||The British Virgin Islands
||April 20th, 2018
THE MIGHT SPARROW http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20021127/index.html
There are so many sides to Sparrow. I call myself a multi-faceted individual," he told the rapt audience at the 2002 Jamerican Film Festival's 'Coffee with...' series last Saturday in Montego Bay. - File
THE SPONTANEITY, spirituality, spunk and seriousness of The Mighty Sparrow brewed into a humorous whole at the clubhouse of the White Witch Golf Course on Saturday morning.
Of course, there was more than a taste of saltfish.
Along with Danny Glover, the legendary calypsonian was part of the 2002 Jamerican Film and Music Festival's 'Coffee with...' series. It was a smaller but more intimate group which remained after something of an exodus with the departure of Danny Glover, who had to leave the Montego Bay, St. James, venue for Mexico.
"There are so many sides to Sparrow. I call myself a multi-faceted individual," he told the rapt audience.
Those threads of many colours are woven together on a loom of music to create a beautiful tapestry of music, calypso music.
"As a calypsonian I am a concerned villager, someone who would make a statement. One of my first compositions was Ruby And Her Missing Baby. She did an abortion. Maybe now I would be pro-life, but those terms did not exist then.
"I can remember when the Russians sent a satellite in the sky, with a dog in it. I was the only one who came out and said that I was sorry for the dog," Sparrow said to chuckles from the gathering, going on to give a snatch of the resulting composition:
'Two Sputniks in the skies
I am sorry for the poor little dog in the Russian satellite'
Snatches of song flavoured the stew of Sparrow's history and perspective, as when he responded to a query from Sheryl Lee Ralph about how the spontaneity of his lyrics was honed.
"For the tourist industry," the Mighty Sparrow replied. "They did not understand island politics (which was the main material for calypso songs), so any tourist who would come in we would sing about them."
Ms. Ralph put Sparrow to the test, asking for an instant song about two silver-haired ladies sitting to Sparrow's left. Without hesitation, he launched out:
'Silver-haired ladies in the back
On you Sheryl wants me to launch an attack
You look so nice, you look so sexy
And I know you have your eyes on me
Darling you won't regret
Cause remember, I aint married yet'
There was hooting, hollering and applause.
It was not long before the young Sparrow moved mentally beyond the confines of singing ditties for the visitors.
"Life is much more than you have been given. I started asking questions. I started hanging out with people like Dr. Eric Williams (former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and author of Capitalism and Slavery). I was one of his followers. If he had said anything was to be done, we would have done it. Lord Melody was a great guy who taught me a lot. He did Mama Look at Boo Boo," he explained to someone who asked who that was. As Sheryl Lee Ralph sang the song in question, he gently corrected her and said "No, that is how Belafonte sing it," then proceeded to do it original style.
The audience joined in on the chorus and there was more applause.
Sparrow integrated concerns of nationalism into his music from the beginning of his recording career, which started with the immortal Jean And Dinah. He had 'words but no song' and, hearing jingles by other calypsonians on the airwaves, he was determined to do one himself. So the ambitious young lyrical Slinger did one and approached the largest company, as each jingle was sponsored by a particular business.
"I thought it was good, but after five attempts the owner of the place said 'no thanks', but we will give you two dollars for your trouble," Sparrow recalled.
However, Sparrow was totally entranced by the tune and when the Americans left the military base in Chaguaramas some time later, it was the foundation of Jean and Dinah.
"When they were here we could not get any girls. The girls were always meeting 'Joe' (as the US soldiers were called). Then when they decided to leave I wrote a song, Jean and Dinah," Sparrow said, going back in time musically and vocally, his voice going high and youthful as he sang, ending with:
'De Yankee gone
Sparrow take over now'
It was not the only lyrics that the base inspired:
'Long long time ago
Not even a tip
Nobody now know Chaguaramas
Was exchanged for a few
Somebody been a big big scamp
If they want to stay, let them take the Caribic Swamp'
The 'exploiters who came' are a big issue with the Mighty Sparrow, as is the common heritage of the Caribbean and their unification into one unit.
"I got a lot of flak for saying that when the enslavers decided to give us our freedom we were so glad for it that we did not understand what we were getting, that they had used us and were getting rid of us," he said in reference to both emancipation and independence.
"Can you imagine one big nation from Belize and Suriname across to Jamaica? It would be like from New York to LA, separated by water, but one."
The sense of a Caribbean, not islands, was always a part of Francisco Slinger, who was born in Grenada, but grew up in Trinidad. "What you have is a Grenadian-Trinidadian with a Trinidadian attitude," he defined himself.
Upon being reminded of a concert he did in Mandeville, Manchester, some years ago, Sparrow reeled off the names of quite a few places where he has performed in the island.
"Nuff time people say Sparrow is from Jamaica, you know. And, loving Jamaica I never denied it," he said to more applause.
He thanked the radio stations for playing his songs and Byron Lee for bringing him to Jamaica on many occasions, adding that before even that there was Calypso Corner. He also took the opportunity to make the link between calypso and reggae, saying that calypso influenced mento, which in turn lead to blue beat, rocksteady, then reggae and of course dancehall.
"Reggae did not drop from the sky," he said, further explaining that he was not claiming it was a descendant. "It is to bring it a little closer, to know your cousin," he said.
The two cousins have a lot in common, such as not being played on the radio when they started up.
"It was around Lent time (the season) and those who wanted to be closer to Christ did not want calypso on the radio around then. I told them if it is good enough to play, play it all year round or not at all," Sparrow said.
His latest project, though, should have no problems with men and women of the cloth. Sparrow is now working on a 'gospalypso' album. "It is all original gospel on calypso rhythms," he said.
Although he has always been multi-faceted, the demands of the crowd have constrained him at times.
"The people say 'we want Saltfish. What do you do? You give it to them ,but you give them something else after."
The importance of The Mighty Sparrow as an agent of change was underlined by one of the producers of Calypso Dreams, a documentary centred around the 11-time Calypso Monarch. "When we were in Trinidad people kept coming up to him on the streets. One women came to Sparrow and said you sang for the dock workers when they were on strike in 1957. My father was a part of the strike and thank you. Another said you were the first in Trinidad to speak out against domestic abuse," he said. This led to a rendition of Treat She Nice, that anti-domestic violence song.
It is because Sparrow has taken a stance, and a strong one at that, on particular issues why calypso has not gone mainstream, with the equivalent of a Beenie Man or Sean Paul.
"You have to understand, we don't have the corporate backing- We are in a position where the same persons we had to berate were the same persons who were putting in the sponsorship. How would they be putting in money when I was singing a song like Good Citizen?" Sparrow asked rhetorically, giving a snatch of the piece:
Those good citizens are architects of economic slavery-
The real traitors are in high society
Yet the government protecting them and oppressing you and me-
"One time I was singing it in the tent and a good citizen was sneaking out. I had to stop it and say 'You! Is you I talking!' Sparrow said, his smile amplified in the laughter on the patio of the White Witch Club House.
Even Francisco Slinger's stage name is a twist on a situation that was thrust upon him.
"I was always singing and dancing up and down, some James Brown-like movements. And they would say 'why you can't keep still, you hopping around like a little sparrow. So they gave me the name.
"And if you're going to listen to somebody, who gets more attention? A lion or a tiger. Who is going to listen to a sparrow.
"So I just put 'mighty' in front of it," he said with a mischievous, satisfied grin.
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