The early results from the Soca competitions are in.
This means that Barbadian radio rotation will now be based around the competition songs chosen to go forward
leaving the other 600 to die.
Before these songs go into the afterlife altogether though, let me try to keep five of them alive. Here is my Lazarus 5 of Crop Over 2017. a.k.a 5 songs that didn’t make it into the next round of competition.
- Makka Tree – Vybz I Love
I was introduced to this guy earlier this year when my Caribbean Ensemble from the Barbados Community Collge did the National Cultural Foundation’s Cavalcade. I was immediately blown away by his voice. Check this one produced by Quantum Productions.
2. Jafar – Bang
Like Makka Tree, I met this guy in person on the Cavalcade gig. This Bajan Dub song, although not progressing further, has all the qualities of a really good Bajan Dub song.
3. Aidan – Life Nice
This song, written by the Waterstreet Boyz and produced by super-producer Chris Allman, is in the tradition of the modern Ragga Soca. With a great hook and super saccharine melody, it should not be thrown on to the rubbish-heap. A good rendition by Aidan as well.
4. Chenice – Sweet Carnival
Like Life Nice, this is a modern Ragga Soca. Chenice does a good job here as well.
5. Contone – Come Back Tomor
Contone has been around a long time and has of late been battling his own demons. This year he reconnected with long- time producer, Anderson ‘Blood’ Armstrong to produce this. Like My Car Brek Down and 2 Sir Grantleys, this is Contone at his Bajan Blues best.
These are not all the songs obviously.
And I would be glad to hear more suggestions.
What are your five?
Here is my group’s offering featuring the super talented Jabari Browne. We didn’t compete with this but keep checking it anyway.
*Nah Going Home is actually 11 years old but born after the school year…;)
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:
- Good looks and sexuality.
- Name branding
- 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:
- 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?”
- 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.
- 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?
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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Thanks for your interest in Caribbean music and culture.
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Stefan ‘Caribbean Music Man’ Walcott
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.
There are several Bob Marley documentaries out there. This one is the newest and unlike the others, seeks to present Marley as a complex character. However, I still recommend watching “Caribbean Nights,” which is one of the oldest, to get even more perspective on this Caribbean musical giant. However, you can’t go wrong with this one.
2. Sons of Benkos
I see the Caribbean as a cultural area and this documentary focusses on a music type, Champeta, that is not from the archipelago. Instead this popular music form is from Colombia and is a fascinating fusion of popular Western and Central African music and Colombian music. Although Champeta has changed, this documentary shows its roots as well as a fascinating examination of the Palenque region, which is seen as the heart of African culture in Colombia.
3. Made In Jamaica
Made In Jamaica is one of my favourite documentaries on Jamaican music. It does not only have the talking heads as in most documentaries but live performances as well. Each performer is backed by one of the premier rhythm sections in the genre, Sly and Robbie and the sound is fabulous. If you are one that likes more than just info and bios, this documentary is definitely one for you.
4. Routes to Rhythm
5. This PBS documentary from the 80s is one of the BEST on salsa. Everyone is in here. Like Made in Jamaica, some killer live performances are also present. Watch all of it if you have any interest in Salsa music and Cuban music in particular, REQUIRED VIEWING!
5. La Musique Antillaise
This Banyan documentary looks at French Antillean music. Zouk is here as well as older traditional forms. A short and good watch and for non-French speakers like myself, it is in English.
6. Soca Power
Soca Power is good, it could have been better, but it is good. The documentary follows monster soca artists Bunji Garlin, his spouse Fay-Ann, and Machel Montano at Carnival. While not being fly-on-the-wall, it still manages to capture some of the excitement behind Carnival performances. Worth a watch.
7. Reggae inna Babylon
Reggae inna Babylon examines the music in the Caribbean diaspora as it focusses on the work of reggae artists in the nineteen seventies in the United Kingdom. The usual suspects Aswad and Third World are here, and though the documentary itself is not quite riveting, we get to see them in action at the time of their greatest popularity – for that alone it is worth a watch.
8. Puerto Rican Bomba : A Search For Our Roots
This documentary, like Reggae inna Babylon, is partially based in the Diaspora, but then again so much of Puerto Rican culture straddles that divide between mainland and diaspora. It makes the Bomba, a traditional folk form its basis and for those interested in the sound of it, we get break downs of the indivudal parts. It is detailed and very enlightening.
9. Straight Outta Puerto Rico: Reggaeton’s Rough Road to Glory
If you want an overview of Reggaeton, this is a good place to start. Despite the gawdy ads that seem to suggest a much less mentally stimulating offereing, this documentary manages to speak to the movers and shakers and highlight the events which were important to this genre as it emerged. With plenty of loud music and imagery, this one would keep you watching for sure.
10. Calypso Dreams
Calypso Dreams is one of my favourites on this list. It has singing heads as opposed to talking heads, and manages to find many of the calypso artists in their natural environment. Due to this, we hear them without the trappings of arrangements and stage mics. They instead have guitar accompaniment most of the time. If that wasn’t enough, a history of calypso is also given. Every one is here, even Roaring Lion – this is a must see for anyone interested in Trinidadian calypso.