Extract of interview with The Roaring Lion (RL) by Tony (TH) and Dennis Hall (DH) on Late Night Lime 1990
Lion, let's get right down to it.
Let's go. Welcome, welcome to the Lime - the Lions's Den. Have a seat. First thing's first. I want to get it straight. Sorry about the little mistake. (Roaring Lions says, 'you're welcome to make mistakes') I want to know your real name. There seems to be some contention with this because I don't know if it's true, but doing some research, I came up with a Norbert Charles - that name came up. Put it straight for me. Then there is the Rafael Deleon; which is the right one?
Now, in the first place, as I've said before, I didn't grow up with my parents unfortunately. I grew up with Indian people in San Fernando, but the old lady who had me after my mother's illness or so had presented me to these Indian people who wanted me. Her name was Charles, so they were calling me
that, but my right name according to my birth paper which I discovered later, having met my father is what the old people say here, makes the man a thief because if you have too many names, they consider you a thief; you're trying to get away.
My name is Rafael Arius Cairi Llama Deleon. Well my father’s name was Cairi which he told me meant the name that they call Trinidad. Llama is some sort of a goat or deer from South America. I don't know which one of them I am.
So from small you had this kind of feeling; this elegant kind of appearance.
But from fear that I might be styled a thief, I only use Rafael Deleon.
You have too much name yes. So Lion, you are well known in the calypso thing. I think that probably, you have the most first, the most accomplishments, but I'm interested first of all in some of the great men that you performed with, some of the great men you knew in calypso for instance a fellow like Atilla. Give me an idea of what Atilla was like. As a young fella, I could never see...........
Well, if you permit me to take it in stages - wrap them up in one parcel. I met quite a lot of them - Cat, The Beginner, Fionel, King Fando. I'm calling heroes. He is from San Fernando. That's the fellow who made the song, Ambakaila.
So, he was the man who made Ambakaila. Yuh know any verse or chorus from that original song.
(Sound of singing). Mih mammy calling mih. You could use any words . (Words in patois) That was from the time that my mother made me. The ladies might say that nobody never hit them with wood, but wood means Stickfighting, but Mentor, the teacher, Moonsey Dailey, the first Indian calypsonian.
I have got a song on Marie Vidal - one of the greatest ........ that ever took place here in the country. It's right here in the book. You have Executor - all these fellas were singing together. You have Mighty Walcott Douglas. He and Atilla started about the same time. You have beginner; Radio came after, Inveigler. I came just about after Radio and Beginner.
As we say here. Everything that happened in Trinidad with the real calypsonians, they recorded it. So the history of Trinidad can be found in calypsoes.
Now I'm choosing this particular subject because right now we have something similar. We have the dengue - the break-back as they call it and we are now calling on people to be very careful to clean up the place - a sort of health week and to spray and what not.
The first health week they had in Trinidad was because of the Malaria fever and the same thing was happening and the Colonial Office ordered that we clean up the place. So what we call the Borough Council that is now the City Council gave an order to clean up and throw out whatever you had outside and they will pick it up. In those days, Belmont was considered a slum - a perfect slum, but Woodbrook was said to be elite, perhaps not on par with St. Clair, but pretty near to it and Executor observed within a matter of two weeks after the health week,
"Malaria fever epidemic in the
Borough Council give their command.
Malaria fever epidemic in the land,
Borough Council give their command.
It was given to the rich and poor
to throw your rubbish before your door.
Belmont was a disgrace,
but Woodbrook run second place."
Mentor, the teacher who, because of what was happening with the working class people. We had a lot of quarrelling in those days with Captain Cipriani defending us and Huggins making it his duty every time an effort was made, to boycott us and he sang "Time will come again in this colony. Time will come again in this colony. Our Captain vote working men eight hours a day in every angle, in every way. Mr. Huggins opposing the people of this colony." That was Mentor, That was 1929.
I'm trying to get the real facts because I feel that the viewers out there would like to know. These singers which I am telling you about were heroes; they all were, but when it comes to singing calypso, they all made a mark; there's no doubt about it, but in actual fact Atilla and myself are the ones who started the ball rolling as ambassadors and pioneers and we are responsible really for putting the calypso where it is - I, more than Atilla because while Atilla was a shy fellow, I did most of the travelling and because of that I was able to do research, to lecture....................
