Crop Over Blog VI – Red Plastic Bag – The Bajan Lyrical Master’s Top 10

 

Red Plastic Bag is seen as one of the foremost lyricists and composers of calypso in Barbados.  He has been a significant part of Crop Over and Bajan calypso/soca for over 30 years and to celebrate him is a Stefan Walcott Top 10 list of his lyrical masterpieces.

 

10. Something’s Happening

This song from 2009 is one of Red Plastic Bag’s biggest hits of the last 5 years. It is simply constructed  and I actually dismissed it at first until my mum said, “Listen.” What I heard was a portrayal of Crop Over that was simple, vivid and direct.

My favourite line:  I see vendors doing good trade, snowcone man got it made.

 

 

9. Can’t Find Me Brother

In the calypso genre it is expected that the lyricist take a topical event and put it over in song. The more disguised yet understood the composition is, the better the calypso is considered. In this song Bag takes the escape in 1987 of convicted criminal Winston Hall to construct this more than witty composition. Note, he never mentions the event directly or Hall by his name. This song is the one most used by people to testify to Bag’s genius.

My favourite line: I search every Kingdom Hall, I search every dancehall.

 

 

8. The Country Aint Well

Red Plastic Bag is self-admittedly inspired by Chakdust and like Chalkdust, he uses sickness as a metaphor in this song to get his point across. From the first line to the last puns rain down with most speaking to the topical issues of 1989, which unsurprisingly, are relevant to 2014.

My favourite line(s):  The body surviving but really aching bending over in pain. It needs support to stand strong again but cannot depend on this cane.

 

 

7.  Bim

This one is from 1984, the early days of Red Plastic Bag. Here Bag sings about Bim, another name given to Barbados and his love for it. He does not do this in a typical manner, instead he lists all the things wrong with it and says in spite of these, he still loves his country.  Once again a simple melody and easy tempo allows every word to be heard.

My favourite line(s): Some call you bad and cry you down. Certainly not me, of this soil I am a true son.

 

6.  Material

This song, like others on the list, was responsible for Bag winning the national calypso competition. It is one of my favourites and here Bag takes the sobriquet’s of other calypsonians and assigns topical material to them. Composing this song involved some serious writing technique, because not only did he need to find the issues, he had to select the appropriate calypsonian which fitted the issue.

 

My favourite line:  The US show of power as the world’s liberator, that one I giving to Invader.

 

5.  Waste

This song is one that fits the Red Plastic Bag template; find a pun and stick with it. Here Bag plays with his own sobriquet,which to many people is a waste product. However, he pulls this metaphor into the battle calypso tradition laying a challenge to fellow calypsonians that he is back in the game.

My favourite line:  To environmentalist it’s really a drag, (why?) it’s hard to get rid of the plastic bag.

 

 

4. Pluck It

In 1989 there was what was known as the “chicken controversy” where it was alleged a local businesswoman was selling chickens that were dead as opposed to being freshly killed for consumption. Bag here relates the event through double entendre and a soca beat.

 

My favourite line:  One worker did not chicken out, he broke the news and caused a big foul/fowl up.

 

3. Bag of Riddles

This one from the early period of Bag (1983) saw him play a game of riddles. Here he takes a controversial political issue and asks, who or what am I? This song of course has a built in audience participation component and it would have been a great joy to have heard it in the old vibrant tent setting.

My favourite line (s):  Take this easy riddle to solve you must always get involved. Scratch your head and give it a try, tell me, who or what am I?

 

2. Volcano

Volcano is a much quicker song than many on this list. This song is once again soca and Bag, unlike many soca artists, inserts his pun. Here he references the eruption of the volcano in Montserrat with his ability to erupt a party. Clever.

 

Favourite line – Volcano, kicking up, soon erupt and the lava getting hot.

 

 

1 Maizie

Although not a Crop Over song, this Christmas song is a funny narrative of Plastic Bag’s partner attempting to pass off her affair as a visit from Santa Clause. Of course this is a rather dry description, just listen to Bag below as he relates it beautifully.

