were slaughtered at the hands of the French. This slaughter was celebrated high above a bloody sea of Gallic shouts:

Sauteurs!

Sauteurs!

Heroes never die!

The Sauteurs massacre completed the first stage of the French occupation of La Grenade. French rule in Grenada began in second half of the seventeenth century and continued until 1763 when the Treaty of Paris awarded the island to the British.

The treaty treated Carriacou as a ward of Grenada.

Politically and constitutionally a part of Grenada, Carriacou was a part of the electoral district of St Patrick’s until the 1930s.

Culturally speaking, however, Carriacou was very different from the “Mainland”.

TRIBAL ALLEGIANCES IN CARRIACOU

slave_trade_1650-1860_b-www-slaveryinamerica-org

Carriacou runs on ethnic lines and many Carriacouans self-identify as members of one of the following African “nations”:

Arada (Rada), Banda, Chamba, Congo, Cromanti, Manding, Moko (Ibibio), Temne, Ibo (igbo).

Caldwell Taylor is a writer, cultural commentator and member of the Bigdrumnation collective. Taylor lives in Ajax, Ontario. 


Grenadian Olympic Athletes Inspire National Pride & National Unity

A Big Drum Nation Editorial

Team Grenada Rio Olympics

Team Grenada Rio Olympics

Bigdrumnation wishes to congratulate the seven young men and women (Kanika Beckles, Oreoluwa Cherebin, Kurt Felix, Kirani James, Corey Ollivierre, and Bralon Taplin) who represented Grenada so proudly in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  These athletes (including the two swimmers) showed the world the highest ideals that Grenadians emulate and aspire to — inner strength, discipline, persistence, grace, humility, goal orientation, and resilience.  An appreciation of our athletes cannot be complete without recognizing the administrators, coaches, and other professionals that provided the necessary preparation and support for their success.

Sports have this rare ability to elevate individuals and whole communities. And furthermore, sports forge discipline, and such discipline is inescapably vital to nation-making and national cohesion.  Nations are forged and sustained in fields of unremitting effort. Our leaders may do well to take the cue from the accomplishments and the spirit of our Olympians.

Bralon Taplin and Kirani James Share Final Glory

Bralon Taplin and Kirani James Share Glory

Our tri-nation of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique shows the world once again the might and pride of smallness. In fact, according to the BBC and websites such as medalspercapita.com, Grenada tops the list of participating Olympic nations with our one medal – Kirani James’ silver medal run in the men’s 400 meters – coming from a population of just over 100,000. This is the second consecutive Olympic that Grenada has led in this capacity (following Kirani’s gold in Beijing). The appearance of two Grenadians in the 400 meters finals (Kirani James and Bralon Taplin) is yet another remarkable accomplishment of our athletes. All participants in that race were sub 45, making it the fastest Olympic 400 meters ever!

Yet another remarkable accomplishment was brothers Kurt Felix and Lindon Victor’s outstanding performance in the men’s Decathlon.  These decathlon athletes were represented among the most difficult and rigorous of the Olympic events.  Kurt Felix placed within the top 10 competitors while Lindon Victor finished within the top 20.

What do these feats say about the Grenadian youth, the Grenadian people?  In responding to the question one thing is crystal clear: Grenadians have a genius for defying great odds. Kirani James is a towering symbol of this Grenadian defiance!

Kirani and Gold Medalist Wayde van Niekerk

Kirani James & Gold Medalist/new World Record Holder Wayde van Niekerk

Kirani’s temperament is also instructive in helping us measure our expectations as a people. Never boastful and without pretensions of being supernatural, always recognizing his limitations, he is forever striving to improve and develop. Grenada, as a whole, can take a cue from our Olympians, attitudinally and practically.

Editors

Caldwell Taylor, Sue Patrice, Martin Felix


Our Carnival: Playing the Past, Playing the Present, Previewing the Future

Various interviews with Entertainment Agents, Promoters, Carnival Organizers, Calypsonians to support this theme.

