Christmas Music in the Caribbean in 5 Genres

Christmas is an important event in the Caribbean.

Here are five musical genres that are/were rooted/routed to this time of year.

1. Tuk – Barbados

Tuk music is a fife and drum music. It is perhaps the only indigenous Afro-Barbadian genre to have survived colonialisation. At Christmas, Tuk groups would come through villages playing and drinking rum. Tuk music is hardly ever played at this time anymore and has moved into the realm of nationalist celebration.

 

2. Masquerade – Guyana

Masquerade is another fife and drum music with a strong musical similarity to Tuk.  Like Tuk, the playing of it at Christmas has waned.

 

3. Plena – Puerto Rico

Plena is the one of the major indigenous Puerto Rican musical forms. The music is seen to have been created by English-speaking Caribbean migrants in the 1800s. It is also one of my personal favourites when it comes to Caribbean genres.

 

4. Parang – Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad is one of the more cosmopolitan islands in the Caribbean. Parang shows the Hispanic cultural influence as it was traditionally sung in Spanish and uses instruments found in other folk cultures of the Hispanic Caribbean. There is a Soca-Parang variant that is popular but here it is in its traditional form.

 

 

5. Parranda – Venezuela

To end, here is a popular genre from Venezuela. Parranda sounds like a more rhythmically complicated version of parang and I am sure they come from the same root. Here is one of my favourite groups, Maracaibo 15.

 

So I hope you have enjoyed this brief Christmas blog.

All that I am left to do is wish you a

Merry Christmas!

Please enjoy it wherever you are.

Caribbean Music Man

 

 

10 Things You Probably Did/n’t Know About Wuk/ing Up – Wuk Up and Wukking Up

To join in with the overt nationalism this time of year in Barbados, here is a blog feature on what I consider the national dance,

the Wuk-Up.

1. Wuk-Up is a dance from Barbados with roots in Africa.

Wuk-Up  is said to have come to Barbados via Sub-saharan African where isolation of the limbs and movement of the hips are part of the dance tradition. Here is a traditional one from Africa and then a Wuk-Up video.

 

 

 

2. Only Bajans are said to Wuk-Up.

In Trinidad they wine, Barbados however is the Wuk-Up capital of the world.  The difference comes from the hip movement, see if you can spot the difference between a wine and a wuk-up.

 

 

3. Wuk-Up has evolved.

Like all things of nature, Wuk-Up too is Darwinian and as the music has evolved, so too has the Wuk-Up.  I believe, and you are hearing it here first, that there are 3 distinct periods * of Wuk-Up. These changes remember correspond to musical change.

1. Pre-Independence

2. Post Independence 1966-1994

3. 1995-present

 

4. Contemporary Wuk-Up varies.

While there is a general post-90s style Wuk-Up, it does vary between sub-genres. Bajan Dub/dancehall requires a different wuk than fast soca. So in the former you find jucks, stabs, bend-overs etc. and while these exist in latter, the difference in tempo means Wuk-Up variations are found.

 

 

 

5. Wuk-\Up music is in duple time.

The Wuk-Up occurs in a duple-metre environment. No one Wuk-Ups to 3/4 waltzes, or 7/4 experimental Soca pieces. The hips sub-divide the main pulse, either in half (Bajan dub, Soca <120 beats per minute),  or in quarters (Bajan dub, Soca <120 beats per minute) or with the pulse (soca>135 b.p.m).

 

6.  Men and women Wuk-Up

Wuk-Up in Barbados is not gender specific. It was not always this way but in the mid 1990s the Grass-Skirt possee popularised male wuking up making it even more socially acceptable.

 

 

7. The Wuk-Up has 3 variants.

These are:

  • female on female
  • female on male – most common
  • solo

Male on male wuking up is hardly ever seen in public spaces. This is because Barbados continues to be conservative when it comes to public displays of male homosexuality.

8. People touch when wuking up

As said,  wuking up can be done in pairs between males and females.  When this happens the male is behind the female similar to perreo in Reggaeton. Like perreo, there is physical contact thus making the Wuk-up different to other sexualised dances such as rhumba, tambu, bomba etc. where touching does not occur.

Here is Tambu from Curacao where there is no touching.

 

See Example 4b for Wuk-Up.

 

9. The female dictates when the dance is over in the male-female Wuk-Up.

In Barbados a female decides when your Wuk-Up is over. She does not have to tell you this but her gradual moving away means it is done. This is not meant as a “pursue me” courtship practice a la kangaroos; when she leaves it is over.

