Anyone used to passing by the Court Street Trader Joe’s, where these days an interminable line of customers often stretches around the block, may notice someone missing from the small flock of vendors near its entrance.
Baba Inde, who would greet everyone and anyone with his famous refrain — “Love is my religion,” originally the title of a Ziggy Marley album – died following a fire at his apartment on December 19, at age 71. An immigrant from St. Lucia who lived in Crown Heights, Baba befriended everyone from neighboring vendors to Trader Joe’s employees, the latter of whom constructed a memorial for him on the corner. Baba leaves behind a daughter, Naeemah Bey, as well as three sons: Abolaji Alexander, Laplie Anderson, and Iman Inde. Mourning him as well are four sisters, two brothers, and seven grandchildren.
Baba sold handmade jewelry for years alongside his full-time job as a construction manager, setting up shop on Court Street roughly seven years ago at the suggestion of Iman, 43, an employee at the Trader Joe’s. Baba’s jewelry was coveted, Iman told Bklyner over the phone; when Baba ran a stall in SoHo, artists and models would stop by to purchase his designs. In his time on the corner of Court Street and Atlantic Avenue, Iman said, his father established himself as a staple of the neighborhood.
“He has built so many relationships, and encouraged so many people,” said Iman.
Iman would often get out of work at the end of the day to see his father still chatting with customers and selling his jewelry. After Baba’s death, Iman said, he received a flood of comments on his Facebook page, many of which were from Trader Joe’s employees and customers. “It’s amazing to feel all the love that me and my sister are getting.”
In reference to the Ziggy Marley line, Iman said, “that was one of Baba’s favorite lines, because he believes that love is what’s gonna heal everything. Not religion — we have to love each other, regardless of what.
“And in these times with Black Lives Matter, we need to really, really love each other, regardless of what race you are, what personality, religion.”
Baba was also an advocate for peace, his daughter Naeemah’s fiance, Cleveland, told Bklyner. Like many street vendors, who are often excessively policed, Cleveland said, Baba’s presence was crucial to city life. “He was like a consultant to individuals who walked by in their everyday lives,” Cleveland said.
Baba, born Francis Alexander in Castries, St. Lucia’s capital city, traveled internationally as a musician with the band Tru Tones, later forming his own group, Wassin. In addition to English, he spoke Creole and French, Naeemah told Bklyner over the phone.
In a post on the Brooklyn Comic Shop Instagram on December 19th, owner Joshua Stulman wrote:
“Our deepest sympathy for the passing of our friend Baba. He brought a great love of music and spirit to Cobble Hill. If you ever stopped by our stand at Trader Joe’s, then you undoubtedly met our street vending neighbor selling his beautiful craft jewelry and dispensing curbside good vibes.”
Stulman opened a stall near Baba’s over five years ago, and felt instantly welcomed by Baba, who “exuded” positivity,” he told Bklyner over the phone. In an environment that feels not unlike an office space, where vendors spend the entire day in each other’s presence, Stulman explained, good coworker relations aren’t guaranteed; there can be tensions over space, which is often tight. With Baba, that was never a worry.
“Everybody loved Baba,” he said. People would come from all over just to chat with him – people like Myron, who lives in the neighborhood and would stop by often to see his friend Don, who runs a record stand next to the one formerly occupied by Baba.
“He was very independent,” Myron told us. “He had a good, cheery outlook.”
Monique Denoncin, who also knew Baba, described him over email as “young in so many ways,” despite being in his seventies. “I am heartbroken and will miss our conversations always.”
Iman has set up a GoFundMe page to assist with Baba’s funeral and memorial expenses. The family will honor his life with the January 2nd event ‘Celebration of Life,’ which Iman said will be limited to family and friends due to COVID-19 restrictions. We will update this article shortly with a link to the event live stream.
Article has been updated to state that the ‘Celebration of Life’ event will be limited to family and friends, but will be available to live stream.