Home / View Point / Guest Columns / Thompson: A lizard, school ma’am, Martinican mademoiselle and Sparrow’s sporting cock

Thompson: A lizard, school ma’am, Martinican mademoiselle and Sparrow’s sporting cock

The following is the third in Owen Thompson’s four-part series on the classic album, More Sparrow More!, by iconic calypsonian Slinger “Sparrow” Francisco:

In Sa Sa Ay, Sparrow begins by making us all complicit eavesdroppers, inviting us both at the end of the first and the second stanzas to listen in on what is happening in the room:

A pretty little Martinican gyal 

Yuh know she come fuh de Carnival. 

She want to play with George Bailey 

But she ain’t have no money at all. 

Ah tell she ah go pay fuh she 

But she got to spend de night wid me. 

She consented but when we began 

If you hear how dis Martinican bawl. 

Photo: Calypso legend Slinger “Sparrow” Francisco.

By the end of the second stanza, we are not simply invited to hear the gasconading of the triumphant male but also to listen in to his partner’s “kina pitiful moaning” and “hear how she groaning in pain.”

Before that, however, Sparrow does not merely place us within earshot but arranges for us to be in the room next-door, afforded the privilege of a voyeuristic vantage point from which to witness the travails of his “pretty lil Martinican gyal.”

She try to run, ah block de door; 

Ah say doudou wha yuh frighten for? 

And then ah gih she some more money; 

She decide she go try me again. 

No matter how ah take it cool, 

Ah mean she kicking like a bloody mule. 

With a kina pitiful moaning,

If yuh hear how she groaning in pain

The French connection continued with Sixty Million Frenchmen, which introduced us to the complexity of amorous relationships and the challenges that go with keeping the flame of passion alight. Sparrow draws on myth, well-known and not-so-well-known, to dexterously get the point across.

Adducing no proof of the supposed prowess that has long stood France’s men in good stead and earned them an enviable reputation across the globe, he wholeheartedly and unreservedly recommends the French example as the one to follow in certain facets of love-making.

Photo: A woman in love.

“If you want to keep yuh sweetheart,” he assures his listeners, “go to Martinique and learn de art.”

It was Sparrow’s tongue-in-cheek advice which first opened our eyes to the time-worn idiosyncrasies of an entire nation and culture which are today indelibly inscribed in the psychic make-up of all who are not French.

All of the above forcefully underlines just how much Sparrow was on top of his craft, in command of the issues, able to deal with the medium’s linguistic and other challenges and able as well, with equal mastery—in Tribute to Martin Luther King—to use English where the subject matter renders it necessary.

Additionally, the suggestive swirl and twirl of the bugles, saxophones, guitars and pianos of Sixty Million Frenchmen enables us to navigate our way without accident through the delicate subject matter.

The majesty of the album’s musical arrangements sat regally atop the ensemble, both the content and form requirements of every single track meeting the highest standards. In Bongo, the drums speak as eloquently as the lyrics which are actually sung; in Cock Fight, the rollicking cadence is perfectly synched with the fast-moving, blow-by-blow violence of the exchanges in a gayelle, where all the action centres around two cocks having a go at each other “till one ah dem fall dong dead.”

No less revealing of the unique quality of the album is the manner in which the fundamental tools of the calypso art form are deployed. For the calypsonian, meaningful communication with his audience hinges largely on his ability to “pitch” his story. After the initial pitching, comes the setting up, followed ultimately by the enactment, which, via “live” performance, requires harmonious marriage with stagecraft.

More Sparrow More!! is full of fine introductions, attention-grabbing, newspaper-headline-like leads which serve to splendidly prepare the audience for subsequent events. I think it is true of every one of the ten calypsoes on the album but here are a handful of examples:

Photo: An album cover for the Sparrow.

Ah hear he had cancer, 

Ah hear he had yellow fever, 

Something in he bladder 

And a double dose ah leukaemia. (“Sparrow Dead”)

Okay, alright, Johnny, legalise cockfight. 

O’Halloran, alright, legalise cockfight. (“Cock Fight”)

Our champion is dead and gone, 

Now who do we have to lead us on? (“Martin Luther King”) 

Playing’ in class 

Wid a lizard in a glass, 

De lizard get away from Ruth, 

And run by de teacher foot. (“The Lizard”)

Well, you take away mih woman, 

and you put a ring on she hand 

and you feeling dong in yuh heart 

you so smart. (“Who She Go Cry For”)

Photo: An album cover for the Mighty Sparrow.