Credit: Modern Day Gillian

Image Credit: Modern Day Gillian

We are starting out the interview series with Mr. Angus Steele, Entertainment Agent and Owner/Manager of Spice Concoction

http://www.spiceconcoction.com/

 

BIGDRUMNATION: What brought you to this often- maligned business of calypso, soca, and carnival?

Angus:  think it’s more about my love for music since I was growing up (learned to play drums with the Pitt brothers – Richard “Sabina” and Selwyn “Kung Fu”, looking on keenly at the years with Rodney “Doc” Rapier and Eddie Bullen and loving the Classical Guitar around the same time to today, played Steelpan early in GBSS, tried the piano and didn’t like it much, contracted artist under LIME in recent years in St. Vincent and thereafter in Grenada, setup my own Entertainment/Artist Management business in April 2014, worked on putting together formally The Carenage Rhythm Section – “Frontline Rhythm Section” early 2015), that saw me end up in my current situation and specifically those Genres since it’s the most common of skills locally. I may add that one of my Artist is into Urban Reggae music so I’m also diving deeper into that Genre as well despite little local talent as our “culture” mainly spins such music around Jamaicans.

Complete Interview attached: Download/ view full interview.

At this link are many of his artists’ releases for 2016 Spice Mass – Spice Concoction You Tube Channel

 


 

Interview with KennyC – Reggae/ soca recording artiste

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KennyC Hails from Paradise St. Andrew, Grenada W.I. He is proud and happy to call Toronto, Ontario, Canada home but will always have a special place in his heart for his birth land Grenada.

This love of country has inspired him to compose SWEET GRENADA – the first single from his first album: Longtime Coming

BIGDRUMNATION: The music critics are showering you with high praises. Why do you think that they are so enamored of your performances?

KC: I’m grateful for the interest. I’ve been loving /singing and listening to music for most of my life but when I started singing professionally and seriously in the last several years, I wanted to bring to the people good lyrics that tell a story mixed with interesting beats and arrangements. I’m always asking my producers to give me something new and different, something people can feel. Sometime I would hum my rendition of where I would like to go with the tune to them. I also write all my songs – when I perform them the audience is getting and feeling a real piece of KennyC. I think its that mixture of melody, music, honesty and reality that’s connecting me to my fan base and music critics.

Complete Interview attached: Download/ view full interview.

 


Vincy Mas in USA Launches with Big Win for New Artiste

New Soca Artiste Wins big During Launch of Vincy Mas in USA

By Maxwell Haywood

Michelle ‘Hibiscus’ Hillocks created history by spectacularly winning both the New Song Competition, and the first ever New Break-out Artiste prize during the tenth staging of the launch of Vincy Mas in the USA. All this sensation took place on Saturday, May 7, 2016, at Bamboo Gardens in Brooklyn, New York, and was organized by Level Vibes, ably led by Ainsley Primus and Caiphas “Super Eyes” Cuffy.

New Song Competition, and the first ever New Break-out Artiste winner Michelle 'Hibiscus' Hillocks (right) receiving trophy from Atiba Williams (left) Vice Chairman of the Cultural Association of Vincentians in the USA

New Song Competition, and the first ever New Break-out Artiste winner Michelle ‘Hibiscus’ Hillocks (right) receiving trophy from Atiba Williams (left) Vice Chairman of the Cultural Association of Vincentians in the USA

After the singing of the national anthem of both the United States and St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and remarks by SVG Consul General Selmon Walters and Minister of Tourism, Sports and Culture Cecil Mckie, 10 artistes competed in the New Song Competition for the Soca Devil Trophy. They included: Shadique ‘Shaddi’ Paul with his song “Soca all year”; Francis ‘Striker’ Brown with “Gimme Piece Ah Dat”; Maxwell ‘Zeagay’ Samuel with “Stop Smoke de Cocaine”; Michelle-Ann ‘Hibiscus’ Hillocks with “Riddim”; Mervyn ‘Bobb MC’ Bobb with “Get off ah me”; Prim Adonna Bascombe with “Kamasutra”; Dennis ‘De Original Honey Boy Bells’ Jackson with “Fire Power”; Kenroy ‘Jakie’ Jack with “We jamming”; and John Dougan” with “Let’s do again”.