 

10.  The average Wuk-Up is between 10-20 seconds.

Unless the couple wuking up is romantically involved, the average Wuk-Up bewteen strangers is 10-20s (per one Wuk-Up round). This research was done totally unscientifically of course but I stand by it. If you are a male be sure to pay attention to this as well as #9 and if you are a female it is better not to linger beyond this time. *

So those are 10 things to note on the Bajan dance. Thanks for dropping by and Happy Independence weekend if you are in Barbados.

 

* – Check out my Slideshare on Wuk-Up Music.

Also please note the soon to be released work of Cultural Studies dance scholar John Hunte on the dance.

* A number 11 could have been, the church does not like the dance.

 

 

 

 

 

In the Classroom with New Soca Writers

At the Barbados Community College I teach Caribbean music. In class, in keeping with my creative-centric approach, which like the Americans I have give a name, creativincism, I try to get the students to write in the styles taught. Given the fact that Soca has become confined to such a limited  range of compositional choices, I provide my students with the necessary ones and see what they come up with. Of course this stuff is graded, how else would they participate?  First up are two groups composing in the style of Destra circa early 2000s. I call this Power Soca (which of course puts me in contradiction with others but I grade the papers right?).

Here is another one. By the way, Lennox seen here is not a Soca/Calypso practitioner by any stretch of the imagination.

 

In my view, even though the audio and video are quite rough, they manage to at least provide you with a good understanding of the style the students are working with. The same could also be said of the next two videos which are written in the Bashment Soca style.

 

I have chosen the last two guys, Kevin and David, because they are as far removed from this music in terms of what they do regularly as any two musicians could be. However, given the guidelines and the space, they too managed to create something that is cool.

To end, I think that creativity lies in many humans. It just shows that once given the boundaries within style and a bit of space, what can be accomplished. It also shows that Soca can have new writers, just that the closed nature of the Caribbean media limit this.
Anyway, let me end with Lennox, “your Rum is my Rum, and my Rum…”

Roy Byer, so long!

Roy Byer was one of the THE people when it came to Bajan knowledge.

He passed away this month.

As Roy was a serious archivist, I have included the following video clips as tributes.

These clips will be housed on my “Words From the Masters” page as long as the internet lives.

Please enjoy, and remember him this way,

as a passionate and opinionated lover of Barbadian culture.

RIP

 

 

 

My Top 10 Caribbean Lyrics

I am poor with lyrics.

In fact, I am dismal with them.

However, a number of lyrics have stuck in my head and really meant something to me over the years.

Here then is my Top Ten lyrics list (of Caribbean music of course, the US has enough lists to last for generations)

Top 10 Lyrics

  1. Caught me on the loose fighting to be free, now you show me a noose under cotton tree, entertainment for you, martyrdom for me. – Third World
  2. Watch out my children, they got a fellah call Lucifer with a bag of white powder. He don’t want to powder yah face, but to bring shame and disgrace to the human race. – Ras Shorty I
  3. Tell them they can keep they money, I goin’ keep mine honey and die with my dignity. – Singing Sandra
  4. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind – Bob Marley.
  5. West Indian politician, I check out yah evil ploy, the more you sing, the more you sound like Westminster choir boy. – Mighty Gabby
  6. Get up in the morning slaving for bread sir, so that every mouth can be fed. – Desmond Dekker
  7. The country sick, the country ain’t well, see it as a person and then you will tell. – Red Plastic Bag
  8. So let we live our whole lives, forIvah and Ivah. – Isasha
  9. I am the seed of me father, he is the seed of my grandfather. – Jahaji Bhai
  10. Black woman and child, for you I have so much love. – Sizzla

What are some of yours?

Contone beats Rihanna…Hmmm….

The following video is taken from Toby Gad’s Vblog.

In case you do not know of Toby Gad…

he is a pop producer from Germany.

On this Vblog Gad interviews Livvi Franc, a naturalized Barbadian, who at the time was signed to Jive Records. The thing is that although Livvi was producing music, the producer asked her to sing something from her island.  Watch!

The original song from Barbados she is singing went like this.

The thing about the original is that it was seen by many as a joke! However, for better or worse, My Car Brek down is uniquely Bajan and thus representative of a certain kind of Caribbean identity that is seen as authentic.

Livvi could have easily sung Umbrella by Rihanna, but when it came to defining her culture, she chose Contone.

So take a bow Contone, you trumped Rihanna and to think they said you would never go international!!!!

Top 10 Books on Caribbean Music for (Academic) Dummies

Firstly, let me say that I, of course, would recommend my book, Caribbean Composers’ Handbook on Amazon.com for all of those interested in the actual music of Caribbean music but outside of that, here are some others. 🙂

1. Cooper, Carolyn.  Noises in the Blood: Orality, Gender, and the “vulgar” Body of Jamaican Popular Culture. Durham: Duke University Press, 1995.

