By: Patricia Trutescu
Last week, Carib News shared the first part of a conversation with the King of Calypso, The Mighty Sparrow. In last week’s article, the Calypsonian explained how he broke onto the Trinidadian music scene and eventually gained more recognition for his songs; which mixed entertainment, humor and politics. In the latest article, The Mighty Sparrow talks about how he continued his music career with a focus on social change.
The conversation continued…
One song by The Mighty Sparrow that addressed social change for his fellow Trinidadian citizens is “P.A.Y.E.” which stands for ‘Pay As You Earn.’ This song was written specifically to encourage Trinidadian citizens to pay taxes. The Calypso King enumerates:
“In 1958, Trinidad gained independence from the British. In order to take care of ourselves, we had to pay taxes – something we hadn’t done before we became a self-governed country.” According to his online biography, this song was written to help citizens of Trinidad and Tobago understand the importance of paying taxes.
As The Mighty Sparrow continued his story about his career and some of his most memorable songs, the musician constantly restated that the purpose of Calypso music is like one of a news reporter – it informs individuals of news that is often overlooked. While “P.A.Y.E.” is a popular example from the late 1950s, “Barack the Magnificent”, a song written specifically about President Barack Obama, is perhaps the most relevant song of social change for the Caribbean American community today. The Mighty Sparrow shares his inspiration behind this song:
“I listened to his [President Barack Obama’s] speeches, and compared to what other politicians or candidates said before. Nobody has inspired me as much. So, in my song, I am reporting some of the things he said in his speeches and I incorporate my opinions about his messages.
“I was also one of the first to perform for Obama while he was campaigning; my friend, Brian Figeroux and I endorsed Barack.
“If first sang this song in June 2008, as part of the celebration for Caribbean heritage month. I then sang it again, this time for him at the Marriot Hotel in Brooklyn on August 22, 2008. I was so nervous, but Barack loved the song.
“The band and I performed this song before he gave his speech, and by the time Barack walked in to listen to us, everybody started cheering and crying. They were so happy to see Barack, I was afraid they wouldn’t be able to hear us sing.”
Lyrics like “Barack, civil rights leader for the constitutional law… can’t make enough note, so make sure he gets your vote” not only received a kind ovation from the president and his supporters; they encouraged several Caribbean Americans to go to the polls and vote. Further, The Mighty Sparrow also believes Calypso music can inspires social change. He demonstrates this by performing music as a contribution to causes that advocate a change in several social and economic situations.
The Mighty Sparrow heads his own, self-created charitable organization, the Mighty Sparrow Calypso Foundation. This organization works specifically with other foundations towards creating a successful benefit or awareness event for their charitable causes.
So far, The Mighty Sparrow has performed on behalf of foundations that focus on addressing and tackling the following problems: homelessness; poverty; domestic violence; and more. All proceedings gathered from these performances go to the foundations, and he performs at no charge. The Mighty Sparrow hopes to accomplish more with his own Foundation in the future.
In addition to helping organizations gather contributions for their efforts, The Mighty Sparrow also continues to perform. The Mighty Sparrow continues to put on the best shows for his audiences. He claims:
“At my age, 77 years old, I continue to do the best I can. Last Thursday night, I played on The Marty Marcowitz Show at the Borough Hall in Brooklyn. I also have many more shows coming up for the summer.” The Might Sparrow jokingly adds, “My performance life has definitely changed for me. Instead of gyrating so much on stage, I have become more still – orderly.”
Listening to the stories and experiences of a music icon like The Mighty Sparrow is a rare and inviting opportunity. While today’s Caribbean music scene, both in the island nations and in New York City and across America is heavily highlighted by Soca – a type of music that is created to make listeners dance and jump – Calypso is one genre that emphasizes the importance of lyrics and the power of delivering messages about underprivileged or oppressed individuals.
According to The Mighty Sparrow, such songs can remind listeners in tough situations that those who came before them faced even tougher times, so they should keep their heads up and always acknowledge that positive change comes through positive action. Another one of The Mighty Sparrow’s tracks that addresses positive action for better change is “We Pass That Stage.” According to the artist, the message explains - “Respect will help us move to a stage where everyone can get along together” and most importantly, create positive change for all.