VETERAN musician Roy Cape and his close friend, Black Stalin (Leroy Calliste), commanded the attention of all their guests at Cape’s residence in Oropune, Piarco, on Saturday.
Stalin had journeyed from his San Fernando home for his buddy’s 77th birthday celebration.
At the event, MC and Stalin’s wife, Patsy Calliste, invited the birthday boy to share stories of their long-standing friendship.
Knowing it was going to be a long story, their guests chose to take a seat.
Cape recalled that a year after returning from New York in 1977 to live in TT, he met Stalin, when he (Cape) was hired to play music for the Kingdom of the Wizards tent which was located at the Port of Spain port where the Hyatt Regency is currently located.
Stalin sang in the tent.
“I’d never met Leroy in my youthful days when I was playing with Clarence Curvan, Ron Berridge or Sparrow Troubadours, but I had known a little about him. While working in the Wizards’ tent, I was in one corner while Leroy was in another corner with Valentino (Emrold Phillip). Before the season ended we were all hanging out together. That was 1978.”
Cape recalled 1979, which he described as a fantastic year for Stalin, when the latter captured the calypso crown with his Caribbean Man, and subsequent years of success, including those when Stalin again won national calypso titles in 1985, 1987, 1991 and 1995.
Cape said, “From that time, in 1978, to today it has been a long journey. In ‘79 we went to Carifesta in Cuba. We, along with David Rudder, did the New Orleans Jazz Festival, we had worked in numerous gigs in Brooklyn, we went to many places in Europe including England, Denmark, Finland, Holland, Sweden and we have been to almost the whole Caribbean.”
Cape then spoke of how his own band got its name.
“I was very timid about putting my name on a poster because I didn’t want the jealousy from the other musicians. Leroy had three upcoming shows and when I saw the poster for them I saw Roy Cape Kaiso All Stars and he said to me, ‘If yuh not taking care of yourself, I will do it.’
“And that is how Roy Cape Kaiso All Stars came about.”
When Cape left the tent scene in 1994 to play with the Kisskidee Karavan, his band began playing for parties with its first pair of vocalists, Nigel and Marvin Lewis, then he got an offer to play for Soca Monarch.
“I was in Toronto in 1998, when this song came to me, Jam Meh Mr. Cape. I wrote it on a piece of paper so I won’t forget it then I called Leroy and told him ‘When I come home you have to help me with the song. He say, ‘but Roy yuh done write the song already!’”
When Cape return to TT both he and Stalin tightened the song and entered it in Soca Monarch.
Cape said: “At that time you had to have three song to be a member of COTT, so I couldn’t register the song. But Leroy had his own publishing company so he published my song for me and when I got to three songs, I was getting my stipend through the generosity of Leroy.
“Leroy is a beautiful friend. I didn’t have to ask him for anything. He would know when I needed something.”
Cape also spoke about their days on the road.
“We will stay together and when I’m still sleeping he will get up early in the morning and by 7 o’clock, he is tapping me ‘Get up, it hot.’ He make a shrimp broth. ‘Roy come and get it, it’s hot and I’m telling you it is going to be like my grandfather until you eat it.’”
Everyone at the celebration burst out laughing, including Stalin.
Then in a measured tone, Cape said: “We had lots of challenges, but because of the strength of himself and myself together we were able to weather all the storms.
“There is so much that we can say. Stalin came to me one day and told me he wanted to go Grenada, because he and Maurice Bishop are good friends.
“So I went with him every year for three years, and when he saw the change that was happening, he wasn’t too happy with it.
“He was seeing people going through an alien transition and he told me he wasn’t going back, because his concern for, and well-being of people, was of paramount importance to him.”
Cape, who is godfather to Stalin’s grandson, Keagan, also said, “In years gone by, men would be ashamed to say they love each other. But, I love this guy and I know he loves me.
“If I’m sick he will take care of me. If I am not eating, he will look after me like how my wife looks after me and demand that I eat.
“And because of the love and respect that I have for him, and the belief I have in him, he can get me to do almost anything.” When Stalin got an honourary doctorate at the University of the West Indies, Cape attended the ceremony as Stalin’s guest.
Three years later, Cape was also received an honourary doctorate from UWI and at his graduation he chose to play his friend’s Stay Giving Praise after which he went into the audience and gave Stalin a high-five.
In 2014 both Stalin and Cape fell ill, Stalin with a stroke and Cape with prostate cancer.
Health wise, more than four years on, Cape’s prostate-specific antigen (PSA) reading is 0.2 and Stalin is fully cognisant of everything that is going on around him, communicating with people, drinking and eating on his own.
Cape admitted he still had challenges with his knees, and it is now impossible to blow his saxophone. Facing reality of not being able to do what he loves, the Roy Cape Foundation was born with a mission to provide music literacy to communities. It supplies musical equipment but Cape lamented that they don’t have money to pay tutors and has called on corporate TT to assist.
Ironically, the Grenadian government is assisting with a similar programme with providing instruments to communities through Cape’s Foundation.
“What we seem not to be able to get here we were able to get in Grenada. Here in TT schools can’t pay tutors but we want to do something for our young people and our country. And if Leroy was 100 per cent he would have been in this with me.”
At this point a young lady riding a bicycle outside Cape’s home shouted out; ‘Happy birthday Papi’ to which he replied “love you!” prompting loud laughter from guests.
But as Cape was ending his story, emotionally he turned to Stalin telling him: “I love you forever. Ladies and gentlemen if it wasn’t for this man my struggles would have been long but because of the name that he had, he used his name to bring me up in front, and the day when I got the keys to the city, I said the only artiste in TT that calls a musician to come up front and play a solo is Black Stalin.
“And then he will tell me ‘Roy love them up for me’. All this got audiences to recognise me. Blessings Leroy from the most high,” he said, as he turned to his long-time friend. Cape then sang a few songs after which the celebration continued into the wee hours of the morning.