Last Sunday, the Mighty Sparrow (Slinger Francisco) celebrated his birthday. Amazingly, at 82, the man recognized as the Calypso King of the World hasn’t missed a beat and his memory is better than that of people half his age. And yes, he is still composing.
He told me that he was working on a Calypso and Reggae project that would look at the current political situation in the United States, and gave me a sample of one of the choruses. With his kind permission, here is a sample of his latest composition:
You don’t like Obama
You can’t stand Obama
Obama is better than you, and that’s a fact
Obama is a hero
You are number zero
You don’t like Obama, because he is black
Asked about his thoughts on his birthday, he told me: “ ’82 gone. The focus is now on 83.”
Jean Joseph, CPA, and the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce & Industry, in Brooklyn NY, hosted the birthday celebration for the veteran artiste. Elected officials, businesspersons, diplomats, athletes and friends attended the function. Dr. Roy Hastick, President of the Caribbean Chamber of Commerce and Industry presented Sparrow with an honorary membership to the organization. The party of over 100 persons included representatives from Haiti, Grenada, Dominica, Nigeria, Bermuda, Panama, Aruba and Trinidad and Tobago.
I asked Sparrow how he felt about the future of the Calypso/Soca art form, especially since lyrics did not seem to be important, artists are not writing producing much social commentary and music and tempo seem to be the only criteria in becoming an artist. He responded that despite my concerns, he felt that the art form was in good shape and that it was now in the hands of young artists to make a good thing better. He likened the state of the art form to the health care situation in the United States. “Like Obamacare, the Republicans have an opportunity to make it better. They need to amend rather than repeal Obamacare. If they choose to repeal it, then it will be detrimental to millions of Americans. The same with the young artists. They could choose to improve on what they inherited or totally discard it to the detriment of the art form.”
We then discussed his days as a choirboy at St Patrick’s RC Church in Port of Spain. He said that he had enjoyed those days and noted that he sang in Latin and that this experience helped in the development of his voice. To my surprise and joy, he sang one of the Latin hymns heard at mass prior to and during Holy Communion. What impressed me even more was that he also decided to sing the part that the priest was responsible for singing. We then discussed his school days and how he got into singing calypso.
He said he entering a local competition, “Those who can Sing.” He tried several times but remember winning once. He confessed that the producers of the competition really got tired of him entering the competition and singing the same song “Red River Valley.”
Why “Red River Valley” ?
He then told me that his father. Rupert “Jim” Francisco was an avid country fan who had a gramophone “that you had to windup.” Somehow he, Sparrow, fell in love with that song on the gramophone. After being informed that he could not enter singing the same song, he decided to compete singing one of Kitchener’s calypsos, “Cemetery.” He said he got big ratings for this and then sang one of Roaring Lion’s calypsos. This is when he realized that calypso was his forte.
We then discussed his first hit, “Jean & Dina.” He agreed that this hit put him on the calypso stage and gave him his credentials. I asked if he personally knew Jean, Dina and Clementina. He informed me that he did not personally know them but that friends had pointed them out to him. To quote “at the time they were so ‘hot’ that they were definitely not going to go out with me. You had to have big money to talk to them.” They considered him a “hot boy” that they loved to hear sing, but they were not interested in anything else., he said. He remembered that as he became more popular, some of the women would ask him not to make a calypso on them. Of course, that became a subject of one of his calypsos.
Asked about his most commercially successful calypsos, he indicated that there were many, including – Congo Man; Salt-fish; Lying Excuses; Federation, Independence and Education. He noted that “Education” was by far the big game changer for him. He felt that the entire society had a new respect for him because of that song.. People began to take him seriously and he was elevated to a whole new level to use his words “with the big boys, Roaring Lion, Tiger, Lord Kitchener, Terror and Growler.”
Just before the interview ended, I returned to the Reggae and Calypso political commentary project he was developing. He agreed to give me a few verses to “wet your appetite.” This is his first Reggae composition. He presented me with a live audio of what it would be like. I believe with this one, the Mighty Sparrow has yet another hit. Here are some of the lyrics:
Your family business, left to suffer
Cause more and more you lust for power
You was a heavyweight Tycoon before
But nobody at all is above the law
Self inflicted wounds is ignorance
With inconceivable incompetence
Stop the tweeting and stop talking trash
Otherwise your time in office go crash
The level right now we have reached
Don’t pattern the thing Russia preach
You representing my USA
The most power in the world here today
You messing up Germany, Loving up the Saudi
You push way NATO people like you booze
Bamboozling black people, shouting from your steeple
Vote for me, what the hell you have to loose
Obama did not trap you
He didn’t wire tap you
This is a big scam you want to sell
Your money comes from offshore
Of this I am cock sure
Mueller will catch you, Time will tell
Hope you like the sample and stay tuned.
(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington D.C., is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)
Kevin Edwards, firstname.lastname@example.org