At the end of the show, the MCs Hailes Castello and Bennett Straker announced the decision of the judges, in which first place went to Michelle-Ann ‘Hisbiscus’ Hillocks; second place to Kenroy ‘Jakie’ Jack; and third place to Dennis Bowman.

Winners received cash prizes from Level Vibes, and also trophies and a plaque sponsored by newly created Cultural Association of Vincentians in the USA (CAVUSA). Junior “Soca Jones” Jones, Joanne Legair, and Elmo “Magic” Christian served as judges.

vincy-mas

‘Hibiscus’ dethroned last year’s winner Chang- I, who did not appear to defend his title. Performing for the first time at this level of competition, she displayed full confidence in her ability to deliver. From the time Hibiscus hit the stage, it was clear that she was in command and had all intentions of creating a big impact on the judges and audience, which she did in fine style. She made it easy for the judges to select her as the winner.

With a pulsating pace fit for Back Street on Carnival Monday, Hibiscus let the world know the vital function of soca music to Caribbean people. In her song “Riddim”, she highlighted the African foundation of soca, hence it’s rise and role in Caribbean societies. She spotlighted and expressed pride in the wining dance style as a significant part of Caribbean culture. She singled out the power of the soca rhythm as responsible for the wining done by Caribbean people during carnival and in parties.

Hibiscus receives 'New Breakout Artist' plaque from singer/songwriter Cauldric Forbes.

Hibiscus receives ‘New Breakout Artist’ plaque from singer/songwriter Cauldric Forbes.

Born in Arnos Vale, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Hibiscus now resides in Philadelphia. She expressed great delight in her accomplishment of winning the New Song Competition and the New Break-out Artiste prize. “I am totally mesmerized and truly happy. This is the first time I am performing in such a big competition”, she gleefully said.

Hibiscus expressed her deep love for music and explained that her singing talent was discovered at a young age in school and church, and members of her family have been involved in music. Referring to those who have assisted her in her rise as a soca artiste, Hibiscus credited her teachers at Sion Hill Primary School and St Joseph’s Convent School in SVG, Cauldric Forbes as a song writer, and Ainsley Primus.

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She now looks forward to performing her other song on June 4, 2016, during the Dynamite Calypso Tent preliminary judging of SVG National Calypso Monarch Competition for Vincy Mas 2016, to be held at Café Omar in Brooklyn, New York. Lots of attention is now on this upcoming show when the calypsonians in the Vincentian diaspora in North America will deliver their calypso offerings for Vincy Mas 2016.

Vincent ‘Groovy D’ Kennedy, Carlos ‘Rejector’ Providence, and Phill ‘Phill Patch’ Baptiste of the Dynamite Calypso Tent also made guest appearances. They were joined by representatives of the 20th Century Steel Orchestra, DJ Eyes and DJ Lagga.

Maxwell Haywood is a writer and community activist. He is chairperson of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Diaspora Committee of New York Inc.

 


Within Rum and Coca Cola “Gypsy in the Moonlight” book review

Within Rum and Coca Cola

By Duff Mitchell

J.L.F. WaldronL. F.  Waldron’s Gypsy in the Moonlight, with its appeal to thoughts and feelings, is a fine piece of literary work. The author presents a sequence of events in a gently gripping tide of narrative that makes the reader anxious to find out what’s next. The story unfolds around the conflict between a mother and daughter as well as between American sailors and the community exemplified in an ex-policeman.

