NAILAH BLACKMAN’S appearance at the BET Awards on Sunday was its own victory. While she did not win the prize for the best new international act, she did not walk away empty-handed. And neither did Trinidad and Tobago.
Today, we sing Blackman’s praises.
While it may seem trite to suggest being nominated was an honour, the amount of work that went into securing Blackman’s moment in the sun in Los Angeles cannot be shrugged off. Nor can the meaningfulness of her achievement in the context of taking soca to the world.
Blackman must be praised for joining the ranks of those who have, one way or another, done what her grandfather, the legendary Ras Shorty I, once dreamt for soca. The promotional photograph used to promote Blackman’s nomination on the BET website proudly displayed a national flag, as if to emphasise her resolve to put this country on the global stage.
That resolve was also evident when, interviewed moments before the star-studded ceremony, an ebullient Blackman raised up her home country by proudly hailing Nicki Minaj’s Trinidad origins. Blackman joins people such as Bunji Garlin, Fay-Ann Lyons, Blaxx, and The Voice. All have in recent years been among those taking soca into new territories. Before them, the calypso greats, such as Calypso Rose, Sparrow, and Lord Kitchener, blazed, and in some cases continue to blaze, a path.
And that’s just in terms of our indigenous forms. This country has also produced musicians who have excelled in genres as diverse as our society, reaching all major international markets.
Importantly, Blackman’s nomination throws a spotlight on the unusual achievements of her family. It is not often that a musical family achieves what the Blackman family has. Though unconventional, Blackman’s grandfather and his experimentations with fusing calypso with Indian-inspired music, including chutney, has forever changed the landscape.
For decades, soca was like the black sheep in the family. At one stage, even Ras Shorty I turned his back on it, retreating with his family to live in the Piparo forest. Today, soca is the lifeblood of our Carnival and arguably our most popular art form, commanding millions in revenue and audience receipts.
In this regard, it is worth examining whether the Blackman family, including Nailah, should be honoured at the national level.
The legacy of this family includes the formation of The Love Circle, which comprised Ras Shorty I, his wife Claudette, sons Eldon, Sheldon and Isaac, who themselves later recorded popular songs. The couple’s daughters, Marge, Nehilet and Avion Blackman, also forged careers in recording and fashion.
For now, we don’t think Nailah’s nomination on Sunday will be her last moment of glory. Judging from her talent alone, we are confident the best is yet to come.