Sparrow’s glory and turbulence

This local and global hero is celebrated, and even intellectually interrogated, in Rohlehr’s book titled My Whole Life is Calypso.

“I tried to sum up what I thought was his real significance at this particular point in time,” Rohlehr said in a media release.

“I set out to look at whatever might have been taking place in that 40-45 years (beyond the early music).

Rohlehr explores the Mighty Sparrow’s dynamic, complicated and at times contradictory personality.

Rohlehr’s first essay, loosely quoted, says that Sparrow is simultaneously ageing and youthful, boyish and grandfatherly, cynical, pragmatic, sentimental, part of and beyond the grim pappyshow.

Further, it says, “He remains a phenomenon, a wellspring of energy, a fertility god that has experienced all the illusions and dangerous ironies that attend that role.” The man, the artiste- entertainer, is both “all too vulnerable, all too mortal flesh” as well as a spirit seeking flight.

For us, Sparrow emerges as a complex character here: always grounded and real as flesh, always restless and transcendent as spirit.

Additionally, in the idea of this calypso giant being like a fertility god – a fertility god who in myth perishes and then is reborn every year – is an image of Sparrow’s drive to be the best, that is, as Rohlehr puts it, “to every year beat the competition of young fellahs coming up.” The idea for writing the book My Whole Life is Calypso was born after Rohlehr delivered a speech at the fund-raiser in Sparrow’s honour that was produced by theatre-practitioner and business owner Rawle Gibbons at the Central Bank Auditorium in February last year.

Rohlehr was the first feature speaker that night, but was unable to finish the speech in the given time-slot because of the wealth of knowledge he had on Sparrow’s life. To share in-depth on what had remained unsaid, Rohlehr, encouraged by his wife, Dr Betty Ann Rohlehr, and by Rawle Gibbons, decided to write the book. Indeed, this book was planned to commemorate Sparrow’s 80th birthday on July 9 2015, the release said.

My Whole Life is Calypso is written clearly and not heavily laced with academic jargon. It is for any of us – all people. Schools can benefit from it as well.

Rohlehr is a highly-respected Caribbean scholar, a leading regional expert on calypso, and the author of several texts on Caribbean culture and literature.

He has been a commentator on Sparrow’s work since the 1960s.

This publication, My Whole Life is Calypso, represents nearly five decades of critical engagement with the work of Sparrow, a Caribbean genius.

Reflecting on his choice of subject-matter and his vocation, Rohlehr says he was just “a fellow who did what seemed to need to be done.” He felt it was imperative to look at “what is peculiarly Caribbean about what our writers and artistes have been doing.” He asks himself, What is our aesthetic? When a steelband plays, how do we know they are playing well or playing badly? His research has shown time and again that as far as having an aesthetic, we do. We have our own ways of assessing the world.

Like we see in Sparrow’s humour and picong and double- entendre, along with our own every-day versions. Rohlehr feels that this book succeeds in stepping out of the ivory tower of academia to share his knowledge with everyone. He says he has been given much opportunity all his life by Caribbean people and wants to give back to those who supported him.

And, of course, we all love a fiery Sparrow kaiso and the onstage bravado of the performer himself! The book launch, for which admission is free, takes place on Thursday at 5 pm in The University of the West Indies, (UWI) St Augustine Campus, Teaching and Learning Complex (opposite SPEC), Lecture Room B.

For more info on the book launch: 645-1491 or 663-4509.


"Sparrow’s glory and turbulence"

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