Gypsy accounts for the American occupation of Trinidad and Tobago, beginning in 1942 with sailors stationed in Trinidad during World War II, as part of America’s mission to prevent Germany from establishing a beachhead in Panama. The novel gets its title as it outlines the dramatic disturbance of colonials going through hard times then having to angrily settle for the cancellation of Carnival, while struggling with the debate on adult suffrage along with the upheaval over the right to collective bargaining of oil and sugar workers.

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Tubal Uriah Butler and Dr Eric Williams

The central character is a fearless and well-rounded ex-policeman, Bonham Mars, who served time on Nelson Island for transgressions in the name of Uriah Butler. Mars is “salt fish”: the kind-a-guy whom Trini would recognize as ‘a man about town‘.  He is ‘Trini to the bone’.  He knows Tom, Dick and Harry… not to mention Peter, James and John … as well as Jean, Dinah, Rosita and Clementina. Yet, whenever the need arises he can employ important tactics copied from stick fighters. He lives in East Dry River on the doorsteps of the womb of the embryonic tamboo bamboo and the birth place of the steel pan, as well as, overlooking the St Ann’s River where Park and Picadilly streets meet at the eastern gateway to the centre of the city of Port of Spain. He revels in calypso. He engages in triumphant conflict with and over the best and the worst of what those days of the American presence offered to all walks of life of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Moreover, Mars provides Waldron with the opportunity to employ his baton of delectable dialogue to conduct a pleasurable treat in a symphony of verbal and physical dramatics while describing Mars’ encounters with four special women in the plot.

I find it mind blowing that Waldron, a relatively young man, could immerse himself in history in the making–as I witnessed it while growing up in Belmont, Duke Street and in Laventille–and craft his fiction with almost flawless accuracy and consummate intuition. Indeed, Waldron’s panoramic encapsulation of the drama of life experience in a colonial Caribbean territory during the nineteen forties exposes him as the proverbial ‘man in the moon.  

British and American servicemen in Port-of-Spain during World War II.

British and American servicemen in Port-of-Spain during World War II.

Gypsy beams light upon the dark days of the condescending presence of the Americans in particular and brightens the path from  Atilla’s outcry against ”blue eyed babies to mind “ along with Lord Invader’sRum and Coca Cola” lament over the degrading socio-economic power of the Yankee Dollar  and Lord Kitchiner’s “You can’t support me on calypso” leading through Mighty Terror’sBrown skin gurl/ stay home and mind baby” to the exhaling leap, almost two decades later, that ushers The Mighty Sparrow’s front and center pronouncement over the plight of “Jean and Dinah”. In other words, Gypsy in the Moonlight invites our attention to a keenness of the mind’s eye gaining fodder for the calypsonian’s expression of derision even for Hitler’s mustache and disdain for Mussolini’s tyrannically wild aggression. In addition, in an extendedly lighter linguistic sense, this book pregnant as it is with our idioms and lingo, footnotes the Mighty Conqueror’s ditty contending that, “Webster shoulda come to Trinidad to complete he dictionary.”  To state it simply: I have no doubt that Gypsy in the Moonlight ensures calypso its rightful place in world literature.

Waldron succeeds in sustaining our interest as he uncovers a gloomy period of our mid-twentieth century history by tapping into our sensory experiences with his employment of images of things heard, things smelled, things seen, things touched and things tasted.

'March in the rain' to demand the return of Chaguaramas to the people of Trinidad and Tobago [1960].

March in the rain to demand the return of Chaguaramas to the people of Trinidad and Tobago [1960].

Mars undertakes, pro bono, to find out for his deceptively prim and proper church going neighbor, Ms Marcella Fournier, the whereabouts of her brilliant and decent convent-girl granddaughter Bethany. Marcella complains that her daughter Henrietta – a notorious prostitute – ushers Bethany into prostitution as well.

Mars sets out to find Bethany by getting a heads up from both Ms. Milly, boss of the clip joint named The Fig Leaf, and from Sgt. Mac Shain at police Head Quarters. Mars wends his way to seek out the voluptuous prostitute “Tess” at the Scarlet Ibis Club located in Yankee territory down Point Cumana. Incidentally, it is here he gets a surprising glimpse of the Ivy Nevins girl whose fate depicts itself on the cover of this book.

