Growing up in Grenada, I remember the two most popular Grenadians were Eric Gairy and the Mighty Sparrow. During that time there was no television to view live coverage news broadcast. People had radios with a large battery and a long aerial with a sort of antenna to get better quality reception. A few years later, then came the portable transistor radio as an improvement in technology.
|Hudson George has a BA in Social Science from York University, Toronto, Canada. He has been writing since his early teenage years and now contributes letters and articles to a number of Caribbean newspapers|
In those days, Grenadians were as political as they are presently but the love for the Mighty Sparrow and his music always creates unity, with laughter and entertainment within the general population.
At that period of my life, I did not fully understand politics but I can remember hearing big people discussing political issues and sometimes the discussion ended up in loud argument and confusion. During election campaigns, some women would come out openly and show their political lineage in a sort of warrior mode. In those days, Grenadians were divided into two political camps. Some people were loyal supporters of Eric Gairy’s Grenada United Labour Party (GULP), while others supported Hubert Blaize’s Grenada National Party (GNP).
In those days, the vast majority of Grenadians depended on the agriculture industry for daily survival. There were large estates throughout out the tri-island state that created employment for agriculture workers, and Grenada was one of the very few small countries that were able to export nutmeg, mace, banana and cocoa to the industrialised countries.
With the regular export of those agricultural products, the large estate owners were making large amounts of financial profits on the backs of the hardworking agriculture workers. Some of those workers were single women and their wages were very small; therefore, their only hope and future were in the hands of Eric Gairy, who played twofold roles, as political leader of the country and trade union leader, to fight for better wages on their behalf.
Although Gairy was the champion of the working class struggle among the Grenadian people, traditionally there is a spiritual connection that ties people of African origins to music. However, calypso is the music that kept the African slaves spiritually and mentally strong during the long period of oppression in captivity on the plantations. And Grenada has a long history of slaves singing calypsos on the plantation since the 1600s, when the French brought African slaves to work on the plantation. That genre of music comes from griots born within African societies.
Fortunately, Grenadian-born Mighty Sparrow is the greatest calypso griot in the world and his music is more powerful than politicians. For example, Grenadians who were loyal supporters of Gairy’s GULP were openly proud to say how much they love the Mighty Sparrow as much as they love Gairy, whom they claimed liberated them from exploitation as agriculture workers.
However, with politics and the brutal nature of politicians, it seemed as though Gairy realised that the Mighty Sparrow was more popular than him among the masses. Gairy did not understand that the Grenadian people liked entertainment and pleasure that only the Mighty Sparrow can thrill them with.
Some Grenadians claimed that Gairy and the Mighty Sparrow had political differences that started when Gairy was accused of squandermania in 1961 and the British suspended the constitution to remove him as chief minister. After Gairy was removed from office by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain, the Mighty Sparrow sang a song in support of Herbert Blaize’s GNP political campaign to replace Gairy as chief minister. Sparrow’s song had some influence on voters because he resided in Trinidad and Blaize promised voters that he would form a unitary state with Trinidad and Tobago, if they elected him as chief minister.
However, in 1962, Blaize and his GNP political organisation won the election but he was not able to form that unitary state with Trinidad and Tobago. Blaize’s false promise rejuvenated Gairy’s grassroots support. As a matter of fact, Blaize’s GNP political organisation was financed by the wealthy business class. His government served one term and the people voted Gairy back into office in 1967.
Although Gairy had popular support from the masses, he could not accept opposition from influential people and, most likely, he saw the Mighty Sparrow as a potential threat to his political domain through calypso music. Sparrow, as a calypsonian, always played the role as a journalist, social scientists and sex educator. Traditionally, Grenadians do not discuss sex openly but behind closed doors sexual activities take place privately and only the two people involved in the sex act knows what they did.
However, when Sparrow sings songs like Sixteen Million French Men, Maymay and Saltfish, the Grenadian people like to hear those songs. They understand the language Sparrow is using in his song to discuss sexual activities and sexual pleasures.
It is believed that there was a major falling-out between Gairy and Sparrow, after Jennifer Hosten won the Miss World title in 1970. Sparrow visited Grenada as part of the Miss World Celebration and he sang Bang Nag Lou Lou. However, Gairy thought that Sparrow was disrespectful in his performance on stage. But most likely there is a possibility that Gairy was afraid of the Mighty Sparrow’s popularity among the Grenadian people that could influence change if Sparrow decided to sing songs against his regime.
However, after Gairy was overthrown 1979, the Mighty Sparrow resumed his regular visits to Grenada. And even though Grenadians have a tradition of creating political conflicts and crisis, they respect Sparrow so much and no politician with their brand of politics can destroy the love they have for the King of Calypso. Today, the Mighty Saprrow is still alive and the Grenadian people wish he could live forever. On the other hand, Eric Gairy is dead. He is the father of the nation. Both of them are both part of our Grenadian history.
Gairy also returned to Grenada from exile. He tried to regain political power without any success until he died. However, in spite of the political division, Grenadians in general love the Mighty Sparrow unconditionally.