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Sing, Stalin, Sing

Tuesday, April 27th 2004
Keith Smith Editor at Large Trinidad Express

So what, cricket and everything else just about rained out, did you do this weekend? Me? I stayed home and sang along with Stalin, the "Black Man" presenting in 2004 one of his trademark albums replete with penetrating social, political and economic insights, and I know that there are members of the "educated classes" who will bridle at this, the question in their minds being what do calypsonians know about these things, sociology, politics and economics being outside their frame of reference but my stern answer would be:

"Yuh very wrong," Lloyd Best having gone to great pains to show me and the other First Year economics students at UWI that it was not that we did not know what economics was about but that it was his job to show us to approach the subject in a disciplined way, the man Morgan Job once called an "encyclopaedic intellectual" spending much of his time, even now, trying to show that people have a pretty fair idea about life's truths, the intellectual challenge being not to lord it over them but to lead them to a deeper understanding of the ramifications of much that they already instinctively know.

In this regard I have taken to telling people that the real initiators of Britain's Industrial Revolution were the so-called ordinary people, the tinkers and blacksmiths and candlestick makers, and those who occupy themselves with this space can vouch that I continue to make the point that observing, thinking and understanding are not exclusively, or even mainly, a university or even secondary school activity not that the university-trained ought not to have a bigger bag of tools, as it were, to better plumb the physical plant or the human condition as the case might be.

Actually, I must be getting soft in my old age because there was a time when, like fellow-columnist Bukka Rennie I wouldn't even deign to take on those people who put down calypsonians on the basis of limited knowledge, the empirical record rife with more than 150 years of oral perception (I don't know if there is such a term but there should be) Gordon Rohlehr for one, showing us in his engrossing classes how calypsonians, down the decades, had dealt with large abstractions in tellingly human and apparently simple ways.

Whatever the reluctance of far too many of the radio stations to give as much space to the calypso commentators as they give the soca party set, they continue to do so although precisely because of this I don't know that all that many people, if many at all, have heard Stalin's latest, which is a pity given the relevance of the numbers.

Neither the man's music nor his delivery can spring forth from the printed page, but I have been singing along whole weekend to Stalin's searing cry against teenage pregnancies ("Doh Do It"):

She looking well and she sexy
He looking good,
so all yuh ready
So yuh plan to run
away next morning
Get together somewhere
and do your own thing

But stop, stop, stop
before you go
It have one thing
I want you to know
At fourteen years
my advice to you
Is doh do what you cyar undo

Chorus:

Zip it up,
doh pull it down
Too much ah unwanted
kids around
Don't do it
Don't do it,
Very soon in time to come
You have ah whole
nation to run
Don't do it,
Don't do it
We cyar take no explosion
In this population,
get a good education
Then you could do it....

His plea both to government and people not to blow yet another energy "boom" ("Push It"):

Ah warn yuh once
and yuh didn't listen
Oil price went down,
yuh see wey happen
Yuh just got the news,
more oil has been found
Just so yuh start
partying and having fun

Put down something,
hard days coming
Yuh need my advice,
yes, yuh pay the price
Yes, yuh better make
sure this time around
Yuh try and put
up something before
the price come down

Chorus:

Do like the mongoose
do with the charcoal,
Take some money
and push it in yuh nose hole
Push it in yuh nose hole
Push it in yuh nose
hole-for tomorrow
Times of sorrow
Push it in yuh nose hole...

His lament about the Trini man/woman do-nutten emigrant, as compared to the go-getters ("Homey"):

Yuh leave yuh country
Yuh say yuh going 'way
Just to do better
Take ah good look
Nothing happening,
so much years after
Time yuh wasting, doing
nothing, yuh just down the road
With a Caribbean man
and woman
Best yuh come back home

Chorus:

Home boy, remember
yuh leave on ah mission
To do better was yuh ambition
Home boy, what yuh doing
Look! all yuh try
nothing happening
Home girl, you leave
the child in Tacarigua
To live by yuh old grandmother
Home girl, like yuh throw
'way yuh ambition
Best yuh come back down
to de islands....

Look, I still have four more to go but Ah holding back something for tomorrow ("Dr Jit", "Just the Way You Are", "One Slave", "Andre the Lion"). Before I leave today's session, though, I'd like to advise the hopelessly uninitiated that all I have quoted here is the first verse and chorus of each of these three songs and part of that "calypso ting" as Stalin so often puts it, is how the likes of Sparrow, Kitchener, Rudder, Shadow, Mudada, Explainer, Duke, Superior, Shorty, Superblue, Stalin and some others at their best develop on the opening theme (every verse stronger than the last). Hopefully, there is enough here to so whet your appetite that you'll meet me around the table for a second musical tomorrow courtesy a man who has been crowned king all of five runaway times. By which time, of course, like Lystra who typed out the lyrics for me, the gourmets among you would already have gone out and bought the CD (Just For You)-trust me. Until tomorrow then?