When Mars, now in darkness with an oily smelling bag over his bumpy head catches himself, he is prisoner discerning three distinct voices of the sailors getting the better of him in the roadside melee.  He consequently determines to catch corbeau alive: “I must play dead in order to keep the hooligan sailors in the dark instead”.  With almost unbelievable heroism Mars eventually returns home and gets rather much  more than private attention in the ensuing days from (of all persons) his “Angel of Mercy”(an old firestick) Staff Nurse Dawn. As soon as he’s well enough, “after touching base wid de boys by de rum shop, Mars is secretly back on the extremely significant trail that leads to the mountain side of the north coastal Maracas Valley.map

At every turn of events in the plot, Waldron vividly stages the scene in which the action takes place with careful positioning of the characters in relation to the inanimate objects and often against the background of the prevailing weather conditions. His barking dogs are a symbol of trouble in the making while the tamboo bamboo drums excite the warm intensity of the development of the plot itself. Waldron skillfully takes us through the brew of complications surrounding relationships–real or imagined – whereas the narrative tapers off into the soliloquy of Mars’ voicing the surprising resolution of what appears to be a distillation of the idea that, according to James Breedie in his classical religious fiction titled Tobias and the Angel: “the fancies of a woman are bound by no law”.

unnamedDuff Mitchell is a retired graduate teacher, writer and self-taught literary critic.


I Was Once Afraid of Black Stalin – Richard Grant

Stalin first came to my attention when I was a high school student in Jamaica. My friends and I marveled at his ability to command the attention of an entire nation.  We understood that everyone listened to him very carefully, and reacted immediately to his words. So, when we heard about the Black Stalin, we were terrified because there was no doubt that a Black Trinidadian dictator would definitely be crueler than his European counterpart. Although I was still young, I was fully aware of the rivalry, and was confident Jamaica could not be outdone, because soon we would have our own Black Stalin, by necessity ‘badder’ than that of Trinidad’s. What was to become of us? I so much resented our love for, and adoption of, foreign things.

Cry of the Caribbean

What a relief it was to hear these words, “Ah living in a yes man society/Where all the no man becomes de enemy”, because it was clear then, that we would not experience another lie of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The Black Stalin would never betray the people’s interest: a commanding leader, for life.  And that was good. He has ruled benevolently since, with a band of steel.

One of the slogans of the Stalinist era in the Soviet Union regarding the creative Jazz musician was: “Today, he is playing jazz; tomorrow, he will betray the country!” It was the freedom implicit in jazz improvisation that so much irked the Soviets. It is the same freedom of expression and creativity that is demanded by Black Stalin and is employed in the lyrics to “bun dem”: nothing less than fire and brimstone as punishment for local and foreign politicians who as hypocritical parasites leech the economic and cultural blood of Trinidad and Jamaica alike. He condemned the cruel and disingenuous policy of Constructive Engagement, by the USA and Britain that supported the Apartheid regime of South Africa. His benevolence was never extended to them.

His relationship with John public is opposite to that of his European namesake. He constantly has demanded a “New Portrait of Trinidad”, almost as ruthlessly as Stalin promised a new society in the Soviet Union…

“When a man say we not what we used to be

Doh care how much it hurt, but we must agree

From ’65 to now we are no more great

Our country has vastly deteriorate.”

stalin

The Village

I stayed in the “village” of San Fernando when I attended Carnival in 1989. I didn’t see Stalin in performance. I didn’t see him in the street. It is fitting though, that the first that I saw him was at the famous, now defunct Village Gate night club in NYC, located in the heart of the Village section of Manhattan: a community of the hip and the avant-garde, the cosmopolitan and the urbane. At the Gate I heard: Hugh Masakela trumpeting the destruction of the walls of Apartheid; Ruben Blades lyrically denouncing Latin American dictatorships; Stanley Turrentine’s straight-ahead tenor sax blues sound lamenting the African American experience in picking Jim Crow’s cotton as well as celebrating Jim’s eventual lynching; and Dizzy Gillespie, bebop innovator.

