“When God gives you an idea, He marries you to that idea and history proves greatness comes out of it.” -Tina Charles
Rawlston Charles: you are a legend. And so is your daughter, who unearthed your story and the rich history of the sound of Trinidad and Tobago.
Two-time Olympian, WNBA MVP and New York Liberty franchise player Tina Charles made her debut in the Tribeca Film Festival with the two-hour documentary, Charlie’s Records, which illustrated her father’s influence both on the calypso culture and pre-gentrified Brooklyn. The first-time producer filled every single seat of the Village East Cinema on Friday, May 3.
The 115-minute film flashed back to a myriad of iconic moments from the 20-year span: the height of the calypso reign from the 1970s through the 90s. A mix of old-school animation and series testimonials took the viewer from 1967 Delaford, Tobago to present day Brooklyn, New York.
Rawlston Charles, also known as “Charlie,” set his sights on bringing calypso into the United States and reverse opinions of it being “too dark,” as radio stations told him regarding the sound. After the decision to take charge of the distribution of a genre he wished to preserve, Charlie went to become the most prominent figure in his years of production.
“Just like any immigrant migrating over, in a mode of survival, [my dad] started Charlie’s Calypso City…because he felt like he didn’t have access to calypso,” Tina said. “The way you would hear American music, he wanted the quality to be the same.”
Survival transformed into stability and soon enough, 300 of the 500 calypso records produced in the time were by the way of Charlie.
“In order to have a hit, we knew we had to go through Charlie,” one of the calypsonians said in a testimonial during the film.
Charlie’s impact reached beyond calypso music. He not only had his hand in production with the beginnings of hip-hop royalty (Fat Boys, Kurtis Blow, Slick Rick, Doug-E-Fresh, etc…), but he opened up a studio in one of the roughest streets of the time. Charlie’s studio, Rawlston Records, brought community through the crime-filled streets during the crack epidemic. “Brooklyn is being represented through this studio. It was home for us,” Kurtis Blow said.
After two platinum tracks, three golds and a Grammy, Charlie walked away from the music scene. However, his store, Charlie’s Calypso City, remains a staple on Fulton Street-preserving the culture and serving as a reminder of what was.
Decades later, his daughter is making her own individual mark on the community.
The Flushing, New York native has made six WNBA All-Star appearances (2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018), received WNBA Most Valuable Player (2012) and won two Olympic gold medals (2012, 2016). Despite all her success, this process has been a new challenge for her. Charles told the audience, post-film, because she was born in 1988, the tail-end of her father’s involvement in the music industry, doing the documentary allowed her to get to know Charlie on a different level. “I was home and able to spend more time with my family than usual,” Charles said.
After her best friend, Kalana Greene’s push and Spike Lee’s encouragement to make this project her own, she did.
“I just sat down with my father and started asking him questions,” Tina said. “I just saw there was a story there.”
There was a story there. That story debuted in Tribeca Film Festival last week.