Roaring Lion was born Rafael Arius Cairi Llama Deleon on February 22, 1908 in Aroquita, Trinidad, an area in the northern hills of the island country. “Cairi,” where this compilation gets its title, was another name for Trinidad in the indigenous tongue of the island. Lion, a Caribbean Creole, spent much of his early life in orphanages before being adopted by Muslim Indian parents from the migrant working class in San Fernando. This unusual upbringing and displacement greatly influenced his compositions and performances, which subsequently influenced Calypso music as a whole since Lion became such a looming figure in its popular development.
Inspired by early, mostly unrecorded practitioners like King Fando and Lionel Belasco, Lion started writing and performing his own music and adaptations in the 1920’s. As a composer, Lion stood out ahead of the pack with his lyrical wit and a rare ability to sight-read and draft music to paper. By helping to create the “War”-style of Calypso in which two performers would “battle” each other lyrically between 78rpm releases, his influence persevered into similar battles in Reggae and Hip Hop cultures decades later.
By the 1930’s, the period from which this music is culled, Lion became one of the first Calypso musicians to record and perform in the United States. Despite his humble beginnings, Roaring Lion’s fame grew with each passing year, and he became a figurehead of Calypso as its popularity grew in the U.S. and Europe. These early recordings are a glimpse of the Lion coming into his own, showing all the swagger and bravado of a young man ready to become an international star, while also expressing the realities of working class life from the Trinidad of his youth.