From "Estudiante" to "Black Wizard":
The Spectacular Metamorphosis of a Grenadian Calypsonian

Featured Article - by Caldwell Taylor
October, 2009

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“Kwillkin” (Elwyn McQuilkin), a high school buddy, went from “Estudiante” to “Black Wizard” just ten years and I was privileged to have been a witness to what was certainly a spectacular metamorphosis.

It all started in 1969. We were in Form 3A at the St Andrew’s Anglican Secondary (SAASS) and Kwillkin, the bamboo-thin lad with the nervous chuckle- wrote his first calypso and celebrated the deed by taking the name “ Estudiante”, the Spanish for student.

Spanish was Kwillkin’s favourite subject. He was in fact very good at it and in 1971 he was among a handful of students who sat for the Spanish examinations set by Cambridge University: This was some time before we gave any serious thought to the idea of decolonizing the curriculum and, indeed, the education system.

In that same year -1971, Kwillkin won our high school’s first -ever Calypso King competition. I have a keen recall of that contest, for I was among the pretenders to have fallen hard to the young bard’s lyrical lash. It is worth telling that just before the 1971 contest the Estudiante had sloughed off his estudiantismo to become a titled aristocrat : the “Black Baron”.

The “black” in Black Baron was in keeping with one of the imperatives of the day; it was a time when black was both beautiful and fashionably political.

The new blackness took us from racial self- contempt to racial self-absorption and self- discovery. The latter engendered ontological rebirth and, alas, we became what we were; or so our suggestible minds thought in those days when we shoved reality onto Procrustean mattresses.

Today, so many years later, I find it impossible to pronounce the name “Black Baron” without giving thought to Baron de Vastey, the historian and anti-colonialist who was a principal advisor to Henri Christophe (1769-1820),the Grenadian- born king of Haiti.

Baron de Vastey (1781-1820) penned a few books, including Le systeme colonial devoile (Colonialism Unveiled), which anticipated arguments that would be made by Wilmot Blyden, Jean Price-Mars, Aime Cesaire,Frantz Fanon, H. Sylvester -Williams, Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, CLR James, Claudia Jones, Elma Francois, Eric Williams, Edouard Glissant, Walter Rodney, the Rastafarians, Valentino, Chalkdust, Stalin, and the Mighty Duke, Calypso’s towering Africanist.

The name “Black Baron” also puts me in mind of Baron Samedi, the loa of the Dead in Haitian vodou.

Baron Samedi makes an appearance in the lascivious “jooking” ( and also in the ribald songs and debauchery) of the Grenadian Jab Jab (the Devil’s devil), a masquerade character whose choreography and iconography signal an indebtedness to African fertility deities.

The soot-smeared Jab Jab occupies a space between the worlds of life and death. He wears cow horns to signify a hyper-masculinity; and he puts on a mock priapism to boast the generative power of the phallus.

A live serpent/snake is another of the Jab Jab’s important props; the serpent is Damballah – Wedo, Ayeda –Wedo, Simbi. This African - derived reverence for the serpent explains the significance of the cribo (Clelia clelia) in Grenadian folklore.

The Jab Jab is a fine example of the Bakhtinian(1) “break from official life”. Like the calypsonian, this once- despised negre jardin (2) of the Grenadian Carnival has been transformed into an emblem of Grenadian authenticity.

The Jab Jab sheds his tar, the serpent sloughs off its skin, and the Black Baron surrenders his barony to become the Black Wizard. How this came to be is a yarn worth the telling.

(1)Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) Russian philosopher and semiotician.
(2)Negre jardin is French for “field (garden) negro”