An unmistakable void now mars the Caribbean’s dynamic cultural landscape.
And we weren’t prepared for it, though it is doubtful that we ever could.
Just as his moniker suggests, The Mighty Shadow quietly made his exit on Tuesday, leaving family, friends, fans, admirers, and critics alike to wish one last time for the richness of his presence, the echo of his melodic voice and his biting baseline.
Ironically, Winston Bailey’s departure came on a day when his beloved Trinidad and Tobago was preparing to stage the launch of the region’s premier cultural showcase, CARIFESTA.
Alas, he will be missed.
For more than four decades, this lyrical genius has tantalized, mesmerized and revitalized the calypso genre.
Described as a truly enigmatic musical icon, the Mighty Shadow, who grew up in Les Coteaux, Tobago, first hit the big stage in 1971 thanks to Carlton Joseph and calypso was the better for it.
With the revered Francisco Slinger, The Mighty Sparrow, as his idol, Shadow joined Sparrow’s Young Brigade in 1970 and picking up the lessons of the business, he penned his first song, The Threat in 1973.
The young artiste peeked the interest of the veterans and sang and danced his way into the hearts of Trinidadians and his Caribbean brothers and sisters with his effortless style.
And one year later when the maestro delivered the hit Bassman, which gave him the coveted, title of Carnival Road March in 1974, few were surprised.
To this day, it is still a favourite of calypso lovers described by experts as a piece “in a league all by itself”.
This set the tone for what would become a rich musical legacy. His musical compositions were diverse and melodic.
We have sung, danced, jumped and waved to Dingolay, Pay de Devil, Yuh Looking for a Horn, Poverty is Hell, just to name a few of his hits songs which are compiled on more than 45 albums and CDs.
And don’t forget his calypso, Everybody is Somebody, was the soundtrack of the movie, Lean On Me starring Morgan Freeman.
Who could really entertain us but the man dressed to the nines in sharp black outfits, topped off with the right hat and a powerful stage presence. None like Shadow.
Equally his accolades are befitting. The Mighty Shadow was the National Calypso Monarch of Trinidad and Tobago in 2000 and he was the first artist to win both International Soca Monarch and Road March in the same year – 2001– with the song Stranger.
Away from the musical stage he was a recipient of Trinidad and Tobago’s National Award Humming Bird Medal 2003 and has received citations from mayors in many cities including New York London, Toronto and Washington DC.
It is no wonder then that he has received glowing tributes from far and wide.
Our very own calypso genius, Cultural Ambassador the Mighty Gabby immediately penned a tribute yesterday.
“Talk about stage presence
Shadow had it all
Without moving one muscle
He’ll make the audience ball
Hook line after hook line
With a sweet refrain
It cannot be disputed
He had a brilliant brain.”
In like glowing terms, UWI Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles said, in his reflections: “There is no doubt that ‘The Shadow’ was superbly gifted with an ability to extract from the base of society extraordinary creativity and intellectual energy which he returned to source with; an endless supply of ripping social justice lyrics and a compelling baseline that bombarded the base of the belly.”
Ironically, Shadow died on the eve of being conferred with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from UWI at St Augustine.
Regrettably, it’s a reminder for the Caribbean, blessed with musical geniuses like Shadow, that these men and women deserve the best accolades while they are living and breathing among us we celebrate their unique gifts.
Over the next few days, we will hear the unforgettable music of the Shadow on the radio and sing along to our favourite tunes. And one must wonder why this is not the norm especially when that music is rich, rhythmic and tells us our story.
After all this would perhaps be our greatest tribute to the icon The Mighty Shadow — gone but never forgotten.