Crop Over – The Curious Case of Red Plastic Bag

Red Plastic Bag has been one of the foremost contributors to Crop Over music. He is also one of the most loved human beings in Barbados and its overseas departments in Brooklyn, Toronto and London. This love not only relates to his music, (he has won the national calypso competition more times than I can count) but also to his personality and public image.  Here he is live in 2009.

 

 

I grew up a Red Plastic fan and still am for that matter. However, after outgrowing the blind acceptance forced upon me by my equally Bag fanatic family (who as it goes in Barbados was also Gabby non-lovers, which I am totally not now by the way), I asked myself:

“Why do Bajans like Red Plastic Bag so much?”

The answer to this question is really not obvious when I began to think about it. Let me show you why…

In terms of popular music, an artist’s potential fan appeal is based on a number of criteria. These are:

  1. Good looks and sexuality.
  2. Name branding
  3. Amazing Ability – dancing, singing, singing while doing acrobats á la Pink, singing while accompanying yourself on an instrument from a comb to a rocking guitar (Hendrix, Prince).

There are artists who tick all of these boxes and as a result are sought after commodities. So Chris Brown for example:

  • is/was young depending on your point of view
  • could dance and could sing.
  • In terms of good looks he ticks that box as well. *under advisement

When it comes to local soca, there are a number of artists who tick these boxes as well. Edwin Yearwood for example, when he emerged in 1995, used his real name, was young and could sing and dance. Thus his popularity can be explained away easily given the normal modes of musical popularity outlined above.  See clip below.

In terms of Red Plastic Bag however it becomes much less obvious and here is why:

  1. His name – No one would think that a guy called Red Plastic Bag would be a huge star anywhere in the world. Red Plastic Bag is not a name that one can imagine plastered in lights or in a stadium. Like most Bajans, I never thought much about this until I overheard Bag, as he is affectionately called, introducing himself to a US reporter. When she repeated it, it sounded hilarious. “Your name is Red Plastic Bag?”
  2. Sexual what? – Red Plastic Bag, even though coming on the scene as a young person, never emphasised sexuality in his performances. He was tall and slim then and since that time has never attempted to change. In fact, when he did expose his body, it was done for comedic effect as opposed to getting the ladies/men all warm under the collar.
  3. Ability? Hmm – I am sure by his admission, Red Plastic Bag would admit that he is no dancer. By dancing I don’t mean the “WOW” type dancing of James Brown, I mean the basic ability to move in time. In terms of singing, he is also not technically gifted. In fact, in live performances he is competent but no more. He is by no means an impact singer like Edwin Yearwood (in terms of range or intonation) or a rhythmically smash you around the ears vocalist like Machel Montano.

So is Bag loved because of his lyrical ability? Because no one can turn a phrase, pun a pun, meet a metaphor, save a simile like Red Plastic Bag?

Partially…

To me, Red Plastic Bag shows that there is something else going on when it comes to popularity. Red Plastic Bag constructs himself as everyone’s friend, everyone’s neighbour, everyone’s son and brother. To many, Plastic Bag is so cool because he ISN’T cool. He is not too flashy, his music is not confrontational or philosophically complicated, it doesn’t chide. He also doesn’t make non-muscle men like myself jealous, he doesn’t boast in song, instead he is just….BAG.

So my friends, if you are in Barbados and see people swooning over Red Plastic Bag, remember it is his kingdom. Also remember that you don’t have to tick all the popularity boxes to be a cultural icon; you just have to be honest and know who you are…

oh and being a brilliant lyricist and hook writer does help 😉

 

 

 

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More Short and Sweet Commentary from Roy Byer

Roy Byer was a cultural activist and archivist who passed away in 2014.

He was also one of the best commentators on Caribbean and Bajan culture I have ever come across. I have posted this short clip today because it goes some way to explain two social events happening currently in Barbados. These are:

1. The xenophobic public reaction to 90 Nigerian students studying here

2. The alleged/or not so alleged desires of a headmistress to patrol black natural hair

Here Roy is speaking about music but he is really addressing how black cultural practices have historically been viewed in Barbados.

This post might appear quite local but race and identity politics are Caribbean wide issues.

Over to you Roy!

 

 

* Banja was a term used by early 19th and 20th century Barbadians to denote rhythmic, black working class music.

 

 

 

This Blog in 2014

Hello guys and Happy New Year,

I love transparency and here I am being transparent.

Here are my global stats for 2014. Thanks to all those who came through to check out something over the last year. Please come back because I have some more stuff to talk about. I will also be including a new drop-down menu where you will hear my voice!

See you all in 2015!

Love

Caribbean MusicMan

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,900 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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…”