And, most suggestively perhaps:

You say that you love

and you’ll give your heart.

But you have a whole body,

why not give each part? (“Sixty Million Frenchmen”)

Sparrow is able to proceed thereafter, with structured, step-by-step development, all the way through to the eventual dénouement. In Cock Fight, for instance, we get a blow-by-blow account of what cockfighting is all about, making it easy to understand why Sparrow’s personal fighting cock, the protagonist of his story, is worthy of admiration:

Ah have a cock here dey call him Duncan

Anytime he fight is destruction.

Now wid a license around he head,

Is leather till somebody fall dong dead.

Of course, when we were eight or nine years old, we were not clued in to the second level of meaning.

We were given a ringside seat to witness the lizard’s rapid reconnaissance mission up Teacher Mildred’s leg. In just what part of her anatomy it gets mysteriously stuck to cause the usually crotchety teacher to be in such a good mood

De teacher laughing out kee-kee-kee,

Only watching everybody. 

is left to pre-pubescent imaginations. We speculated from the outside as to what was really transpiring on the inside, aided in no small measure by musical digressions that, at key moments of the reptile’s pilgrimage, speak in authoritative tones.

Photo: Slinger “Mighty Sparrow” Francisco performs as an emerging calypso talent.

Way de lizard, Teacher Mildred? is the unvoiced question on all minds. The response to it comes in the form of eloquent music, not words. And Sparrow arguably foresaw that generations present and to come would not be able to resist the urge to replace his “tickling” with a rather less innocent verb.

De way she jolly and happy,

Ah sure de lizard must be tickling she.

We were moved by the heart-rending, politically powerful outreach and preacher-like tone behind the call for delivery and soulful yearning for relief in the face of the devastating blow that was the assassination of Martin Luther King. Delivered in a harmonious, pulpit-like voice and in the most hefty calypso tones, it is a rendition complete with potent biblical overtones, the chorus consistently punctuating the refrain with cries of “Amen” and “Hallelujah.”

It go be a long, hot summer.

Discrimination has gone too far.

Luther King is dead 

And now, this we cannot avoid, 

Segregation must be destroyed.

No longer will we bow to any man, 

No longer will we live in subjection; 

Oh, we have suffered too much, too much, in the past, 

No more will we accept second-class. 

Equality I know one day we got to get, 

Oh yes, it is as inevitable as death. 

So let us unite peacefully, 

We got to be strong. 

Leave all the violence to Stokely Carmichael 

Or H Rap Brown. 

Photo: Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr (left) and Trinidadian Stokely Carmichael, later renamed Kwame Ture.

With its unambiguous warning as regards the proper political path to be adopted, the last stanza bespeaks a clarity of conviction which the passage of time has shown to be prophetic.

We were driven to the painful crossroads of nostalgia and jovial, away-from-home Carnival revelry in Mas in Brooklyn. Such a singular meeting point introduced us to much of the complexity of the Caribbean diasporic experience.

You could be from St Clair or John-John, 

In New York all dat done, 

It ain’t have no who is who;

New York equalise you. 

Bajan, Grenadian, Jamaican, tout moun 

Drinking dey rum, beating dey bottle and spoon. 

Nobody cyah watch me and honestly say

Dey doh like to be in Brooklyn on Labour Day.

Mas! Play mas! Mas in yuh mas, play mas! 

Even though ah feeling homesick, 

Even though ah tired roam, 

Just gimme mih calypso music, 

Brooklyn is mih home.

There was no question about where Sparrow’s home was and it was not Brooklyn; his concerns almost all began with the people and events surrounding him in T&T and the region before spreading outwards to embrace the wider world.

In Sparrow Dead, I can, today, appreciate the silken irony of the King simultaneously announcing and denouncing in his own voice the reports of his death. That served only to add credence to his boast about his immortality and his indisputable kingly status.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read part one of contributor Owen Thompson’s four part series which pays tribute to More, Sparrow More! a classic album by calypso legend Slinger “Mighty Sparrow” Francisco.

About Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor
Want to share your thoughts with Wired868? Email us at editor@wired868.com. Please keep your blog between 300 to 800 words and be sure to read it over first for typos and punctuation.

Check Also

Thompson: More, Sparrow, More! Why Cutteridge won battle but Sparrow took the war

The following is the fourth and final instalment in Owen Thompson’s four-part series on the …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 comments

  1. And I believe that the woman on the cover is none other than Gene Miles.