Dr Leroy Caliste

I can’t think of a more appropriately named club for me to have witnessed Black Stalin in performance for the first time . The Village Gate becomes the metaphor for communities throughout the Caribbean where the Calypsonians and storytellers inform and pass on our tradition. They also create new critical portraits of our societies’ potential and remind everyone about the politician: the higher the monkey climbs, the more is exposed. It is where the Calypsonian still resides; where the field worker brings home a small harvest of bananas and sugar cane: where the only honest politician on the island returns home at dusk to the house of his birth, to the wisdom of his aging father who remembers when Ciprani statue was placed in the heart of town, and why. Black Stalin was born in San Fernando and still resides there. He does not own a Dacha on the Black Sea.

The man that I thought that I would have reason to fear, when I was a school boy, was as extraordinary as he performed The Caribbean Man. It was really the Black Stalin. My boyhood concerns raced back to mind: the realization of who he was, and who he wasn’t. I carefully examined the surroundings to confirm that it was neither a Potemkin village nor a Caribbean village, in spite of the presence of friends.

The Gate

In my village, liming by a friend’s gate into the wee hours of the morning, debating and analyzing domestic politics, politicians’ domestic affairs, as well as international events, all often colored by the perspective of the Calypsonian, was a rite of passage. The yard’s gate became a portal of knowledge about politics, history, romance and cricket. Stalin and CLR James took us beyond our boundaries of provincialism. “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?”

RG3

It is ironic that as a proud heir of the  rivalry between Jamaica and Trinidad that resulted in a failed attempt at A West Indian Federation, that Black Stalin’s contribution to my formative political years is so significant. The reality of the five times calypso monarch’s transforming influence on my nationalistic Jamaican pride is authentication of the universality of his appeal. In effect he helped to create a federation of like-minded critics of Caribbean society.

The Black Stalin: he came, he saw, he conquered.

©Richard Grant

Richard Grant is a freelance writer.


​RIP Phife Dawg “Trini Gladiator”

A Tribe Called Quest [ATCQ] is known for their optimistic, socially conscious brand of rap. Like with many other dynamic bands, we sometimes miss the tall standing trees amidst a group’s overall vibrant ecosystem. So when the news reached my family of the death of Malik Boyce Taylor, aka Phife Dawg, I reflected on Phife the person, his family, and what ATCQ would have been absent of this Trini yute from Queens.

Phife Dawg

The son of highly acclaimed Trinidadian American poet Cheryl Boyce Taylor, Malik Isaac Boyce Taylor was born in New York City on November 20, 1970. Phife, like so many playas in the early history of hip-hop – Dougie Fresh, Kool Herc, Slick Rick, KRS-One, Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes, among countless – is from a Caribbean immigrant family.  Phife consciously infused Caribbean aesthetics in his music. On the track “Oh My God”, Phife chimes in “Trini gladiator, anti-hesitater/Shaheed push the fader from here to Grenada…”
A known skeptic of the music industry, Phife gives credits to where he knows it’s due. On “Jazz (We’ve Got)”, his first album as a member of ATCQ [Low End Theory (1991)] he quipped: “To Jah I give thanks, collect my banks, listen to Shabba Ranks.” And on the track “Ham and Eggs”, the funky diabetic brags about his undying love of good Caribbean cuisine “I get the roti and the soursop/Sit back, relax, listen to some hip hop.” Pfife has had life-long struggles with diabetes the complications of which he succumbed to on March 22.
In a facebook message to friends and family, Cheryl Taylor announced the sad news: “Family, my heart is shattered at the loss of my beautiful son. Thank you for your love and good wishes. Malik made me so proud, and he was a good and humble son. What holds me is that he brought joy through his music and sports, and that he lived a magical life. He is with his beloved grandmother and his twin brother Mikal today. God bless you Malik Boyce Taylor. Please send prayers to my daughter-in-law Deisha.”
Attesting to the invaluable contributions of ATCQ, there is a petition currently circulating to rename a section of Linden Boulevard (Queens, New York) Tribe Called Quest Boulevard. Linden Boulevard was one of Pfife’s ‘blocks’ and a setting on Tribe’s track “Steve Biko (Stir It Up)” from Midnight Marauders (1993).
RIP Pfife Dawg Malik Isaac Taylor (November 20, 1970 – March 22, 2016). Peace… Keep rippin’ de mike.

