July 25, 2001
Lyrics penned since 1975 by The Mighty Sparrow sprang suddenly to mind on Sunday, shortly after a statue purporting to be a likeness of The Calypso King of the World was unveiled at the St Ann's Roundabout.
Normally an event of joyous celebration, this one took quite the opposite turn, when even invited guests gawked in astonishment at the image presented. Sparrow, in the quintessential diplomatic arabesque, said he didn't have his spectacles so couldn't comment.
And Sparrow knows of these things. In fact, in his 1975 calypso "The Statue", he reported a conversation with one such figure, the chorus line of which went: "Ah coming down, ah coming down." If his sculpture could sing, its debut performance would undoubtedly include that hookline, given the barrage of criticism levelled at both the work and its creator, Madan Gopaul.
Sparrow himself must have spent part of the past two days musing on another of his old choruses:
"Ah diggin' horrors
Ah diggin de blues
Every time I choose
To peruse the daily news."
This time, his concern was not about headlines reporting violent crime, but the media space accorded the brouhaha his statue created. Some 89 per cent of callers to Monday night's TV6 People Meter said the statue didn't look like him. Man-in-the-street interviews, letters to newspapers, radio talk shows and at least one publisher's opinion all panned the work.
On the supply side, the controversial statue rekindles memories of several of his best refrains. "It's a parody of 'Phillip, My Dear,'" thought I at first sighting: "It big just like him, but fatter". In the sum, Gopaul's work may have been more appropriately titled "Picong in Bronze", "Extempo on a Statue" or perhaps in good ol' calypso tradition, "Madan Dracula".
Frankly, I've seen better Sparrows carved from soap and cheese, or moulded in plasticine. And Madan should have known we are a people schooled in statue aesthetics. Gandhi (with or without his head), Capt Cipriani, Lord Harris in any colour, Uriah Butler, Columbus and Kitchener all look like the people they set out to represent.
Madan should make a closer inspection of pieces designed to represent African Trinidadian cultural figures and not tell us that hogwash about how we're looking at the statue from the wrong angle. It would be equally interesting to hear his explanation of the yellow and grey base on which the offending statue stands.
Might I recommend Pat Chu Foon's faceless Iron Men, as an example of how to capture mood and moment so precisely you could almost feel the passion with which it was fashioned and hear those upraised instruments ring.
Perhaps the Good Samaritans at Colonial Life Insurance Company who commissioned the work might wish to rescue their $80,000 investment, by graciously providing us with a real Sparrow statue and rededicating the figure at the St Ann's roundabout to the art form itself.
After all, it already has the body weight of The Mighty Power, Brigo's height, Calypso Rose's face, a touch of jewelry a la Sugar Aloes, Protector's legs and Sparrow's belt-buckle; a broad enough embrace to represent calypsonians at large.
But to leave things the way they are is to challenge writers everywhere to try their hands at tailoring and updating the words of Sparrow's 1960 hit "Madam Dracula", to identify with the sculptor's name and fit the new set of circumstances. And the lyrics are so accommodating:
(sung to the tune of "Madam Dracula")
You went quite Chaguanas
Like yuh mind did set
You say is a sculptor
That you went to get
After yuh contract him
And hand 'im big pay
Tell Madan to listen
Carefully to what people say:
When they look at Sparrow statue
On the roundabout
People does stand up and quarrel
Steups and run dey mouth
People say that Dr Bird real spectacular
But everyone call he statue 'Madan Dracula'
You block off the junction
Wanted we to know
Yuh throw a big function
Was a 'pappyshow'
With so much of speeches
Though the project botch
Yuh smiling and taking kudos
Yuh friends eating and drinking scotch
If you think this funny statue
Could fool Trinidad
Well, none of yuh friends doh like it
It not like the bard
People say the posture too perpendicular
So everybody does call it 'Madan Dracula'
This man is a treasure
He's a kinda lord
So you spend big money
'Cause you could afford
Yuh leave de impression
You wanted the best
Put out $80,000
Now yuh find yuhself in a mess
Everyone who see it saying
The face look like Rose
Some say yuh cyah make out nothin'
Except for the clothes
People say all kinds of things in the vernacular
But they all agree to call it 'Madan Dracula'
The day that you unveil
With big masquerade
Well even the statue
And all look afraid
Shirt tucked in the trousers
And jacket so short
Like the man appearing
For t'iefing fowl in de police court
Yuh had a good idea, Clico
Respect for the man
But ah feel if you ain't change it
Trouble in the land
Is me who say the posture too perpendicular
And me 'self whey call the statue 'Madan Dracula'
Have your say here...