What do Caribbean musicians actually do?

Most people know of musicians; in fact, some even know them.
And when I speak about musicians, I am not speaking about lead singers* or DJs.
I am speaking about those who spend their days trying to manipulate sound using instruments.

But what do musicians actually do?

Here is a meme that shows what I am talking about.

This meme is funny because it is pretty much true.

So this post is going to show you where the truth lies when it comes to Caribbean musicians.

In the Caribbean, musicians do one of the following.

  1. Teach.
  2. Play live.
  3. Produce or arrange tracks in a studio.
  4. Any combination of 1-3.

I know there are other careers within the wide world of music but generally speaking jobs like acoustic engineers, instrument builders are generally found elsewhere.

Playing

Musicians who perform for a living. Do the following:

  • Practice – getting a decent sound and playing songs to perform publicly takes forever. And when we deal with highly technical genres like classical music and jazz, then even more time has to be dedicated to learning repertoire. The old figure of 10 000 hours is passed around to be a professional musician, and even if some Caribbean musicians do half of that then you are still looking at 208 days of practising alone.
  • Find and learn songs clients want – There are thousands of songs throughout human history, and no musician knows every song, sorry to disappoint you, clients. Therefore, when a client requests a song and a musician does not know it, the musician has to learn it. This takes time.
  • Sourcing or creating backing tracks -Caribbean hotels generally pay as little as they can for musicians, the only way to survive therefore is to cut the size of the performing group. This means that most musicians perform these days as soloists. So for example, violinists, saxophonists are frequently seen in the Caribbean performing by themselves. This means that they have to source backing tracks that have the other instruments in them -think karaoke!  For weird song choices or Caribbean song choices then, these musicians would have to build these backing tracks.
  • Rehearsing – For large shows, like Handel’s Caribbean Messiah pictured below, rehearsals are necessary. For nearly all ensemble show performances rehearsals are required. This means that performing musicians find themselves in rehearsal spaces for many hours throughout their lives.
  • Touring – on the rare occasion musicians from the Caribbean get to tour. Touring is very expensive which means in genres such as soca, the main singing artists tours by himself leaving the musicians at home.
Musicians and singers from Handel’s Caribbean Messiah

Musicians and singers from Handel’s Caribbean Messiah

  • Looking for work – performing musicians have to hustle without exception this means that part of their job involves dropping off or emailing their portfolios, press kits to potential clients or working on their social media presence. This is incredibly time consuming but a demand that is placed on all performing musicians.

Teaching

Teaching is a big part of musican’s income. Musicians either teach privately, as in one-on-one lessons like piano lessons or they are connected to institutions which provide them with a part-time or in other cases, a full-time salary.

Producing and arranging 

Musicians can also be found in the studio where they produce music for records and public release.  Given how the technology works, musicians usually produce in small bedroom studios or sometimes just using a laptop or keyboard. The same is for arrangers, who write out music on paper for bands who need a laptop and scoring program. It must be said that in the English-speaking Caribbean outside of Jamaica, most of this work is seasonal and connected to Carnivals. This means that studios are hardly sustainable unless they do commercial work which is decreasing.

In truth, to be called a musician in the Caribbean you have to do a mixture of at least 2 of the above. The economies are way too small to accommodate specialists. This means when you see a working musician; they always tell you how busy they are.

*unknown singers could enter the musician fold as well.

 

 

A Symphonic Arrangement – Emmerton

One of my life dreams was to write for an international symphonic orchestra. Because of the work of the Barbados Embassy in Brazil, I was finally granted that opportunity.

Here is Emmerton, the Barbadian iconic piece written by Dr Anthony ‘Gabby’ Carter and orchestrated by me with ideas from my previous string arrangement for my mentor Nicholas Brancker. (some chords and voicings heard here are ABSOLUTELY him.)

Big thanks to Ambassador Sealy-Thompson.

 

PS – I was hoping there would be a drumset there but the space for the Tuk Band Waltz is obvious.

Plates…not the ones you eat With

There has been some debate on the use of plates or riddims within Soca.

For those who do not know, plates/riddims are instrumental tracks.

The unique thing with plates/riddims is that unlike other types of popular music, the same instrumental track can be used by multiple artists to create different songs.

The innovators of plates were the producers in downtown Kingston.  One of the most famous uses of these plates/riddims is with the Sleng Teng riddim, a dancehall staple.

As all the songs have the same instrumental backing, as in the Sleng Teng Riddim, Djs generally find them easier to mix (to transition from one song to the next). Kingstonian sound system operators, who were also record producers, realised this early on and they all made the recording of plates a priority within their work.

The penetration of Jamaican music into the rest of the Caribbean as well as the rise of the DJ within Soca made the introduction of the riddim concept inevitable. However, this practice is more frowned upon in Soca than in Jamaica because:

  1. It was not part of the tradition. Calypso and its offshoot Soca always prided itself on the original single recording. From the days of Lion to David Rudder.
  2. The use of plates is seen as the conquest of Jamaican culture, a sensitive topic with the rest of the Caribbean.
  3. Plates mean the DJs have won.

My personal view on riddims is a realistic one; they are here as a result of the modern carnival scene. Will they be around forever? Nothing lasts forever but possibly a while to come as the economy and value for producer buck make them attractive.

Are they any worse than what went before? I never try to judge that way cause the older I get, the better my youth music used to be, but what I can tell you is that

  1. some rhythms I like, others I don’t. And
  2. all songs on the same riddim, I do not like equally.

