The new soca anthology, “The Mighty Sparrow – Doctor Bird” (17 North Parade/VP Records), soars into the decade of 2011 with an unrivaled collection of classic soca songs by the renowned Calypso King, who singlehandedly defined an era, starting with the 1950s to the present.
This double CD and DVD anthology edition, which was released last month, is the “ultimate” compilation of calypso standards. It is a priceless collector’s item containing 30 of Sparrow’s greatest hits, all but one of which were written by the trailblazing Caribbean legend (affectionately dubbed “Birdie”), who was born in Gran Roi, Grenada and raised in Trinidad.
“The Mighty Sparrow – Doctor Bird” package contains an additional bonus: a DVD of rare footage of Sparrow in action on and off the stage. His distinctive singing style, electrifying performances and inimitable showmanship make this DVD worthy of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
I fondly remember eliciting Sparrow’s assistance in the mid-80s when we petitioned the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to include a reggae and calypso category into the Grammy mix. Although reggae made it, the necessary figures needed for the inclusion of calypso just wasn’t there at the time.
This compilation is a DJ’s dream to play at the hottest clubs as well as neighborhood and family ftes for both old- and new-school Sparrow fans. Equally as important, “The Mighty Sparrow – Doctor Bird” also serves as an historical record of Caribbean music by the Calypso King of the World, whose discography includes over 70 albums.
As such, selections from his music catalogue should be included in music libraries and music departments at colleges in Trinidad & Tobago and the United States. In addition, institutions such as America’s Library of Congress and the American Folklife Center in Washington, D.C., and Trinidad & Tobago’s Library of Congress should also have some type of access to this valuable body of work.
The eclectic track opener on the first CD of “The Mighty Sparrow – Doctor Bird” is “Jean and Dinah,” Sparrow’s coming-of age anthem, recorded in 1956, that introduced his hot, edgy, up-in-your-face, calypso brand of music to the world. This catchy song, which I categorize as a calypso folk song, is based on the reality of the times after the American soldiers left Trinidad following World War II. It depicts the story of two groups within the Trinidadian community: the jamettes (fast-life women) and the saga (sporting life) guys who were rejected during the time the “Yankees” were around.
Sparrow sings: “Well the girls in town feeling bad. No more Yankees in Trinidad. They going to close down the base for good. Dem girls have to make out how they could. Brother, is now they pack up in town. In for a penny and in for a pound. Believe me its competition for so. Trouble in town when the price not go.
“Jean and Dinah. Rosetta and Clementina. Round de corner posin’. Bet you is life somethig dey sellin.’ And if you catch dem broke. You can get it all for nothin’. Don’t make a row. Yankee gone, Sparrow take over now.”
And that’s just for starters! What? With “May May” (“Mae Mae”) (1960), “How You Jamming So,” “Whole Night We Jamming” and “Ten to One” (1960)-all personal favorites-there’s no letting up for Sparrow.
Like Hugh Hefner, the king of the Playboy empire who has been criticized for his avant-garde views of sex and sexuality, so has the Calypso King been attacked for his risque performances and graphic songs that focus on sexual themes, such as those of the tracks “Bendwood Dick,” “Willie Dead,” “Saltfish,” “Sixty Million Frenchmen,” “Ah Fraid Pussy Bite Me,” “Sparrow Water De Garden” and “Village Ram.” There are others, however, who feel that Sparrow, like Hefner, helped to move forward the discourse about sex and sexuality out of the bedrooms and into the everyday life of people.
At the same time, critics have applauded Sparrow’s body of work, commenting that not only does it “entertain, but it also edifies, enlightens and educates.” Tracks on the CD that are indicative of this are the classics “Mother-in-Law,” “Obeah Wedding,” “Sparrow Dead,” “Tobago Girls,” “Gu Nu Gu,” “Love African Style,” “Maria,” “Mas in Caracas,” “Wood in the Fire,” “Mr. Walker” and “Drunk & Disorderly Medley.” These music commentaries are superlative for their enlightening, witty perspective, along with their innovative music components.
Lastly, as a balladeer, Sparrow’s “Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart,” written by Norman I Bergen and Shelly Coburn, is unsurpassed. Sung to the accompaniment of the late, acclaimed Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Sparrow was awarded a gold record in Holland for his brilliant rendition of this song.
And now it is with pleasure that we present a Caribbean Lingo-Caribbean Heritage Month Lifetime Achievement Award to Mr. Slinger Francisco, aka the Mighty Sparrow, aka Dr. Bird, an artist, entertainer and humanitarian, for his body of work and his vision in inspiring and moving the Caribbean music industry along on the world stage. Cheers!