Black Stalin was black. His skin was black. Of such a variety that you don’t see much of any more. Except perhaps in Tobago. The kind of black skin that The Mighty Duke lionised in the 1970s. Black is beautiful, look at the gloss. In the area where I live, Arima side, most of the people are not black black. They are kind of reddish, brownish, panyol reddish. Not Duke’s black. Or black like Stalin.
Stalin was black. He named himself Black Stalin. He sang for and about Black Man, Africa. I felt a great solace, on opening my Facebook page, to see the celebratory funeral streaming out into the streets of San Fernando. There I saw what I had not seen for a long time. Africa.
From deep inside the hills, the valleys, the settlements, the shanties, the urban town houses and sprawling suburban districts, Africa came out to chant, chip, burn the chalice. The Moko Jumbie, with their furling gowns and flags. The pan. The chants and drums. The dance. The celebratory march of African persons streaming through the streets. African culture, celebration, motifs.
From all walks of life it came, this deep persistent Africa, alive and vivacious. When I saw it I felt all is not lost for Trinidad. Ever since the early 16th century, when Africans first began arriving in Trinidad and Tobago, in dribs and drabs, to support the Spanish and the Dutch in their small estates, to the relatively larger influx, which began with the Cédula and French planters in the 1780s and then the British, till the end of the Atlantic slave trade in 1807, till 1837-1845, the Emancipation period, to independent village and town formations in the second half of the 19th century, to political and economic assertion in the first half of the 20th, from Independence to now, Africans in Trinidad and Tobago have been holding on, hanging on by the proverbial window-ledge to Africa.
Some Africans have been holding on to Africa like castaways holding on to life on a raftless, boatless, wonky sea. Despite the hurly-burly waves of the estates and plantations, the Western corporate media, our education system, books and newspapers and TV and the detached and alienated political elites, trained to represent the colonial boss and neo-Imperialists to corral the African and the indigenous.
On seeing this Africa on the streets of San Fernando, I felt good for Trinidad and Tobago. I felt good to see something real, ital, genuine: Africa and African music, the drum, being hailed and supported by the multi-ethnic schoolteachers and their pupils.
Black Stalin represented an affirmation against denial. A celebration. Upbeat and Rastafari. Nothing unclean. He once made the declaration that the Caribbean Man in his song by the same name was African man. No other. He shifted, rebalanced the boat by singing a song of camaraderie about Sundar Popo. Shift, rebalance, and move on. Positive energy.
Black Stalin was not my favourite calypsonian. I prefer Shadow, Valentino, then Kitchener and Sparrow, and rare gems by Stalin himself or other maestros. One may not predict or legislate for taste. But Stalin had his base. They connected with his person, personage, presentation and music at a deeper level. Almost at the collective unconscious. An ethnic group may move, this way, or that, in the political, geographical, social, musical space, without reference to this leader or this person or that. It moves subliminally. Advances, adjusts. But one way or another, it moves, adjusts, copes, survives.
Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean is nothing without its diversity. The homogenising power of mass media or popular culture, with its calculus for reducing all to the common currency, denominator, is a negative force.
Coming through TV, the US corporate media, we hear the negative, insidious mumble against the “one per cent”. One per cent this and one per cent that. We did not invent this speech. It came to us from another political, demographic, historical clime. The mimics adopt it here, a code, to throw shade on the “minority” ethnic groups, Syrians, Lebanese, Chinese. Or Caucasians. Not good.
The real one-percenters are the oligarchs abroad. These non-State hegemons own key areas of human production, energy, the mass media, the military and communications. Their scope is global. They own senates and parliaments in large Western nations. Our so-called “oligarchs”, of various ethnicities, are petty.
All our percentages must be celebrated. When Lord Harris, the governor of Trinidad between 1848 and 1854, died in November 1872, many African women and men thronged the street of Port of Spain, very much like they did the streets of the Coffee, the Promenade. They were celebrating about what they knew. Not from what they heard from afar. This governor had been good to them.
So, thank God for Africa. Africa in Trinidad and Tobago. For black, very black skins. For diversity. For Africans in Trinidad and Tobago and the Americas who have kept the chalice burning. Against vampire. The opposite of this Africa is what the Nazis did. Mass propaganda, mass storm-trooping into nations, running roughshod, burning, looting, bombing. By the proto-Nazis, Nazis and neo-Nazis all over the world, throughout the last five hundred years.
Let us come down from there, the one per cent this and one per cent that. We badly need at this time and at all times all our per cents, all one hundred of them.
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