The last point shows that even within the same instrumental, there is still much divergence. Here are two songs I love on the same riddim.

So until global popularity switches from the DJ, look out for them for a while longer.

Jab = possession music

One of the biggest hits for Carnival 2019 is Mr Killa’s Run Wid It.

 

For those unfamiliar with the style, it is referred to as Jab, a sub-genre of soca which I posted on before. In terms of soca, there are no better musical sub-generes suited to talk about spiritual possession more than Jab because Jab, for all intents and purposes is possession/trance music. It ticks all the boxes. For example:

  1. Jab like other possession music is all about the repetition. You need to say stuff over and over.
  2. Jab has no chords. There is also little to no harmonic movement in possession music (chords, chordal instruments like a piano or guitar), especially with possession music of the African diaspora.
  3. Jab music is rhythmic.

To see what I mean check the music from Cuban Santeria below:

 

It is obvious, Jab is meant to induce possession.

The psycho-acoustic explanation for this is that the repeated patterns lead to less distraction which in turn can manipulate the trance-like state. For the more spiritual, these rhythms carry with them certain deities and given the reaction to this song, I think the latter definitely has a point.  Check below:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fdavid.isaac.9674%2Fvideos%2F10218678247008579%2F&show_text=0&width=560

So that my friends a brief look at Jab and its relation to possession music. Whenever this song plays, just be careful, it is meant to take a HOLD of you.

 

 

Viral

I saw this video below today.

And it has gone viral.

For those who don’t know, going viral is when a lot of people watch your content, and in his case some quarter of a million shares on Facebook alone.

The fact that this video had so many views will obviously offend some artists. All the techie videos on YouTube will tell you that this track is poorly produced, not mastered, has poor editing and isn’t even in time.

But you know what, and this is what I want whoever reads here to leave with:

GOING VIRAL HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH QUALITY!

Going viral has everything to do with DIFFERENT. BEING WAY DIFFERENT! (or having millions of dollars)

For example, a cat eating a mouse will not go viral. However, a cat eating a Mouseketeer might. Similarly, a plus-sized black female singer belting Amazing Grace with all the vocal tradition that is impeccably recorded will not go viral, however, a poorly recorded Chinese child in a village singing, in the same manner, WILL definitely be shared on millions of pages.

So artists, unless you are truly willing to be odd-ball or you embody the tradition of another culture, you can give up your dreams of being shared and liked and trolled.

Just keep focussed and remember with each post what you are hoping to achieve, if it is just to let others know you still exist or to get a specific gig, then that is cool. In fact, on a personal level, I prefer just one like than to have a production like “Take you to the movies”

It is so catchy though!!! Maybe I should re-think that.

Below is a cat viral video compilation that has more views than any of my work combined x 10.

 

 

6 Things (truths) NoOne wants to say about Crop Over!

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Crop Over is at an end. And here are some uncomfortable truths about it. Note, I am not saying whether these realities are good or bad, just shedding some light.
1. Crop Over is…
not about musicians it is about music. Musicians are largely on the side when it comes to the festival. Think about many of the events, how many guys do you actually see playing music? Even in production, they have been marginalised. If not for the calypso competition, they would have died off completely.
2. Calypso at Crop Over is…
only kept alive by government and kids. Calypso is centred completely on the national festival. Outside of this, no content is produced. This competition is, however, a loss-making exercise and if the government would withdraw its large largesse, the art- form, as it is known, would have died along with the cassette tape. The kid’s competition, however, is vibrant, due to the fact that is one of the few youth art competitions that gets full national coverage.
3. The tent system at Crop Over is…
an economic failure. The tent system was developed for a certain time for certain people. With the export of carnival came the export of tents. In modern times, this system is woefully expensive and dependent completely on the national calypso competition. It is attended purely for nostalgia and would have disappeared a long time ago if not for the taxpayer.
4. Crop Over is…
a carnival..despite the packaging. Not only a carnival but a Trinidadian franchise carnival. The clever entrepreneurs in Trinidad have managed to export the bead and feather, all-inclusive fete experience to Barbados in a big way. There is even a Machel Pre bank holiday show. Some might be screaming what about Bridgetown Market and the Literary Reading? These events are peripheral at best and the fact that there are no private promoters hosting crop over dance, crop over comedy or cane cutting competitions speaks volumes as to where the emphasis is with all-inclusive carbon copy events of boats, breakfasts, paint-and-powders, all whites holding sway.
5. Crop Over should have…
left Bajan Dub alone. Bajan Dub in 2010-2013 had an energy about it. It was young, it was underground it was urgent. Enter the re-christening as Bashmnet Soca and its entry into a competition for the festival. Also cue standardization, blandness, and boredom. The artists, through their need ( and rightfully so given how expensive the country is) for short-term cash, have killed the pig to eat the ear. Or killed the pig to have Lil Rick eat it.
6. Crop Over has….
killed any form of US type of industry forming in Barbados. The US type of music industry is the holy grail for many. From politicians to artists to technocrats, all of them want the glitz glamour and more importantly the US dollar from what goes on north of Cuba. In the early 70s, Barbados had the foundation for this. However, Crop Over killed that for instead of having music created and consumed all year round, all creative activity through Crop Over became confined to a six-week period where 300-500 songs compete for public space.
So there are 6 unpopular truths about Crop Over. I know many enjoy the festival as it is great fun and many won’t care about these truths but not bringing them to light is like wukking up in the dark. Fun for a while but dangerous in the long-term.
Can you add any more?