All eyes on The Sparrow

Five mothers from the Caribbean region, Denise Donaldson, Brenda Harris Ephraim, Janet Logan, Gloria Smith and Vena W. Baker were honored at Everybody’s Magazine Mother’s Day calypso show at Brooklyn College.
Photo by William Farington

“Long Live The King!”

“Mightier than ever,

Sparrow is still Mighty”


Francisco reigns”

Those were some of the shouts that rippled through a jam-packed crowd recently inside the Brooklyn Performing Arts Center at Brooklyn College. Slinger Francisco had just rendered his version of an encounter with “two white women,” and to the predominant Caribbean crowd decided that “his voice was sweeter than ever.”

On the eve of Mothers Day, Sparrow was assisted onto the stage, helped by a cane, and secured into position by a stool. Otherwise appearing fit and healthy, he ignored the stool and once left on his own charmed the crowd who might have pondered a performance since his hiatus due to a health set-back. The crowd that filled the hall seemed hushed after his introduction however they erupted into cheers and applause when he blurted the lyrics and first notes to his popular “Congo Man” calypso.

‘I envy the Congo man

Ah wish I coulda go and shake he hand

You all know how much traps I set?

Until I sweat!

But I never eat a white meat yet’

“He sounds the same,” a grandmother said.

And indeed as if it was decades ago, Sparrow seemed no different than during his coronations.

There was no denying that he had fully recovered from the three-month comatose condition that kept him recluse from fans anxious about his recovery. A majority of fans seemed able to recite the lyrics first performed at Queens Hall, in Port of Spain, Trinidad on the October 5, 1964. Banned for four decades afterwards on the twin islands, the suggestive, hilarious and ambiguous “Congo Man” recalled Sparrow’s heydays as the sole griot of note to amplify controversies surrounding global issues but particularly those emanating from the Caribbean, African, European and American communities.

Explained as a song about cannibalism, other interpretations have alluded to clever composition of a calypso, lust and other sexually subtle double entendre as the focus of the infectious hit.

Sparrow in an interview said: “The Congo Man” came to me on a subway in New York — just the melody,” he told the interviewer. “And the lyrics came from the many activities in Africa at the time. So many nuns and priests were being ambushed and beaten….and I got the idea that this was probably happening there: white people were just traveling through and found themselves in the hands of head hunters …who put them in a pot, had a fire at the bottom, and had a chant. (That’s where the “haw, haw, haw” comes in). Jump up and down and see how the food is cooking, and forbid anybody to fraternize with the meat.”

He added that “Congo Man” was purely humorous and completely un-suggestive.”

The Sunshine Band kept the beat true to form and its origins causing many to dance in their seats.

Sparrow’s mellifluous voice sounded soothing and reminiscent of his spectacular career. Few had heard the 78-year-old calypsonian since he recorded “Barack Di Magnificent” in honor of the first Black president of the United States. Most had neither heard nor seen him since he slipped into a diabetic coma and was hospitalized last year for almost one month. There were rumored news of his death and only when he recuperated in Trinidad & Tobago did an official statement confirm that the monarch was alive and thriving.

At the recent concert he explained that while hospitalized the one song that repeated in his mind was Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”

In tribute to that memory he reprised and conquered the ballad to earn another round of explosive ovations, praise and the kind of respect most entertainers crave.

His melodic tone and delivery charmed virgin calypso audiences.

And while Sparrow endeared passion, pride and perseverance, every performer earned kudos for their professional and talented delivery. Veterans: Singing Sandra (“Die With My Dignity,”) Shadow (Digolay) Braata Jamaica Folk Singers (Dip & Fall Back) Tony Ricardo (Drifter’s medley – Up On The Roof, Under The Boardwalk) and what seemed like an Antiguan outpouring for King Short Shirt — proving their mettle while saluting moms and women of distinction.

Lyrical sured-up the future of the genre and Roderick “Chucky” Gordon was equally appealing. To close the show, queen Calypso Rose kicked off her shoes to continue the bacchanal that preceded her appearance. She ended with an infectious rendition of “Tiny Winy.”

Comedienne Susan Kennedy also should be acknowledged for providing comic relief at intervals while acknowledging sponsors and in the process updating the crowd with future promotions.

Two nurses shared the Mothers Day tribute with three super moms chosen by Herman Hall, publisher of Everybodys magazine. While there were speculations as to whether or not another tribute would be held next year, an overwhelming endorsement of the annual outing seems the final deciding factor which is still to be confirmed despite a hint posted at the publisher’s website saying: “See you in 2015.”

Mighty Sparrow performing at Everybody’s Magazine Mother’s Day calypso show at Brooklyn College.
Photo by William Farington

More from Around NYC