Sparrow, Opel: musical icons
The music and copyright of Barbadian icon Jackie Opel, who created spouge, could soon become the property of foreign entities if no move is made to re-register his work before the passing of the 50th year of the singer’s death.
That revelation was made by discographer Elizabeth Watson, who is also the librarian at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill, during a panel discussion on the topic Dr Bird And Me, a tribute to the Mighty Sparrow at the Village Gate, Waterford, on Tuesday night.
Watson told the modest crowd that she was doing a thesis on the work of Jackie Opel and she was forced to purchase one of his 45s from a seller in Germany and there were a number of collectors in Japan who were in possession of Opel’s work.
“We are quickly approaching the 50th anniversary of Jackie Opel’s death and if his family or someone in Barbados does not re-register his work then those persons in other countries can go and register the work and claim royalties from the work,” Watson said.
Watson supported the information put forward by chairman of COSCAP Foundation and former Government minister Glyne Murray that a seller in New York had offered the Government a large collection of Opel’s work for US$60 000. Watson indicated that she had visited the seller’s warehouse and she had made copies of the work for archival and research purposes at UWI.
“Unfortunately, we cannot digitalise or copy what we have as the original owner in New York is the legitimate owner of the property,” Watson said.
That discussion evolved from Watson praising the business acumen of Sparrow, who through his millennium series had retained the right to reproduce his work although he had previously sold his classics.
“Sparrow has reproduced many of his classics, he has modernised their tunes and he can now sell and claim royalties from the reproduced products making them accessible to the public although he lost the rights to the originals,” Watson explained.
The audience was given greater insight into the man Sparrow by Watson, Murray and other panellists, Mike Sealy, the Mighty Gabby and Rudy Boyce who at times in the past lived and worked with Sparrow.
Gabby, Boyce and Sealy also spoke of Sparrow’s passion for detail and perfection in his dress, presentations and music. Former chairman of the National Cultural Foundation Anthony Waldrond and Watson spoke about Sparrow’s linguistic techniques, his use of satire, pun, humour and sarcasm while telling a tale and painting a historical canvas which is so absent in many of today’s offering as calypso.
“Jean And Dinah is a historical piece of a young man with an eye for the ladies that he had no access to because he had no money and the presence of the Americans at the army base made the task even more difficult. That was a song about prostitution and yet there was nothing vulgar or crude in Sparrow’s presentation,” said Watson.
Waldrond noted for his lyrical pieces done for John King and Red Plastic Bag, admitted to studying Sparrow who was the epitome of what a singer, performer and calypsonian ought to be.
Gabby described meeting and performing with Sparrow as tantamount to idolising Sir Gary, Michael Jordan or Pele and then getting the opportunity to be in the same sport and same team as those greats.
Murray summed up the discussion by stating that Sparrow, just like Sir Gary arrived when the Caribbean was made up of a number of colonies and he changed calypso, just like Sir Gary changed cricket and the Caribbean scene was never the same again.
Some of the other calypsonians who attended the discussion put on by Roy Byer were Observer, Kid Site, Viper and Serenader. Before the start of the discussion, Byer showed footage of Sparrow performing many of his classics at Kensington Oval in 1989.