Written By: Ethan Griggs
My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com
It used to be that calypso singers were very prim and proper when performing for an audience… no dancing, no eccentrics, no nothing; that is, until Francisco Slinger came along. Born in Grenada in 1935, this ecstatic performer got his stage name in Trinidad after his dance moves were compared to that of a Sparrow. Thus, the Mighty Sparrow continues to be one of the greatest performers of Calypso in the world. Here are five of his top songs:
1. “Jean & Dinah” (1956) The Sparrow’s first single is also his claim to fame. Originally released as a 10” single on the UK label Kay, it has secured a place as one of the definitive calypso songs. Fittingly, the track also serves as a perfect introduction to the artist’s crass sense of humorist songwriting. The song deals with the feelings of prostitutes at the time when when the American bases in Trinidad closed down, therefore depriving the workers of their most frequent customers – something that was viewed as opportunistic by the natives: “But when you catch them broken you could get dem all for nuttin’/Doh make no row, de Yankee gone and Sparrow take over now”.
2. “Congo Man” from Congo Man (1965) Sparrow’s popularity grew in the next decade, as he continued to win (and at times boycott) the annual title of Carnival King. This wasn’t without controversy, though, especially notable with the release of the Congo Man album and its title track. Bluntly put, the song is a nod to the history of cannibalism in the Congo, as the Sparrow tells how he “envies” the man who feasts on the flesh of white, female tourists. Accompanied by the maniacal laughter of Sparrow, this cut is playfully grotesque, although not all thought it was a joke in the 60’s.
3. “Sell The Pussy” from Sparrow Power (1969) This track is a genuinely clever and funny sexual innuendo. Sparrow is broke, hungry, and the fridge is empty so he asks his girlfriend to “sell her pussy”… her big fat pussycat, that is! “She complaining how she have this cat since she born/She won’t sell it, she won’t even put it in pawn/But before I have to choke and rob and perhaps end up in jail/Let meh tell meh friends that you have your pussy for sale!” As stated, this one is bound to make you laugh.
4.“Obeah Wedding (feat. Byron Lee & The Dragonaires)” from Sparrow Dragon Again! (1975) In 1968, the Sparrow paired with Jamaican singer Byron Lee for a collaborative album. It hosted scored an international hit in their version of an earlier Sparrow song, “Only A Fool”. Seven years later, the would reunite for a second collaborative effort, and sure enough, they had another massive hit with a new version of Sparrow’s classic “Oberg Wedding”. Originally performed by Sparrow in the 60’s, the song is about a woman who wants to marry Sparrow, but she belongs to the Obeah, a group that practiced sorcery hailing from the West Indies. Due to her primitive upbringing, the woman named Melda has a bit of a hygiene problem, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to woo over the Sparrow with the magic of her culture.
5. “Wanted Dead Or Alive” from Soca 101: Volume 1 (2001) As Calypso’s popularity declined as the new genre of Soca became prominent, Sparrow proved he could change with the times. This track was written and recorded at the turn of the millennium and features a more mature sounding Sparrow, but the lyrics deal with the numerous revolutions that took place in the Caribbean and the fall of colonialism in the region. Failed military coups and the demise of political tyrants lead the way for socialist revolution – what’s great about the song is that it’s written from the perspective of an optimistic revolutionary in the 70’s, although in reality we now know that the events of that era would arguably have an overall negative effect on the political landscape of the Caribbean.