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Sparrow - Our Beatle, Our Marley
The Mighty Sparrow has proved himself as the quintessential calypsonian, par excellence, with more than 70 albums to his credit. He is richly endowed with many gifts
He possesses an amazing ability not only to put into works and tempo the exploits of society, but to crown it all with showmanship and appeal. His great contribution to the art form and our lives has unraveled the mysteries of Caribbean life, leaving the professionally trained sociologist and economist befuddled.
A combination of talent, hard work and opportunity enabled Sparrow's ascendancy to Calypso King of the World. He brought honor, glory and dignity to an indigenous art form that was once scorned upon by the elite of Caribbean society. He is one extraordinary entertainer who utilises the medium he masters not just to entertain but also to edify, enlighten, and educate.
The T&T Guardian spoke with a range of people connected with culture in this country to hear what they feel Sparrow’s impact has been on our national life and culture.
“His music we all grew up with, and even as it is played years later to a new generation it still remains fresh. The work of a true maestro.....a class act!” - Gerald Agostini, broadcaster and advertising specialist.
“Slinger Francisco is to calypso what Robert Nesta Marley is to reggae. The catalog of his work covers every form of human endeavour, and aptly describes every aspect of the human experience. Now that the term 'icon' has been reduced to the pedestrian, as has the term 'community leader,' the only befitting sobriquet would be 'Cultural Colossus.' - Robert Mayers, financial consultant.
“I grew up in a house where our mother bought and played Sparrow's LPs alone! We had no choice, and so his music and lyrics have stuck in my head even to this day. Take Yuh Bundle And Go, and so many more. Lying Excuses, for the clever lyrics and fantastic melody. Soca Pressure, the masterful double entendre in Benwood Dick, and others to numerous to mention. Birdie sang for Exodus The Band Plays On, which was in tribute to my late brother Amin.
“Slinger Francisco is the supreme calypsonian. Hoping he would recover from his illness, and our prayers are with him.” - Ainsworth Mohammed, manager Republic Bank Exodus.
“There is no calypsonian alive today on whom Sparrow has not impacted. Most calypsonians when composing think of Sparrow in terms of lyrical measurement, melody, phrasing and delivery. Sparrow, therefore, is the ideal and ultimate standard for calypso composition and performance.” - Chalkdust (Dr Hollis Liverpool).
“Education. It rang like an alarm bell in my head all through primary school. Federation, Dan Is The Man, Slave, We Like it So, and One Love strongly awoke and sustained my political and social sensitivities, and made me more solidly Caribbean. Sparrow is an icon that, through much of his life, represented the boldness that youth could and should be. In that regard he is a model to our nation, as far too many of our youth are switched off too early and live to simply satisfy the status quo and not get involved in shaping their own future.
“I wish him well, regardless of whether he stays on this side of the divide or crosses over.” - Prof Brian Copeland.
“Well, I nominated Sparrow for T&T's highest honour, the Order of T&T at this year's Independence Awards, so that should tell you how I feel about him. Unfortunately, this is not a place that is kind to art and the people who make it. Sparrow's legacy is the joy he brought to so many, and will continue to bring for generations to come. He is one of a kind.” - Dennis Ramdeen, marketing specialist.
“Sparrow through his music created the foundation for a national culture. He and Kitch are our greatest artists. People might rate Naipaul higher because he's got a Nobel Prize but I think he is truly great.
“Sparrow came to the fore in 1956, the year that Eric Williams first came to power. It was a symbolic year, because it was the year urban Black Trinidad got ready to take this country to Independence. Sparrow was their cultural arm and everybody — Black, White or Indian — loved Sparrow.
“Anyone who heard any of Sparrow's great hits, remembered them for the rest of their lives. If I sing, 'always in custody, mih friends and mih family...’, you know what comes next.
“He is to us like the Beatles for the England and Marley for Jamaica.” - Dr Kim Johnson, historian.
T&T Guardian reporter Bobie-Lee Dixon, spoke to people in Port-of-Spain about the Mighty Sparrow. She asked, “What has been the Mighty Sparrow’s impact on our lives and our culture?”
Name: Steve Smith
Area: East Dry River
Sparrow's music is out of this world. He really pushed calypso and took it global. I have been listening to his music since I young and all I can say, is that he is a great icon. He did a lot for the culture and I am sorry he is ill, but we must know that we can also have confidence in the young calypsonians coming up.
Name: Alfred Galy
Occupation: Property manager
Trinidadians have enjoyed Sparrow's music and his compositions for years. He is one of our best calypsonians and he made an exceptional contribution to our culture; calypso and Carnival.
Name: Calisle Workman
Occupation: Taxi driver
Area: Diego Martin
I am a fan of Jean and Dinah, one of my favorites from Sparrow. He give us some of the best calypso in the world and that makes me feel proud to know that he is right from here. I real sorry he in the hospital, if he kicks the bucket it will be a real loss. That would be something gone that you could never ever get back.
Name: Leon Phillip
Occupation: Public servant
I think as a calypsonian he has influenced me in some way, especially with his social commentary. He came from the traditional image of calypso. I think if they allowed Sparrow's social commentary to play in the schools or more often on the radio, people can learn a thing or two about the social issues in our society. He has really made a name for himself in the calypso fraternity, but has also placed T&T on the world map with his music.
Name: Kwame Kamau
Slinger is an icon and a legend that transcends calypso and what he has done for the culture of T&T represents the spirit, vibrance and hospitality of this country . He has graced the Carnegie Hall and sold out stadia. Regrettably more was not done to honour this icon and to provide a forum for mentees whom looked up to him as a mentor in the fraternity. There is no school that one can go to to learn about calypso. Slinger could have done that.
Name: Robert Peters
Occupation: Public servant
Area: Santa Cruz
I am personally not a fan of calypso, so he didn't really impact my life personally, but I can say that he has impacted greatly the life of culture in T&T. The ministry in which I work, I see first hand how much he has really done for the art form. He is a legend and if we lose him, it will be a great loss.
Name: Ternicka Mahabal
Occupation: Store clerk
Area: San Juan
I have listened to his music and he has had some positive messages in some of his compositions. I love that all his life and with the exposure he got travelling the world, he never strayed from the authenticity of calypso music. I got a chance to see him perform in at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, and not only was the event sold out but people were really enjoying his music, singing word for word…it was really nice.
Name: Kevin Washington
Occupation: Network administrator
I am personally a big fan of Sparrow. He has represented T&T all over the world….he really push calypso. He has a wealth of knowledge about the art form and can pass on so much of what he knows to the younger calypsonians. Hopefully he will get the chance to.