The Mighty Sparrow, king of calypsonians, spread his wings and sprinkled seeds of soul from the funky firmament to birth his well-oiled band of merry men, Sparrow’s Troubadours. They were in New York in 1970 when the Black Power Revolution broke out. Across the border, Canadian students shouted “God is Black!” and the cries of empowerment rolled like a tsunami over their Trinidadian brothers and sisters. Riots broke out and a state of emergency was declared in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Troubadours were determined to wear their Afros to the top-hat ball, as they channeled the chaos that had erupted in their homeland on their instrumental LP Hot and Sweet. Under the direction of lead trumpeter Fortunia “Louis” Ruiz, the band merged scrappy, full-bodied calypsos with cool New York jazz and sophisticated soul.
The intricate, groove-oriented arrangements from Earl Rodney (bass and all-rounder on the rhythm section) and Fortunia were perfectly in step with the explosive climate of the times. Plus, they had a secret weapon, drummer Ricardo “Cardo” Brewster. He had a dramatic sense of space and time in his playing and was not afraid to lay back when necessary, but had no problem punching the clock when the job needed to get done.
On the groover “For My Sake,” the band frames Cardo on the intro and chorus, knowing the heavy breaks he’s hitting will serve them well as they climb the mountain they are heading towards. And when they finally get to the zenith, a glorious cover of “Soulful Strut,” the heavens open up and they know that they were not wrong to put their trust in him. The band revels in those three minutes and forty-seven seconds of pure joy. The horns swing and pop around an effervescent bass. Then the ground drops away completely as they give the drummer some and then some. Cardo starts off subtly, not wanting to impose, but, as he slides into the heart of the monstrous break, there is no doubt as to who is the master. The band gradually rejoins him to shout back to their brothers and sisters. Not with words, but with the word of soul.