A Song for the Sewers

I believe in sanitation, it is a good thing
But Mr Robinson and Lock Joint pulling and tugging

It can be said of many a calypso that “this must be the only song ever written on this topic”. And this is arguably just what constitutes the main difference between calypso and most Western popular music of the 20th century: even under heavy influence from the world-dominating force of a pop culture mainly concerned with teenage love, calypso never let go of its core qualities, namely its humour, wit—and topicality. The intriguingly titled “Mr Robinson and Lock Joint” by Mighty Sparrow is one of my favorite examples in point.

Now, who is this Robinson? And who or what is Lock Joint?

ANR Robinson 2

ANR Robinson

In the early sixties, Arthur Napoelon Raymond ‘Ray’ Robinson became the first Minister of Finance in Dr Eric Williams’ fully independent Cabinet. He was later to serve both as prime minister (1986–1991) and president (1997–2003). Lock Joint was the American company contracted to install the country’s first major public sewerage system, a project that dragged on for years, causing major traffic disruptions, dust storms and mud hazards. Sparrow is not univocally critical to the scheme; like many calypsonians he tended to endorse the modernisation of the country. But he also understatedly argues that the Government perhaps first should’ve made sure people in Port of Spain had enough money to eat, so they could produce all the waste that those hundreds of kilometres of sewer pipes were dimensioned for.

Here’a quiz for you. First question: Has anybody ever recorded such a groovy song about a sewerage system? Second question: Has anybody ever recorded any song about a sewerage system?

The Outcast

Slinger Francisco, a.k.a. Mighty Sparrow, in his late twenties.

The album Outcast (1964) on which this song is found, has Sparrow in his most vital mid-sixties mood, easily switching between a vast array of subjects: blazing boxing bouts, Martin Luther King’s promising future, nosy children turning up smutty-looking photos and—on a completely different note—what great tourism facilities Jamaica has to offer. Bert Inniss’ National Recording Orchestra, who by this time had taken the place as Sparrow’s preferred backing band, is in terrific form. Listen to how those rich horn arrangements accentuate Sparrow’s impeccable yet relaxed flow.

Addendum, May 2016:
A friend of mine, Sparrow researcher Graham Johnstone, notified me that he wrote a piece on this same song on his blog back in 2007. Please find it here.

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