Put her in a secondary school uniform and you could easily mistake her for a fifth former. But, Tamara Tam-Cruickshank aged 31, is a wife and mother of two children. She is also a UWI graduate, a school teacher, and movie producer/director. Tamara won raves a fortnight ago when she premiered her second film—Come With It, Black Man...Biography of Black Stalin’s Consciousness—at Nalis in Port-of-Spain. The one-hour movie is a well researched and presented documentary on the music of five-time National Calypso Monarch Black Stalin Leroy Calliste. Tamara has thus far had quite a romantic and colourful life, from the moment of being delivered into this world, in South Trinidad, by her grandfather Dr Tam, to her parents Patrick and Jacqueline Tam. Growing up with two siblings, a brother and a sister, Tamara describes her childhood as “fantastic and happy.” “We were like The Brady Bunch. I was always into art, maybe because a lot of my family, on both sides, are into art. I have an aunt who is a writer.
“I can’t pick one favourite artist as I love the works of so many of them. I especially like the works of Picasso, who I think was a real genius. I also like Van Gogh, (Peter) Minshall, Leroi Clarke and Eddie Bowen.” Tamara says she cherishes moments alone, even from when she was a child. She explained: “I think that people born under the sign of Cancer are very hard to deal with. We can be very anti-social at times, and like being left in our space. On the other hand, we are very nurturing people, with strong motherly instincts.” Tamara attributes her love and appreciation for the arts and local culture to closeness to family and her childhood. “I used to spend Carnivals as a child in San Fernando with my grandmother, watching Dimanche Gras. This is one of the things that inspired me to appreciate and love ‘authentic’ calypso music.” Describing her formative years, Tamara disclosed: “At primary level, I attended St Xavier’s Private School in St Joseph, going on to St Francois Girls’ College, St Augustine Girls High School, and St Joseph’s Convent in Port-of-Spain.” Upon graduating secondary school, she migrated to New York, USA, and did some art courses. Marrying Kerwyn Cruickshank in New York and becoming a mother, Tamara returned to Trinidad and enrolled in UWI, St Augustine, majoring in visual arts.
She continues: “Upon finishing UWI, I wanted to begin work on a film project, and opted to do a documentary on Black Stalin.” As faith would have it, when Tamara graduated UWI in 2008, she was amazed to realise that Black Stalin was conferred with his Honorary Doctorate in Letters at her graduation exercise. “I had met Stalin before, did some interviews and we had already developed a great relationship before the film idea came about. “Stalin is my favourite calypsonian. As a child, about the age of five-six, I saw this rasta calypsonian on TV. At that age, I thought rastas only sang reggae. Anyway, I thought he was the greatest. I remember Wait Dorothy was one his songs I loved as a child. “The respect I have for Black Stalin, from childhood, caused me to want to do a film on him as my first project. He is the nicest person. “The more I got to know Stalin, the more I wanted to know about him. When I told him I wanted to do a documentary on him on the phone, I heard a slight pause and he just remained calm; asked no questions, didn’t sound excited; he was just cool and replied, ‘I’ll be willing to work with you on this’. I was happy, but very surprised, especially as he didn’t even know me.”
“This was four years ago. I began attending his shows, visited his home and did two interviews...two very long interviews.
“What I came to realise that this was not just a very intelligent and talented man, but a very private man who agreed to open up his home and his life to me. I also checked him at Kenny Phillips studio in Palmiste where he was recording.” “The documentary was completed in August, but we are still doing post production work. The four years of producing this work, being married, with children, was very hard and challenging. Many times my husband and I had to tote the children with us, sometimes late at night, to do interviews. At the end of it all, it was a most rewarding experience; as well as a learning one.
“And, yes! I will certainly do it all over again. In fact, I already have two or three other artistes in mind I would love doing documentaries on. Actually, my three favourite artistes are Stalin, Shadow and SuperBlue.” About her Black Stalin project, Tamara said: “What drives me with a project like this is that I want to inform and enlighten young people on who they are, as sons and daughters of Trinidad & Tobago; and, about their indigenous culture and heritage. “Young people are very ignorant as to who they are, subjecting and influenced by American non culture, and Jamaican culture. It is very important for our young people to know themselves. I listened to one of my lecturers—Dr Gordon Rohlehr—and he inspired me through the medium of calypso.
“Our young people need to realise that the young soca stars they now emulate and love, all—including Kes, Machel, Chucky, Bunji, Destra and Nadia—all have an appreciation of the roots of calypso and the elders in calypso, like Stalin, who planted those roots. They know the history of the art form, in the same way all young US basketball players know the history of their sport, and the NBA. Traditional calypso is the seed of every indigenous music now popular in this country. “I want young people to think critically, instead of being just like mindless sheep, simply following.” Asked her other ambitions, Tamara responded: “I would like to eventually do a feature movie. I love horrors and drama movies...in fact I like them all, all genres, once they are good. “I want to develop myself as a photographer, and I am definitely going to get my Masters degree. Right now, I am simply enjoying my two sons, Jeremiah, ten, and Julian, 22 months.”