Mia Mottley –
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley said Leroy “Black Stalin” Calliste was one of the region’s finest masters of calypso with his lyrics and his melodies expertly capturing the rhythm, vibe and voice of the Caribbean.
In a passionate tribute on her Instagram page following news of Calliste’s death on Wednesday at age 81, Mottley said music was key to all that she does.
“The truth is one of those early artists who centred 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 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.”
She said this was evident in the iconic Caribbean anthem Caribbean Man, which she said remains the Holy Grail of the Caribbean civilisation.
“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!”
Mottley said outside the Caribbean, Calliste emboldened those 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.”
She said his most far-reaching song was that of the “Black Man, as 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.”
Mottley said Calliste reminded people 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.” A song without boundaries and sovereignty – a tribute simply to the human spirit.”
She said she was unapologetic in using its power for inspiration as it was one of the key songs that she chose to use during the covid19 pandemic on the highways and by-ways across Barbados to encourage people to stay the course and to keep their heads above water.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she joined the nation in mourning the passing of Calliste, a legendary son of the soil and a true Caribbean giant.
In a release, she said Calliste, a five-time calypso monarch, elevated the art form of Calypso and social commentary to new heights.
“He fearlessly confronted the important issues of the day and boldly spoke truth to power. His repertoire of classic songs including Black man feeling to party, Wait Dorothy Wait, Burn Dem, and Caribbean Man, will all live on for generations to come.
“On a personal note, my favourite Stalin song is We can make it if we try. This classic calypso perfectly captures the spirit of what true patriotism is about; the value of hard work and self-sacrifice during tough times for the good of all of our people.”
Persad-Bissessar called on the nation to take inspiration from the genius of the legendary Black Stalin as it faces immense challenges such as high crime and unemployment, as she quoted from We Can Make it if We Try.
“For we country facing its darkest hour; So our people need us today more than ever;
But in our fight to recover, if ever you feel to surrender; It have one little thing that I want you always remember;
We could make it if we try just a little harder; If we just give one more try, life will be much sweeter.”