 

My favourite line: Maizie where is the reindeer, Maizie I ain’t see no sleigh? Look he had no reindeer or sleigh, he came on BWIA.

 

 

 

Top 10 Bajan Dub (Dancehall) Records for Beginners

Dancehall, which is referred to as Dub in Barbados, took root in Barbados in the early 1980s. The music became the music of the working class and the youth of the time. Eventually, some Barbadian artists produced their own Dancehall records and given the expense of recording at the time, they all did it the low budget way. The important difference with these artists and their Jamaican influences was that they all chose to produce melodic and lyrical content rich in Bajan dialect.  In the last 2 years, there has been a resurgence of the form with a new generation of artists involved with Bajan dub. To help out those new to this, what I hope is an emerging form, I have compiled a Top 10 of the most influential/popular Bajan Dancehall/Dub tunes for beginners.

10. Peter Ram – Quicksand

Peter Ram was a chanter who came out in the late 1980s. He went on to become involved in Ragga Soca and the various Carnival scenes where he gained the majority of his popularity. However, this song from 1988 is how most in Barbados came to know him.

9.  Dub is a Force – Jesse James

As a boy, the reaction to Dub was not favourable. The obvious conservative backlash to its overt sexuality occupied much media space. “Dub is a Force,” with its lack of expletives and sexual references, came as a defence to the music. The video was also memorable as well as the hook, “Dub is the force!”

8. Don’t Ask Me – Crimeson

The re-emergence of Bajan Dub Dancehall owed much to the Dub, a low budget house/community party and YouTube. Young hungry artists went to various communities to perform as well as putting their music on YouTube, skipping the traditional media. Crimeson embodies this perfectly, and his ‘hit, “Don’t Ask Me,” did much to throw the form back into the public spaces again.

7.  Do Sain Fa Mi – Exclusive Soundz a.k.a Fari

Another of the 2nd brigade of Bajan Dub artists is Fari. This song with its partial ode to Kelloggs, actually had no Froot Loops on the shelves of local supermarkets for a bit in Barbados. By the way, his lyrics are really commands to females to perform dances. He is not speaking about motorsports.  

6.   Kid Site – Minibus 

Kid Site was not only a Bajan dub pioneer but a calypso artist of some merit. He later went on to win the National Calypso Monarch competition at Crop Over. His roots, however, are also planted in Bajan Dub and Reggae. His song Minibus, gives a humorous and fairly accurate portrayal of the private transportation taxis which to this day are responsible for the transmission of Dub and Dancehall from Jamaica and Barbados. Here you can hear the obvious Jamaican influence with much of Site’s inflections and phrasing coming straight from Jamaican Dancehall.

5.  Matrix – Meat Gaw Pull

I included this song, “Meat Gaw Pull” because it is what Dancehall is about to me: honesty and humour. Whether you agree with this honesty or not is another story.

4. Rankin Ricky – Driving Skill

Another one here from the old school. This is influenced once again from Jamaica and the at the time ubiquitous “Sleng Teng Riddim.” Ricky, however, maintains more of the Bajan phonology.  The song, like Site’s, speaks to the public transportation in Barbados.

3.  Ninja Man (Barbados) – License to Kill

To complete the public transportation set, here is Ninja Man’s song from the early days of the Bajan Dub. Here we can hear the riddim being similar to the Jamaican Jammy rhythms.

2. Lil Rick – De Yutes

To end, I will give the premier, in my opinion, Bajan Dub lyricists. Lil Rick started firmly in Dancehall and went on to start a strand of Soca, Bashment Soca, through his highly influential, “Hard Wine” composition. Rick, before this, did some of the most popular Bajan dub song ever*.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hf2jvzQXPAk

1. Lil Rick – Dollar Wine

*Rick o, of course, nt on to do what can be considered Bajan Dub in his biggest song to date “Guh Dung”.

*Special mention must go to Lil Rick’s “Talk for Me” and “ABC” two other hugely popular Bajan Dub songs. They would have been included but in order to give a wider cross section of artists they were excluded from the main list.