Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Indebted to the Mighty Sparrow

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Mark Fraser

Having returned home from cold New York we hope the Mighty Sparrow is feeling not only the full warmth of the Caribbean sun but the love of a people grateful for the years of joy and more that he has given them.

The larger than life figure, who was born Slinger Francisco 78 years ago, may now be recognised as perhaps the single most distinguished T&T and Caribbean cultural icon alive. That he survived serious illness last year, enough to be available for calypso performances this Carnival season, marks the latest in a career of brilliant triumphs. After five decades, nothing and no one can dispute his right to the title of Calypso King of the World.

The private initiative undertaken by Canboulay Productions to invite him home for its benefit series of lecture performances on his life and work is to be commended. It will undoubtedly enhance public understanding of the man, the music and the meaning of a life dedicated to calypso while raising funds to assist with his enormous medical expenses.

When he emerged in 1956 with a double victory in the Road March and Calypso King stakes, the Mighty Sparrow was clearly a transcendental figure. His music and style marked a break with the old order while establishing an intimate connection with the new. For a people rising out of the morass of colonialism to make the transition to Independence, the calypsoes of the Mighty Sparrow became the popular medium of communication, expression and, often, representationódelivered with an incomparable attitude and style.

It is good that, in this hectic Carnival season, we have the chance to plumb the depth of the role and contribution of the Mighty Sparrow with leading academics, writers and calypsonians. We also have the chance to celebrate him. In so doing, we must not miss the opportunity to give back as well.

By his own tireless efforts and amid towering challenges, the Mighty Sparrow defied the odds, broke barriers and traversed the world, carrying our music into every continent and corner of the globe. From the beginning, he has been willing to risk his own future by standing up for the rights of calypsonians and demanding respect for the artform. No one can doubt that in him, Calypso found an articulate, committed and truly worthy champion.

The Mighty Sparrow has served Calypso and all of us with distinction. Now that he has regained his health well enough to come home, we have the chance to demonstrate our appreciation and gratitude in some tangible form. We are happy to learn that the Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism has finally decided to support the lecture performance series, but much more is required of us if we are to begin repaying our debt to the Mighty Sparrow. Although he has not asked for it, a good place to start would be for the Government, acting on behalf of a grateful nation, to handle his medical bills. Enough said.