More, Stalin, More

Wednesday, April 28th 2004
Keith Smith Editor at Large Trinidad Express

One Slave:

Going about the place and pushing rebellion
Encouraging other slaves to disobey massa
Yuh got to find him, find him, quick as ever
Bring out yuh tracker dogs and yuh search party

We got to find that slave immediately
Search all in the country
Search all in the town
That runaway slave just got to be found
Ah telling yuh one slave escape
Leh we find him, hold him
Find him before it's too late

Chorus:

We try confirmation-that won't do
Send him first communion-that won't do
Send him fuh confession-that won't do
Ah good education-oooh no
One slave escape, find him, hold him.

As a practising Catholic, I have to concede that at first I flinched when I heard (on NBN Radio 100) this Stalin song, but I never judge a work on whether I agree with its sentiments or not and, in any case, the "black man" here is making a more profound statement that might first appear in the calypso, although Stalin goes on to argue that the religion for black folks here is "Orisha", addressing this whole business of "Africans" both operating and being operated on by European institutions in the Americas, the concept, again, being Bestian and I can think of no better calypsonian to raise it, Stalin by complexion and dread locks, hurling the blackness of Afro-Trinidadians straight back in their face.

If "Homey", to which I introduced most of you earlier, has Trinidadians in New York (where, I understand, it is "No.1," whatever that means) ruminating about those who left here with high hopes but failed to make it, "Slave" should make black people here think, if only to disturb that frame of mind so long conditioned to see "blackness" as a negative, and I don't know that Stalin is not also addressing contemporary concerns, the calypsonian looking, perhaps, at the gun rebellion among the young in the so-called high-risk areas and has the runaway slave (used here, of course, as metaphor since you can be sure Stalin is not talking about historic slavery) cautioning "with slaves like themselves never pick a fight" and "he even telling them doh pick up no weapon/they cyar win the fight dey don't make the gun/he say education is the way for them/he tell them that the gun is weaker than the pen", which, in true calypso fashion, seems to be a retreat from his initial anti-education stand as implied in the first chorus, although here Stalin might argue the question here is what constitutes a "good education".

Whether by accident or not, the next cut continues, in a way, the issue of "blackness", Andre The Lion being a eulogy to Tanker, the "red man" who fled "Black Power" but who, in exile, rediscovered his blackness and returned here a changed man and a changed artiste. Hear Stalin thinking about Tanker:

Ah glad, ah so glad, he forward home
Ah glad, ah so glad, he forward home
Sing it-sing it
Ah glad, ah so glad, he forward home
This one for Andre, the lion
Ah glad, ah so glad, he forward home (repeat)

Hear meh, Oh how great is de Father
Who has inspired de brother
To come out New York City
And bury he pocket in de country

Ah man who really understand
Music is de healing of de nation
His music would last forever
Ah rapping 'bout meh brother Tanker...

And rap, indeed is what he does, Leroy laying down a first-class rap, as a deliberate tribute even as earlier he had gone into pan mode with his tribute to Jit Samaroo who is, of course, one of steelband's sterling sons of the soil:

From ah little village called Lopinot up to UWI
From playing ah pan up in Miramar club to ah degree
It was ah long hard fight for the panman
To reach today to get that kinda recognition

So when the word came out that dey from UWI
Jit Samaroo will receive ah degree
It brought great joy to pan people ear
Because it showed somebody care

Chorus:

Doctor Jit congratulation,
Nuff respect from every pan man and woman
We live to see de pannist get a place
Hip Hip hooray Doctor Jit...

This is, perhaps, the slightest piece on the album, Stalin going over much of the ground covered so cleverly by Sparrow in "Outcast" but, having said that, let me also say that it is a nice ditty, my fellow workers here no doubt tired of hearing me sing this verse even as I know better than trying to sing "Just the Way You Are", Stalin's love song which Lystra swears, woman already! is her favourite and which she is also certain, woman already! he must be dedicating to his wife-not, mind you, that Stalin could be singing this for anybody but the lady, Patsy!-

I have this deep, gut feeling
Ah going to see you tonight
Darling, I know when I see you
Everything going to be alright

No other woman make me feel like you do
Darling, I know deep down in yuh heart
Yuh feeling the same way 'bout me too
I never felt this, oh girl

What we have is very special
Just to have someone like you
The thought of you get me so excited
And I'm lost in this world with you.


CDs by Stalin at eCaroh:

Black Stalin - Hard Wuk
Black Stalin - Just For You
The Best of Black Stalin Vol.1

 

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