He never knew his mother. She left him with his father when he was just six months. Her destination–greener pastures in Trinidad and Tobago. She has since passed. His upkeep was never a priority for his father. Today he holds on to the theory that since the female honeybee was gone, his drone lost the desire to take care of the larvae. He was nine months old when his aunt took him to a garden where his father was working and left him in a ditch nearby. Very well aware of the situation, his father spitefully left him there overnight, saying to his stepmother that he left his son there so his aunt would answer to the law if he died. The next day he was found all swollen by his stepmother, pretty close to a comatose state.
A coffin was built in preparation for what they thought was his imminent death before he was a year old. From then on, Albertine Augustine says, it was nothing but constant abuse, verbal, psychological and physical. He vowed that one day he would leave home, Choiseul even, and never come back.
He found respite in country music. “Listening to Conway Twitty and Jim Reeves was what used to bring me great joy. And at six years old at the time, I always used to say one day I would record songs like them, even though I did not know what recording a song was all about,” he tells the STAR. That dream would have to wait a few more years.
In 1975, at the age of sixteen, he was able to acquire some money to board a bus to Castries. He was finally out–away from the abuse suffered at the hands of his father– and heading to the big city. It was not a bed of roses at first however.
“I used to sleep under houses, on steps–I did not have a home when I came to Castries,” he says. The show windows of Valmont and M&C used to be his moments of pleasure at nights before laid his head down to sleep. “I used to like watching the shoes, especially in the Valmont show window, and saw myself working there some day,” he relates. The shoe store at Valmont later became his first place of employ, dusting and cleaning the shoes that were on display for sale.
At the age of seventeen he turned to religion, joining the Seventh Day Adventist Church. “This is where I actually started seeing myself singing again,” he says. The only thing getting in the way was that he did not think that he could actually sing. Plus, with not much of a primary school education, his vocabulary and speaking ability by his own admission were very poor.
“I used to sit in church and admire the singers, saying one day, one day, I’ll try it. Then I started listening to (Evangelist) Jimmy Swaggart on radio and there was this song that he used to sing: “Come and go with me.”
So one day when they asked in church if anyone wanted to sing, I raised my hand, went up and sang the one verse I knew. People clapped when I was done,” he recalls with a smile. And that was all the encouragement he needed. Now known as “Big Brother” by his church brethren, he never turned back.
In 1999, Big Brother recorded his first song, “Magi Noir” (Black Magic). It struck a nerve. The lyrics, plus the fact that he sang in creole using a country melody, a genre surprisingly popular in Saint Lucia, brought the song and singer much attention. Several hits, three albums including a Gospel CD, performances in England, St. Croix, Cayenne and Martinique mapped his journey over the years. A new album is on the way.
There have been obstacles, among them, frequent asthma attacks and unexplainable illnesses that cut short his stint as a bus driver. But he is still alive, still kicking strong–a man on a mission.
“I did not come from a musical family, I never learnt how to sing. I believe I was given this ministry of music to share with my people. I also promised that I would give back to the people in Choiseul one day, and since about 2004 I have been trying to stage a show there. I have not received the kind of support but I am determined to do it now more than ever. It is for this reason he has planned a concert dubbed Mix Veg Boullion for Choiseul in April.
“I am in the process of setting up this show to give back to the people who raised me, walked with me and fed me, and to show the young people that despite all that I went through, I did not turn to a life of crime,” he says. Most of those people he wants to assist are disabled, bedridden and one is blind.
“At least with my help they can get some medicines or a little ease to buy something they need,” he adds.
The event will take place on Sunday, April 27 at the Delcer playing field in Choiseul and will feature Calypsonians Invader, Menel, Meshack and Ben Alcide among others.
“They say before you can dance in another man’s house you must learn to dance in your own. So I have danced elsewhere. Now I want to come home to the embrace of my own and celebrate as a son of the soil, while cherishing the breath of life and the gift I have been given,” he says.