By Michael Lashley
From time to time, we have a duty to ask ourselves what are the earth-shattering issues of our time, indeed of all times. It is now my turn to amuse myself by grappling with the truly important philosophical issues, as I see them.
As I do so, and in order to prove the points that I make, I will take this opportunity to pay tribute to a musical genius known as Black Stalin, who is officially addressed as Dr. Leroy Calliste.
Is music important? The answer is a resounding yes. Not because the music industry churns out billions of dollars worldwide every week, but because that is part of the irrefutable arguments that rank music as one of the essentials of life. Scientists, artistic persons and every Joan, Tom, Aneesa and Harry feel strongly that music is as necessary for our mental health as oxygen is for our physical health. The joy that Stalin’s music brings to people’s lives speaks for itself. Ask any Caribbean DJ.
The majority of calypso and soca aficionados would rate Tonight the Black Man Feeling to Party as their favorite among all Stalin’s calypsos. And then, an activist minority including myself would counter that the best of the best is Wait, Dorothy, Wait. It does not matter which group is right and which is wrong. What is indisputable is that all of Stalin’s songs are beautifully melodious and further sweetened by timelessly harmonic arrangements.
And now to the heart of the politics: If Black Stalin could vote in our upcoming elections here in Toronto, which candidate would he choose to be his mayor?
The answer is again instantaneous and merciless: Olivia Chow, hands down! He would “burn” Doug Ford for attempting to dismiss the value of culture and the arts in the person of Margaret Atwood. John Tory would not get Stalin’s vote because Stalin’s left-wing activist agenda will always see this candidate as a conservative, albeit a less rabid one than the Fords and the federal Conservatives.
The existential question that this bard answers throughout his repertoire is: What is really important in life?
He answers this in one, single, macro-philosophical swoop. Stalin’s response combines his celebration of love, music, dance, marriage, family, social issues (he is obsessed with social equity and poverty reduction), politics and international solidarity. That monumental composition is (you guessed it) Wait, Dorothy, Wait.
When pressed by friends to leave the heavy political and social topics alone and to give his fans some smutty calypsos about women like Dorothy, about drinking to excess and care-free living, Stalin pulls these lyrics from his treasure-trove:
“Mih pleasure does always come second to mih duty
And my duty is to make sure that mih people life happy
But once my people keep fighting for equal share of de cake
Wait, Dorothy, wait, Dorothy, wait.”
That political perspective includes his undying commitment to Caribbean Unity, the official title of the calypso that the public refers to as The Caribbean Man. It is an ode to regional integration.
On the international stage, Stalin’s signature piece is Bun Dem in which he offered his services to St. Peter for the solemn duty of “burning”, outside the gates of Heaven, all the political and racist criminals whom he deemed guilty of vicious racism, genocide and oppression. His eternally incinerated felons include Ian Smith of Rhodesia, Ian Botha of South Africa, Margaret Thatcher of the U.K., Ronald Reagan of the U.S. and the Klu Klux Klan.
In singing the praises of multiculturalism and racial harmony as essential to a healthy social and political world-view, I speak on behalf of all the citizens of the People’s Republic of Belmont and the thousands of students of the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine who had the honour and pleasure of building and consolidating the calypso fraternity with Dr. Gordon Rohlehr.
They all rejoice as Stalin warms their hearts with his infectious rendition of A Tribute to Sundar Popo, the country’s leading composer (now deceased) of the chutney and chutney-soca music that is a staple provided by our East Indian brethren and sistren.