.In 1933, the calypsonians really started to move because Rahamut and Company of San Fernando, after all the other people that we had been to, asking to try and push the sale, it took an Indian - a businessman - who sponsored an excursion to Grenada, Barbados and St. Vincent. We left here on one of the lady boats and he paid for everything.
Having sung in Grenada and St. Vincent, we spent thirteen days in Barbados. From then, we started giving shows all over - Bermuda, Antigua. I've been to every island in the Caribbean and sang in most of them including Martinique..
War is a last lap in calypso. It is the combination of a calypso show and it's not bound to be sung at all, although people came to like it so much, that they would make sure that you sung it, but it's not something that you must do. So, calypso cannot be equated; it's an entirely different thing.
What I was really going to tell you is that it's no use to really make a fuss about war because all calypsonians did not sing on war. War is not considered calypso as I say, but the most important thing is there are two names that stand out. One is a Warlord calypsonian - that is a fellow who sang both calypso and war and a Warlord period singing war and he programmed himself like a computer with verses and would sing both night and day easily. It became accepted in the tent and it's not until the thirties that people began to make it a must not to leave until the calypsonians sang a few verses of war.
So what I am trying to say is that the importance that you are trying to give it is sort of outshining, but that isn't true because people who don't know would preach that to the people. That is why I want to get out certain facts to the public. It's not true at all.
A Warlord would come in and sing all day, all night. He is like a computer.
If you read Atilla's book or the book "Lilliput" or the article by that man who was the columnist in New York, they used to say that I'm an experimentalist because I always came up with something different. Whereas the calypsonian at the time would sing a verse on a particular song like
"No, no, no, no. Tell them I
say no; that my answer is no.
No, no, no, no. Tell them I say no. That my answer is no.
They may come with their grand preparation.
No, no, no, no.
No consolation where there's grief and pain and sad meditation."
Incidentally it's a traditional war verse - a calling for war. Well, one by one would go up. Well let us assume they would call my name after that verse. I would go up, but you would notice that this is where my style would be different. (Giving an example of how he would sing).
You see, I built that style. The others were accustomed to that slow style. If you notice, my singing even; my calypsoes were different. So that was my style. I didn't copy anybody....... Maybe because I'm a musician and I know chords and different things like that and maybe because I was influenced by different types of music.
When you singing calypso, you wouldn't have found that most of the calypsoes is that sort of tempo, like for instance, if I was singing All Day, All Night Miss Mary-Ann.
Sound of singing All Day, All Night Miss Mary-Ann.
Now, I wrote that on St. Peter's day. That was in 1941, but it didn't get public until 1945. I went down to St. Peter's fete and the fellows were drinking and the fellows were saying "Lion, what you have for next year" I had nothing and my mind just run on that.
(Singing of Miss Mary-Ann again).
But, then lots of people put words to them and I have lots of different types of words.
They sold a quarter of a million within three months, but it was in my tent he sung it and I was the publisher of it, so I had a share in the business. Atilla and I published the booklet with it so we became the publishers. We would draw in this favour because lots of Americans started to claim the melody.
Belasco claimed it and lots of others claimed it. Belasco said that he recorded it in 1901, but the truth is that that is an old French song. It was sung in the last century. So eventually, if we had considered to lay claim too, they would have declared it public domain, so we withdrew and he put in a claim for the words.
Tell me about Invader. What did he bring to calypso?
By 1945, the calypso was already all over the world. Fellows like Peter Pitt, Six Ten, Fido Blake and all these fellows when they went away, it was so easy that all one had to do was learn a calypso and call yourself Lord Apple or Lord Pommecythere and make money to help you. So nobody brought anything; it was already there. It was on pictures all over the world, even subtitles. Happy Go Lucky was the first of them. Tiger Bay was another. Then all on T.V. It was all about, in Albert Hall. It was in America; in Canada. There was a calypsonian called Caresser in Canada, who was doing well with my song, Ugly Woman and all sorts of thing.