The Mighty Sparrow
Calypso King Of The World, The Mighty Sparrow
The Mighty Sparrow (born Slinger Francisco) and affectionately known as ‘Birdie’ is known for provocative and often salacious lyrics, In a career spanning nearly six decades he has risen to the upper stratosphere of Trinidadian calypso.
Sparrow, although not the first to expose calypso to the world, has been a dominant force in the music reaching all four corners of the Earth. Sparrow throughout his career local and internationally has pushed back many barriers for the social acceptance and recognition of this indigenous musical art form. He has never been afraid to innovate, and challenge the establishment, and has pioneered the way for new genres of calypso that did not previously exist….
With his ultra-sweet vocals and lyrics that speak of romance and topical politics, Mighty Sparrow (born Slinger Francisco) rose to the upper echelon of Trinidadian calypso. Best known for his hits “Jean and Dinah” in 1956 and “Carnival Boycott” in 1957, Sparrow is an 11-time winner of the calypso monarchy and an eight-time winner of Trinidad and Tobago‘s Carnival Road March competition. Born to a poor working-class family in Gran Roi, a small fishing village in Grenada, Sparrow moved to Trinidad at the age of one. Learning to sing in the boy’s choir of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, he became the head choirboy. At the age of 14, he formed a steel band to perform at the Carnival, sparking his interest in calypso. Teaching himself to play guitar, Sparrow began to write his own songs. Winning the Carnival competition with “Jean and Dinah,” he received a grand prize of 40 dollars. In protest, he wrote a scorching indictment of the Trinidadian music industry, “Carnival Boycott.” Despite his refusal to compete in the Carnival contests for the next three years, Sparrow became one of the Caribbean’s most successful artists. ~ Craig Harris, Rovi
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Sparrow’s lyrics are famous for being witty, ironic, and ribald. He sings flirtatiously of the attractions of Hispanic women in “Magarita,” and of East Indian women in “Marajhin.” He tells some outrageously frank tales of sexuality in “Mae Mae,” “The Lizard” and “Big Bamboo.” And there is humorous commentary on West Indian culture to be found in “Obeah Wedding” and “Witch Doctor.” Robert Christgau called his controversial song “Congo Man” “a wildly perverse piss-take on African roots, interracial revenge, interracial sex, male-female relations, and cannibalism. The 1965 song was criticized for its attitudes toward women and Africans, and banned from radio airplay until 1989.
Sparrow also frequently comments on social and political issues in his songs. During his early career he was a supporter of Eric Williams and his People’s National Movement (PNM), which formed in 1955 and led Trinidad and Tobago to independence in 1962; songs such as “Leave The Damn Doctor Alone” and “William the Conqueror” mentioned Williams directly, while others such as “Federation” (blaming Jamaica for the breakup of the short-lived West Indies Federation), “Our Model Nation” (celebrating Trinidadian independence), and “PAYE” (supporting the PNM’s pay-as-you-earn tax system) echoed PNM positions. Sparrow did express discontent in 1957’s “No, Doctor, No,” but it was comparatively mild, and aimed at holding PNM politicians to their promises rather than replacing them. Sparrow cleverly combined political criticism with sexual innuendo in his mid-1960s song “BG Plantain”, which decried the ban levied by PM Williams on imported plantain from British Guiana (BG); plantain, a large banana-shaped vegetable, is a staple of West Indian cuisine, and Sparrow praised the BG plantain as larger, sweeter, and superior to the home-grown Trinidadian variety.
Sparrow’s mid-1960s hit “Sir Garfield Sobers,” celebrating the great Barbadian all-rounder cricketer, who starred for West Indies teams, anticipated by a decade the knighthood which Garfield Sobers would actually receive in 1975. Sobers is generally regarded as the greatest all-rounder in cricket history.
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The Mighty Sparrow
As soca began to supplant calypso in popularity in Trinidad during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Sparrow embraced the hybrid of Calypso and cadence with the Local (Chutney) music. In 1984 he won his eighth Road March title with the soca-influenced “Doh Back Back.” Also around this time, he began to spend at least half the year in New York City, finding an apartment in the West Indian neighbourhoods in Jamaica, Queens. Sparrow continues to write, perform, and tour into the 21st century; in a 2001 interview he mentioned that he had been singing and performing a “Gospel-lypso” hybrid. In 2008, he released a song supporting Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, “Barack the Magnificent“. He also did a remake of his “Congo Man” song with fellow Trinidadian Machel Montano on the Flame on album.
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The Mighty Sparrow has proved himself as the Quintessential Calypsonian, par excellence, with over seventy (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 unravelled the mysteries of Caribbean life, leaving the professionally trained sociologist and economist befuddled. A combination of talent, hard work and opportunity enabled Sparrow’s ascendance to Calypso King of the World. He brought honour, glory and dignity to an indigenous art form that was once scorned upon by the elite of Caribbean society.
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Mighty Sparrow | Facebook
Good morning. THE MIGHTY SPARROW AT A TASTE OF THE CARIBBEAN! fb.me/B5MIK6pS
Back in 2008 the Caribbean and Florida radio stations were playing Sparrow’s ‘Barack The Magnificent’ several times a day. Is he still relevant now in his twilight years? Yes absolutely as for ‘CANABALISM’ its all in good taste (No pun intended). Long live the King and may he reign for many years to come…..
The Mighty Sparrow Calypsonian Extraordinaire Hon. Dr. Slinger Francisco, ‘Birdie’ we tip our hat’s to you Sir …..
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