Nah Ease Up: A Tribute to the Black Stalin
“I’m the people’s watchdog, elected for life, so I dey always on yuh back.”
With the news of Black Stalin’s passing yesterday, I decided to write this short tribute to him to highlight why Black Stalin was such a significant voice not only for the Caribbean, but for African people and for colonized people globally. Black Stalin was part of a generation of Caribbean artists such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Chalkdust, Brother Valentino, Ti Manno, and others who expressed ideas such as anti-colonialism and Pan-African unity in their music.
For those who are unfamiliar with Black Stalin, the name certainly raises the question of why an artist would name himself after such a brutal dictator. I have certainly had to address this issue over the years. The sobriquet was given to Black Stalin by fellow calypsonian Lord Blakie. In the calypso art form it was commonplace that artists adopted aggressive sounding names. Artists have held names such as Destroyer, Terror, Tiger, Roaring Lion, Bomber, and Attila. These names were meant to reflect the fact that calypso is a protest art form.
Black Stalin certainly reflected this tradition of protest. In his song “Nah Ease Up,” Black Stalin notes that he is a fearless critic of the governments of Trinidad who refuses to remain silent even in the face of threats to censor his music. He sings: “I’m the people’s watchdog, elected to life, now I dey always on yuh back.” “Revolution” is a warning to governments around the world that they must satisfy the wishes of the people or risk facing revolution. In the song, Black Stalin mentions a number of leaders who were ousted by popular revolutions. The political issues of his day also kept Black Stalin away from singing smut, which has been a popular topic in calypso. As he explained in “Wait Dorothy Wait,” his fans who wanted Black Stalin to sing smut had to wait because there were too many more serious matters in the world for Black Stalin to take the time to compose a song about smut.
Black Stalin was popularly known as the “Black Man” because the themes in many of his songs addressed black pride and black identity. Black Stalin came to the forefront of the calypso industry in Trinidad at the time of the Black Power movement. Independence in 1962 failed to achieve the type of liberation that the black masses in Trinidad had hoped for. This led to the 1970 Black Power uprising in Trinidad. Black Stalin’s music was a reflection of the politics of this time.
Black Stalin was a strong proponent of Caribbean unity. This vision is expressed in Black Stalin’s song “Caribbean Unity” in which he calls for the unity of African people in the Caribbean. Black Stalin sings:
Dem is one race
From the same place
That make the same trip
On the same ship
In an interview about his song, Black Stalin explained that Marcus Garvey’s movement was the biggest unifier for the region. He stated: “If you look at Caribbean unity yuh go see dat de heaviest ting dat ever happen, even tho de whole action wasn’t on a specific emphasis on de Caribbean, was when Bro. Marcus Garvey was around… No one say, when Garvey around, had anything to do wid who is Vincentian, Grenadian, or who is Trinidadian, but de whole Caribbean was togedda.”
Black Stalin also reminded his listeners of the historical struggles that black people have endured. For example, “Ah Fit” is not merely a celebration of Nelson Mandela being released from prison after 27 years. The song is a tribute to the ability of black people to endure and overcome oppression. Black Stalin’s chorus is “we fit, fit, fit, black people could take it.” Black Stalin also intones:
So much a people try they endeavor
Just to get we down on we knees
Anything they try it end up in failure
So now is the time to give we a ease
“Nothing Easy” serves as a reminder for young people in Trinidad that everything which they have was fought for by black people. He sings:
We get up one morning, independence happening
They think the thing come easy, now they’re taking liberty
But if they know about petition we had to send to England
For some woman to tell we, we in this colony free
Black man have to keep on jamming
For black man to get a little something
“More Come” was both an expression of support for the African struggle against colonialism, as well as celebration of the determination of the people of Africa to be free. Black Stalin sings that no matter how many Africans are gunned down by the colonial powers of Europe, more Africans keep coming. Black Stalin sings: “The more Africans they gun down, is the more African will come.” True to his Pan-Africanist convictions, Black Stalin also insists that one day Africa will be united under one flag.
What I find especially fascinating about “More Come” is that Black Stalin accurately predicted that Namibia and South Africa’s liberation was near. The song was composed in 1986, just four years before Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
We get back Mozambique so easy
Zimbabwe and Angola already
And if it’s one thing I sure now as ever
Namibia and South Africa around the corner
In “Loose the Juice” Black Stalin commented on the O.J. Simpson trial by noting America’s history of mistreating successful black men. He sings: “In this land of freedom, justice, and liberty/Black men and women are victimized daily.” This was yet another reflection of Black Stalin’s Pan-African vision. Black Stalin also composed a song in honor of Martin Luther King.
In “What Consciousness,” Black Stalin criticized superficial approaches to black pride which celebrate the outward appearance of black pride without a transformation in consciousness. Black Stalin sang:
People keep telling me over and over
Black people are now conscious of their colour
But I may be blind, boy, without a doubt
But where’s this consciousness they talking about?
The ignorant black man of yesterday
Is the same foolish black man I see today
Wearing afro and dashiki gown, that is fine
But changing your clothes doesn’t change your mind
Black Stalin is not only a voice for the African masses in the struggle against colonialism, but he also presented himself as a terror to the oppressors of the masses of poor people around the world. In “Hard Hard Hard,” Black Stalin explained that his mission was one of love, but also destruction as he sought the destruction of “Babylon.” For Rastafarians, Babylon represents the oppressive political system which must ultimately be destroyed for black people to be free.
Black Stalin is also clear that even in death Babylon cannot escape his wrath. “Burn Dem” tells the story of Black Stalin arriving at the gates of heaven where he meets Peter. Black Stalin requests that he personally oversees the torture of the white supremacists who have oppressed black people throughout history. Black Stalin includes Columbus, Ian Smith, Cecil Rhodes, Pieter Botha, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Mussolini, and Queen Victoria among others.
Black Stalin was proud of his African identity, but he was also an artist who was sensitive to the racial tensions between Africans and Indians in Trinidad. One of Black Stalin’s most famous songs was “Sundar.” The song was a tribute to his friend Sundar Popo. The purpose of the song — apart from paying tribute to Sundar — was also to ease some of the racial tensions in Trinidad between Africans and Indians. In “Nah Ease Up,” Black Stalin also denounced politicians who used race to spread disharmony among the masses.
Black Stalin wasn’t merely an artist and an entertainer. He was a social commentator, a historian, and a philosopher. Above all, Black Stalin was someone who believed that life should be lived with a meaingful purpose. He expressed this view in “Stand Up.” I end this article by quoting from that song because I think more so than any other song which Black Stalin composed, this song reflected Black Stalin’s outlook on life.
You have nothing to say
You rather run and hide
Before you take a side
I tell yuh
Stand up for something or you will die for nothing
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.