Month: February 2017

What is the difference between Soca and Calypso anyway? Check these 5…

It is carnival season in the Catholic Caribbean.

And in the English-speaking areas,

the music of choice will be soca.

It wasn’t always this way

40 years ago it was all calypso.

In fact, many today still tend to refer to all singers at carnival time as calypsonians whether they do calypso or soca. But the difference between the two genres could not be more distinct.

And just to help out those that are still confused, here are the differences between soca and calypso.

1. Lyrics-no-lyrics

Soca music has and always will be a party music. As a result, it keeps the beats heavy and the words light. Calypso, on the other hand, is the old guy who use to party but spends his time philosophizing about life.

If it says “Jump, wine , wave,bacchanal, carnival, jump” it is Soca.

If it says “existential threats to the diaspora need a panacea,” then chances are you are listening to a calypso. See Chalkdust singing a calypso below.

 

2. Hook line and sinker

If you missed the hook you definitely do not have a soca stream on. Soca repeats itself.

Even though there is repetition in calypso, it does not even come close to soca’s jump and wave stammering. Hear this classic repetition by Barbadian soca star Blood.

 

3. Brass less – drum machine more

Calypso songs generally have different instrumentation to soca, especially post 90s soca. Calypso songs are generally more organic (although not all the time) and usually feature a brass section of some type.

Here is calypso plus brass plus Singing Sandra.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-ZH27vGntg
Soca, on the other hand, is minimalist (not many instruments) with the drum machine, and laptops running Ableton, prominent. They also tend to be more synthesized.

Take “Advantage” of what I mean below ;).

4.  Tempo

Since the 90s, soca has been in two different time zones, mid-tempo and break-your-neck speed. An example of break-your-neck speed is Advantage above.

Calypsos NEVER EVER REACH these tempos.

So if you hear a song over 150 b.p.m. then it is CERTAINLY a SOCA song. Anything under 130 b.p.m, then it at least has a chance of being a calypso.

(Then you have to go from #1-3 to see if it actually is of course.)

5. Beats (Check out my book Caribbean Composers Handbook on Amazon for more)

Soca uses a number of beats and these have changed over the years. However, if you hear the following beats then you are dealing with a soca song.

soca drums

soca-beat-1

Calypso is more than comfortable to maintain the beat like the one below and it has done so for many a year.

calypso

So wherever you are from,  enjoy the carnival in the Catholic Caribbean but whatever you do, don’t call the soca a calypso.

What is the difference between Spouge and Ska?

A week and a half ago a friend of mine asked me to help him explain the difference between Spouge and Ska.

For those unfamiliar with these Caribbean music genres let me help.

Spouge is an indigenous genre of Barbados which came to regional popularity at the end of the 1960s. For a brief synopsis check my video below:

 

Ska on the other hand is a far more famous genre which came out of Jamaica in the early 1960s. It achieved much more global popularity than Spouge and is seen as the direct forefather to Reggae.

So are there any differences?

The answer is yes! And these are heard clearly in the rhythm.

Caribbean rhythms have been largely shaped by Sub-Saharan-West African approaches.

In Western Africa, much of their traditional music is based around complex rhythmic concepts, see below.

 

What keeps it all together is the key rhythm, or what is referred to in Cuba as the clave.

This CLAVE idea is found in all genres which have been influenced by West Africa.

In Ska, their clave or important rhythm came out of the shifting of the accent in Jazz guitar comping (accompaniment) to the ‘and’ or off-beat from the down-beat.

So in Jazz it sounded like below (listen closely to the guitar from 50s):

 

But it changed to this (watch from 24s)

 

Visually it looks like this,

Guitar Srum Jazz Ed.jpg

Jazz Big Band Guitar Strum

ska-rhytmic-unit-edited

Ska Clave 

Next to ackee and saltfish, Rastafarianism and Usain Bolt’s feet, the off-beat strum has been Jamaica’s biggest contribution to world culture because from that one idea came a whole host of genres including Reagge.

Spouge on the other hand has a different clave or important rhythm all-together.

In Spouge, especially that of the Draytons Two, the clave looks like below.

spouge-main-beatedit

And is played like this.

Spouge takes no prisoners when it comes to this clave either as this rhythm is sometimes played loudly on the cowbell and on the drums as well (as was the case with Six and Seven Books of Moses above).

Because the clave is the most important rhythm in a song, all the other rhythms that go with it NEED to compliment it. This means that the rhythms from the:

  • Rhythm section instruments – bass, drums, organs, keyboards, guitars
  • Vocal melodies
  • Brass lines

All phrase and accent with this CLAVE rhythm.

This means that the surrounding rhythms in Ska and in Spouge are very different!

So in short the difference between Ska and Spouge is RHYTHM and in rhythm genres, you can’t get a much bigger difference than that.

Hope that helps!

* For more explanation on clave check out my Slideshare. 

http://www.slideshare.net/stefanwalcott