Showtime Cover Story
Q&A with Slinger Francisco,
Calypso King of the World
Showtime: How does it feel to be 69?
The Mighty Sparrow: Ha ha,
ha...well let me tell you something, no major aches and pains or no broken
bones, I feel pretty much like a fairly younger fella.
I supposed if you asked me that a few years ago I would have said if a man reach that age he must feel little aches and pains, but I feel good.
S: How have you managed to keep the voice so sweet after all these years?
TMS: Well boy, the older you
get, if you are a conscious person, you realise that you're not as young as you
used to be, so you, at some point in time have to start being more careful...
moderation is the name of the game.
When I could have take a chance and stay out all night and still reach home, and argue with whoever it is, I can't do that no more. I think if you use the word moderation and follow its dictates you would definitely be able to last long.
S: If you had to sum up your entire career in a few words, coming into your 69th birthday concert, what would you tell the people of Trinidad and Tobago, and what are your emotions?
TMS: I am happy to be able
to reach this milestone and I hope I can still perform to their expectations
because the fans are the ones that make the show. I'm not saying this to be
extra modest I know this is a fact. With all the extensive repertoire that I
have, that fans are the ones that make the show.
When I go to perform I am usually the one that closes the show and I get a chance to see the audience from the curtains, from the sides, the back, the sound people, and I can tell what kind of audience it is. If they are stuff shirts, I have to give them something to break them and make the laugh. Sometimes when you coming out the breaking down the place laughing, you realise it's a comical audience so you know what to give them. Then sometimes you could be wrong, they may look serious because who was onstage didn't please them and they waiting for you. So you have to be able to read that and know what to do to take away their smirk.
S: We read about you recent performance last Saturday in New York, tell us about it, how did it go?
TMS: Oh, it was wonderful. All my big daughters were there and they came on stage and helped me cut the cake. The fella from the radio station, Bob Fredericks brought one big cake. Now I accustomed with small cakes for my birthday but this was like a wedding cake.
S: What can we expect from Sparrow at this weekend's concert?
TMS: What can you expect from a 69-year-old man? Experience is definitely going to show itself and as you pointed out earlier the voice is in still good working condition, and I would dare say that my retentive skills are still pretty much in order so I'm in good shape. Long time you put on a bad show and you say next one ah go make up that. You can't do that anymore, you have to make sure every one is a winner. You see the promoters going to be very interested when they see you performing at almost perfection. You are going to make them wonder if they should continue their absolute slant towards the very, very young or should they come with a little balance and let the world know that traditional calypso is still very much alive.
S: Speaking of the younger acts, when Sparrow sits down and he listens to the younger artistes, the Bunji Garlins, the Machel Montano's and you see the direction the music is taking, what are your thoughts?
TMS: Well I know it's in the
hands of the young people, I don't have to worry about that. I know I've been
there, I was accused of singing to fast and not knowing what I was doing.
Everybody was singing these slow kaiso melodies and I came with Jean and
Dinah which was not so fast, but to them it was fast. And then in 61 I give
them 10-1 is murder, then the said he is definitely crazy, it's too fast
people won't understand him. But now I live to see that those songs are now
moderate tempos comparatively speaking. I know how it is with the young people
they are going through a phase in the music.
To get involved in the artform you must have a reason and obviously the reason I got involved with it would not be the same reason as the younger ones. There is a thing called money and back then there was no money. If you wanted money you get a gun and a mask and you go by the bank and do something. So you came into it because you loved it, because it fascinated you, something about it was inspiring. Nowadays, it may still have some of the love, desire and passion to get involved, but most of them are in it for the money. Back then you did it at the risk of angering your parents, they tell you 'boy I tired tell you making me shame. oh gosh.'
S: So back then it was considered a disgraceful thing to sing Calypso?
TMS: Yes. If you listen to one of my calypsoes, The Outcast, you ever heard of it?, It goes like this:
TMS singing: Society in
Trinidad for Steelband man
Was just as hard or hard as that for any Calypsonian
Doh care how yuh talented yuh have to go outside
No appreciation this society have too much false pride
TMS: I have chronicled that era when things like that happened, but now it doh happen no more, the entire family is involved in calypso and steelband.
S: So back at that time did you foresee that day?
TMS: I couldn't honestly tell you I did, because back in that time there was nothing to encourage you, except the natural love you have inside for the artform and you didn't know where it came from. There was no precedent set, the other calypsonians around, the Lion (The Roaring Lion) and Kitchener (The Lord Kitchener), they were all based abroad so we didn't have any local role models in the artform to follow.
S: What would you say has been your greatest achievement?
TMS: I remember the first
time Lord Melody was introducing me on stage at the calypso tent and he said:
'Ladies and Gentlemen, the tradition of the Young Brigade Calypso tent is to
give every young singer a chance, and her is a young fella, he always bothering
me he want to get a chance so we going to give him that chance. If all yuh like
him clap, if all yuh doh like him' and he turned his fingers in a thumbs down.
Well I was a little bit nervous, I didn't think it was nice and we ended up being the best of friends after, but back then I didn't know what kind of guy he was and I was nervous, I expected him to big me up and uplift me.
But you know over the years my introduction has changed. They have to be careful hoe they present me. My introduction goes something like this;
Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm happy to present his Excellency (cultural ambassador), the honourable (Order of the Caribbean Community), Doctor Slinger Francisco (University of the West Indies honorary Doctorate) affectionately known as Chief Omowale of Ikoyi (Nigeria) and ladies and gentlemen he is most famous as the Calypso King of the World, the mighty, Mighty Sparrow.
Let them take that, that is success. (laughs)