Carolyn Cooper is one of the premier academics on Dancehall culture in Jamaica. This book is seminal in how it seeks to re-examine the common perspectives on Dancehall. Even though she is an academic, the book is generally accessible and Cooper’s points are still valid some near 20 years later.

2.  Bradley, Lloyd.  Bass culture: when reggae was king. London, Viking 2000.

Bradley’s Bass Culture is one of the best overviews on Jamaican Reggae music I have ever read.  Bradley takes the reader from the pre-sound system of the nineteen forties to the emergence of Dancehall. All the major figures are there from the three big sound system operators of the 60s to the early Dancehall pioneers like Yellowman.

3.  Cowley, John. Carnival, Canboulay, and calypso: traditions in the making. Cambridge [England]; New York, NY, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Cowley presents a well-researched book on carnival. Cowley provides a great volume of historical information on early Carnival. He also gives many 2nd hand references on important events, such as the Carnival riots and early Calypso competitions. A good one for those who have to teach calypso history.

4.  Pérez Fernández, Rolando. A. La binarización de los ritmos ternarios africanos en América Latina. Ciudad de La Habana, Cuba, Casa de las Américas, 1987.

Pérez Fernández’s book is in Spanish. However, this should not put off persons who do not speak the language. Pérez Fernández ideas are fascinating and unlike many other academics, he deals with the musical sounds of Caribbean music. His main idea is that there was a process which changed African music into the folk music of the Americas we know today. The influence of this work is obvious as he is frequently quoted.

5. Guilbault, J. Zouk: world music in the West Indies, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1993. 

There are few texts on Zouk in English, Guilbault’s book is one of them. Guilbault details the origins of this music as well as the identity implications it creates as a French Antillean identity emerges through Zouk. Guilbault also interviews the important players within the movement and provides transcriptions. Another plus is the inclusion of a CD which is also fantastic when dealing with music as a subject.

6.  Kenneth M. Bilby and Michael D. Largey. Caribbean currents: Caribbean music from rumba to reggae. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1995.

This book seeks to be an overview of Caribbean music in general. It does a decent job within the introduction of describing the conditions which led to the creation of many genres. It also seeks to detail the important regions within the Caribbean giving summaries and identifying important figures. This book is a good entry into the multi-faceted world of Caribbean music.

7.  Rivera, Raquel Z, Wayne Marshall, and Deborah Hernandez Pacini. Reggaeton. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.

Reggaeton is possibly the youngest popular genre to have a book about it in the Caribbean region. This book is excellent and through the different perspectives of the contributors, we get a wide view on Reggaeton from its sexual to musical implications. If you want to know anything about the genre, seek out this text.

8.  Lesser, Beth.  Rub a dub Style: The Roots of Modern Dancehall, 2012.

This book is the only one that is available online free of cost as a pdf download. Beth Lesser said she did this to avoid the usual accusations leveled at outsiders who write about other cultures. Lesser’s book is good though and she details all the important figures in the genre; from U-Roy to Beanie Man. Pick it up!

9. Rohlehr, Gordon. Calypso and society in pre-independence Trinidad. Port of Spain 1990. 

Rohlehr, like Cooper, was an academic from the University of the West Indies.  Rohlehr is a literary scholar and in this book, he provides thorough analysis and documentation of the literary form of the Calypso. Rohlehr also details important historical events and how they impacted on the Calypso. It is a formidable text in terms of length so be prepared for the long haul.

10.  Mauleon, Rebeca. Salsa Guidebook: for piano and ensemble. S.I. Sher Music 1993.

This is another book which deals with the sounds of the music. Mauleon is fantastic at providing the necessary listening for the genres she is looking at. She also provides direct transcriptions from these songs. As it deals with Salsa, Mauleon also transcribes from the lesser-known Puerto Rican genres of Bomba and Plena.

So there it is. Remember it is only “a” list and there are other fantastic books out there. Leave a comment for other books you would recommend.

Johnroett.com for Crop Over 2014 Music

John Roett is a Barbadian keyboardist par excellence and entrpeneur.

This year he put together a killer soca compilation of Crop Over 2014 music largely in response to the decline in (legal) ways to get Crop Over soca music. When asked for his motives, John said,

“Pirates take more than people have any idea of bro. If the artistes can get more, which is what they deserve. Then they can do better and better each year. It’s a business venture with benefits for everyone and for the industry as well.”

See the link to this wonderful venture below and it really is a best of the best of Crop Over 2014.

https://www.johnroett.com/product-category/music/

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