©Martin Felix


R.I.P. King Rhino

Grenada has lost a cultural icon.  Former Carriacou and Petit Martinique calypso and soca Monarch Kenly Joseph (better known by the sobriquet Rhino) died from gunshot wounds in Brooklyn, New York on December 4, 2015.  Fans and friends remember Rhino for his joyful disposition, sharp social commentaries, wit, and his exploits as a distinguished parandero. Many are moaning Rhino, especially as the holiday season is upon us, clearly one of the seasons he lived for. For more on the tragedy please visit the story from the Grenada Chronicle.  Big Drum Nation consulted cultural and community activist Nic Cox for his reflection on King Rhino’s contribution and legacy.

Big Drum Nation: Who was calypsonian King Rhino? 

Nic Cox: In my opinion, Rhino was a very talented calypsonian. He was blessed with a rich and powerful voice which he controlled very well. He had a great command of the stage and used his body language well to convey his messages. I particularly remember viewing him, via the internet, as he performed at a  competition in Carriacou. It was a social commentary/political commentary, partly referencing the issue of garbage disposal in Carriacou and Petit Martinique. His imagery and antics play back in my mind to this day.

Big Drum Nation: It is noted that Rhino won the Carriacou calypso crown in consecutive tournaments: How good was he (how do you rate him)?

NIc Cox: I was not able to particularly follow or document Rhino’s competitive achievements, yet I was aware of him being Carriacou and Petit Martinique’s calypso monarch on multiple occasions.  I rate him second only to the Mighty Hypocrite, who dominated the Carriacou and Petit Martinique calypso arena in the early to mid 1970s.  In my judgment, Hypocrite edges out Rhino in crafty lyrics.

Big Drum Nation: Did he record? If yes, are his records available?

Nic Cox: Unfortunately, I do not own any recordings by Rhino.  I am not sure if the calypsos that he did in Carriacou were commercially recorded.  When Rhino moved to the USA I did encourage him to collaborate with me to record his past work and do new recording projects.  He declined the offer saying that he was done with the business.  He later did produce some recordings which included “Come Back Home for the Carnival”.  The lyrics suggested an answer to the fans who longed to hear and see him.  I was never able to figure out how to own a copy of this recording.

Big Drum Nation: He was calypsonian and parandero: Did he dominate the Carriacou parang?

Nic Cox: Even though I was not present in Carriacou for the parang competitions, I did follow the happenings to some extent and was always impressed by the groups from the Brunswick/Six Roads area of Carriacou.  Their parang groups held true to the history of Brunswick/Six Roads/Mt. Desire being leaders in creative paranging.  Rhino may have participated in the Parang Festivals as part of a parang group and not as an individual.

Big Drum Nation: When did he come to the U.S.? How will you remember him?

Nic Cox: Sometimes we live with history, and then have to reflect and research before recording it.  I cannot at this moment remember even approximately when Rhino moved to the USA.  I do remember him as a very charming fellow.  He seemed to carry an eternal smile and was ready to “burst a laugh” at any given moment.

Big Drum Nation: How will Rhino be remembered in Carriacou?

Nic Cox: I am aware of the legacy that Rhino built in Carriacou in the world of calypso.  The fans would remember him as one of the greatest.  There will be wishes that he was still here to give some more of that great talent bestowed on him.

Big Drum Nation: Thank you.