The King of Calypso Gets Ignored in Crown Heights

Mighty Sparrow onstage at Carnegie Hall in 2004. Photo: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Calypso legend Mighty Sparrow — who mixes Frank Sinatra’s suaveness, R. Kelly’s obsession with sex, Bob Dylan’s social commentary, and 50 Cent’s trash-talking into one Trinidadian whirlwind — is no stranger to New York City; he’s a part-time resident and has written songs about both the ’77 blackout and the ’91 Crown Heights riots. And he’s the biggest star in the history of calypso, having won the King of Kings competition eleven times and Trinidad’s Carnival Road March crown nine times. So when Mighty Sparrow — given name, the equally euphonious Slinger Francisco — hit the stage Monday night smack-dab in the middle of a predominantly Caribbean neighborhood, at Crown Heights’ Wingate Field, we expected he would receive an enthusiastic welcome.

We were wrong. Maybe the 10,000-strong crowd was daunted by the heavy police presence, or by the draconian security that included huge guys forcing audience members to throw their camera batteries in the garbage. But Sparrow’s repeated exhortations to Brooklyn to “raise your hands” and “make some noise” were met with silence, until by the fifth song of his set, there was the king of Calypso checking his watch as he sang. The crowd perked up, though, for Sparrow’s rousing performance of “Drunk & Disorderly,” and especially for his surprisingly energetic pelvic thrusts during “Swordfish.” To underscore the metaphor, of course, the 73-year-old Sparrow grabbed hold of his own swordfish. Indifferent audience or no, an eleven-time Calypso Monarch knows how to put on a show. —Ehren Gresehover