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Attillah Springer writes a letter to T&T’s late calypsonian-philosopher

  • The Mighty Shadow. Photo by Maria Nunes

Dear Winston, the Immortal,

Now that you are gone but not really, I can say some of the things I always wanted to say to you, but could never find the words or the right moment.

On our encounters, I always felt like I was in the presence of a being who was too great to be real. The fact that you seemed so unaware of your greatness made you even more amazing. You were magical, a walking example of obeah, in the highest sense of that which cannot be explained merely with words.

A shadow is a thing that appears when the light is obscured. It is the darkness that we are, it is our truth. Dear Shadow, you were and are our truest self, grappling with the reality of darkness while holding desperately to the certainty that we are also made of light.

Look, I’m a writer who is terrified of writing, and on the days when I feel there are things I want to say, I find myself referring to you first. You have a song for every state of mind, you are the soundtrack of the stranger trying to find her way back to herself. You were fearless about being unsure of yourself, about being afraid, about doubting your talent.

This always appealed to me, the way you banished your fear to the bars of music that wrapped around us all, the most beautiful cloak of darkness, the most naked disguise. I tried to follow your example, to be honest about the fear, but still trying to make work that mattered. You hit sometimes and you missed sometimes, but you kept going.

You were what a philosopher should be: happy to not be labelled, comfortable in your strangeness, playful, and sharing wisdom with such refreshing simplicity. You were the future before Afro-Futurism. You taught me nihilism better than any textbook. I heard “Cook Curry Ochro” and laughed at how easily you made a case for vegetarianism. I listened over and over to “Soucouyant”, marvelling at how you took a modern crisis called AIDS and made us understand the seriousness of it from the point of view of the nightmarish blood-sucker who now needs a blood test from potential victims.

I think they should declare “My Belief” our National Hymn. You taught me the correct sound that accompanies a woman’s rolling bumbulum, so much so that I always aim for a whups whaps when I wine. You taught me the beauty of language and storytelling in song, because you played with words and sounds and, even in your wailing, you gave meaning to the emotions that don’t have a name.

In Shadow hagiography, we will always recall that time you were scheduled to perform after one of those big soca artists with endless backup dancers and pyrotechnics, and then you came on stage and said one word and sent the crowd so wild. Your weirdness was ours. You were our obzokee moments, the moments when all you can do is hold your head or stretch your arms as if you want to hug up the whole world.

Shadow, you asked what is life, and I have no reasonable answers and I don’t know if you found them either. What I do know is that you took every living thing and made it valuable. Your music made life in a small confusing place more livable. Your music made sense of the mysteries, and even though you were the greatest mystery we understood you and we loved you.

And perhaps it was your last poetic act to transition to immortality just days before you received your honorary Doctorate of Philosophy. You were always our philosopher, our high priest, our griot, whether the university or the judges or the radio stations or the soca mafia acknowledged you.

I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell, I believe that you created a heaven for us out of the hell of creative frustration. Thank you for that. Thank you for not going to plant peas in Tobago. Thank you for choosing us even when we did not choose you.