Sparrow Come Back Home–Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts

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“Sparrow Come Back Home” is the title of a 1962 calypso where Mighty Sparrow points out the irony of being noticed only once he had left Trinidad for the US. This project commemorates the lifelong achievement of Sparrow as a silent monument to his extraordinary lyrical and musical abilities.

The commemoration consists of 270 12-inch square ceramic tiles fired with decals that feature the front and back of all of Mighty Sparrow’s LP releases, from the early Emory Cook recordings, through those of his own National record label, to the present, including bootlegs and alternative repressings. The ceramic decals precisely reproduce the look of the original record sleeves while the tiles modify their material qualities to suggest weight and permanence. Together they also bring some uniformity to the wildly varied graphic quality of records released over a 65-year period. This installation was at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts in Spring 2014.

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One of most inventive and prolific (and least known) singer songwriters, Sparrow, born as Slinger Francisco, has been recording calypso music that has primarily been disseminated through the West Indian diaspora in North America and Great Britain. Mark Harris’s mother was from Trinidad, relocated to England, and the first calypso records he heard were from her collection. In comparison with African and South American examples of celebratory popular music, acclaim for Sparrow’s remarkable achievement has not spread far beyond West Indian communities. Despite its hi-octane beat, its lyrical humor, its carnivalesque bawdiness, and frequent political commentary, the music has not enjoyed the kind of wide audience typically drawn to world music. Through this documentation of Sparrow’s records we hoped to provide way to discuss the nature of his achievements and the reasons for occlusion of his music.

The installation was silent because at this time of instantaneous internet access to practically all recorded music we wanted to assess whether it was possible for the presentation of the life achievement of an overlooked but outstanding singer to provoke a different, more focused and sustained, kind of attentiveness. These ceramic artifacts are effectively mute records whose weight and emphatic material properties propose a reversal into monumentality of the digital dematerialization of music. The appearance of the decal tiles evokes Sparrow’s music effectively and an accompanying soundtrack would make music and tiles illustrative of one another.

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We’re interested to ask whether Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s concept of “minor literature” (in relation to Kafka) is applicable to calypso, where the calypsonian deterritorializes the colonizing language, in this case English, through carnivalesque vernacular reinvention, and speaks for the political potential of the community by performing this subversion in public, at which instance the performance is always about the energizing of public consciousness and not about the performer’s self-expression.

From Deleuze and Guattari’s book “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature” the following passage interests us in relation to Sparrow’s singing and song writing: “These are the true minor authors. An escape for language, for music, for writing. What we call pop ­­– pop music, pop philosophy, pop writing–Worterflucht. To make use of the polylingualism of one’s own language, to make a minor or intensive use of it, to oppose the oppressed quality of this language to its oppressive quality, to find points of non culture or under-development, linguistic Third World zones by which a language can escape, an animal enters into things, an assemblage comes into play.”

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