Sparrow flies higher


September 10, 2000

HAVING entered the age group that normally nudges most show business personalities toward active consideration of retirement, Calypso King of the World, The Mighty Sparrow has chosen to do quite the opposite.

Sparrow, who turned 65 last July, is far from resting on his laurels or settling into a lazy-boy recliner. Instead, he recently raised industry eyebrows yet another time, by adding two demanding projects to his already bulging portfolio.

One of them, a thoroughly ambitious initiative, is aimed at documenting some 600 of his calypsoes. The collection, called The Millennium Series, will eventually be boxed as a 40-CD anthology, the first two episodes of which were released last week. The content of 21more discs has been decided upon and several are in the post-production stage.

For The Millennium Series, the majority of vintage Sparrow is being reproduced from original tapes. Where he was required to record afresh, the creative space afforded by that opportunity is used for updating aesthetics.

On the evidence available to date, that mission has been fulfilled at no discernible compromise to the integrity of the prototypes.

In the sum, the two available discs contain 29 songs. All the Girls, the first to be completed, selects titles appropriate to the theme, telling tales of the “Winer Girl” from Princess Town, “Monica Dou Dou”, “Theresa”, a “Bermuda Girl”, “Sandra”, “Maria” and (among others) a pop-influenced “Alien Woman”. “Rose” has been given a face-lift, that moves its speed up to a nip and tucks in an opening chant by Sherwyn Winchester.

Guidance, the second CD, is equally sincere to its motif, with a collection of songs that range from deeply religious to severely philosophical. “Slave” gets an updated treatment that cleverly manages to preserve the song’s fidelity. “Salvation”, commonly referred to as Sparrow’s ‘Jesus song’, “Hello People”, “Save the World”, “A Fool and His Money”, “Memories”, “A Mother’s Love” and “Precious”, the song he sand to herald the arrival of his daughter Michelle; are among the more infectious tracks on this disc.

Speaking with the Sunday Express from his New York home, Sparrow described The Millennium Series as his most challenging project to date. “Just the collection of the music itself took more than a year of continuous work,” he said. “Then we had to decide what could go as original and what had to be re-recorded and how to package the body of work.

“I don’t think that any other entertainer has ever set out to produce 40 CDs at one go, or put 600 original songs within easy reach of the listener,” he said. “There are songs in the anthology that I myself have not performed in public for 20 or 30 years and some of them are songs that I love, but when on stage, you often have to do the bidding of the audience.

“The anthology is therefore an opportunity for those who have followed my music to have the complete collection in one box. The reception that the first two discs received is really encouraging and we certainly hope that by the end of this year, we could put several more releases on the shelves in music stores around the world,” he said.

Although this may sound like full time work even for a highly athletic teenager, Sparrow has not allowed his new projects to interrupt an already hectic schedule of live performances and other commitments.

And just last week, he added to that list a weekly two-hour radio programme on WVCG-FM in Miami, Florida. At present, his new career as radio host requires him to fly the length of the US every Sunday morning, a commitment that would almost invariably follow late night work Saturdays.

“But I am happy for this particular break at any cost,” Sparrow said. “This gives me an opportunity to select music and talk about those songs that help to explain my philosophy about calypso. For instance, I have found recently that there is not enough humour in calypsoes played on the radio, although humour is an integral part of the calypso art.

“I am working with Cleve Osbourne on the show and have help from Mackie Scott and Selwyn Byer. Between us, we have access to a warehouse of calypso, which is good because we have to plan for expansion of the concept,” he said. After the debut show last Sunday, Sparrow was approached by two New York radio stations (WWRL and WLIB) to syndicate the programme. If current negotiations end favourably, it would at least reduce his travel time, by allowing him the facility of doing some shows from the home state.

“But whatever it takes, I will do it,” he said. “You have to at least appreciate my feelings on the subject. You see, there is too much good calypso that slips through the cracks once the official season is over in Trinidad and Tobago.

And I feel that if there is one thing in this life that I really know, it is calypso and I believe that I can make a difference, by addressing the slant away from that almost exclusive programming of jump and wave songs, to introduce listeners to the wider variety.

“I am not saying that they should not play the kind of songs that they playing. You have to understand evolution in any art. I myself will play the jump and wave and festival songs as appropriate, but there is too much of a slant in that direction at present and anything I can do to bring about balance, I will do,” he said.

And even with all the demand already on his plate, Sparrow, upon whom has been conferred scores of awards during his 45-year career (including an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the University of the West Indies), is still required to find time to fly here and there to collect fresh tributes; coming now almost monthly.

Among the more notable accolades he received recently was last month’s Award of Appreciation for his 45-year contribution to calypso from Ambassador Michael Arneaud, at the TT Embassy in Washington DC.

Last July, Martin O’Malley, Mayor of Baltimore, proclaimed him an honorary citizen of that city, “in recognition of your distinguished achievements and eminent contribution to our life and times.”

In June he received a commendation from Alan G Hevesi, the Comptroller of the City of New York “for his distinguished record of achievements as a renowned lyricist, composer, singer, comedian and entertainer and his commitment to bringing the special sounds of calypso music to audiences around the world.” The commendation also noted his dedication to preserving and promoting the beauty of Caribbean arts and culture.

“And the more evidence I get that people appreciate my efforts, the more work I am inspired to do,” Sparrow said, adding: “So, tell them to hold off on the recliner and gold watch for now.”


Terry-J at I-Level

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