Top 10 Caribbean Music Documentaries

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1. Marley

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.

What is Bashment Soca? Crop Over Blog 1

lil rick

For those of you that have never heard of Bashment Soca, it is one of the most divisive forms of Soca coming out of Barbados, and thus Crop Over; people either hate it or love it, or in some cases hate themselves because they love it.

Bashment Soca, like many other types of Soca, does not have a clearly defined date of creation, because as I have argued, a genre only happens when others start imitating the prototype recording.

In this case, the prototype recording was “Hard Wine” done in 1996 by Lil’ Rick, who at the time was known primarily as a Bajan Dancehall performer and DJ*.

From this recording a number of traits become clear:

  • Rick’s prominent use of Bajan dialect.
  • The lack of harmony.

As this prototype was copied due to its overwhelming popularity, artists too copied the subject matter (wukking up) and added another one of their pressing issues, drinks.  Here is Fraud Squad:

We can once again see the strong use of Bajan dialect and the generally “odd” harmony.  Here is another classic Bashment Soca hit, “Boom Tick Tick.”  It sings about dancing, wukking up, which Hard Wine did and it is also mixed very raw in comparison with other professionally produced songs.

In summary, most of these Bashment Soca songs are from the early 2000s and it is my view that it is a sub-genre that is quickly disappearing as Bashment Soca artists get more “musical” (see Gorg ). However, for better or worse, it remains one of the clear sub-genres of Soca to come out of Barbados. **

* The input of Eric Lewis and his work with MADD was also important. Lewis employed heavy use of Bajan dialect throughout his compositions see “Tribute to Grynner.”

* * See my Stabby post to come for another example of Bashment Soca in action!!!

10 Caribbean genres you have probably never heard about!

The Caribbean, for a small geographical space, has many different musical cultures.

Most people only know the big boys, the Reggaes, Reggaetons and Merengues but there are numerous other genres that deserve a little blog attention.

Here is a list of 10 I think you should check out.

10.  Masquerade – Guyana

 

 

There are not many artists or musical genres from Guyana that are known outside of the country. Masquerade is a folk genre similar to Tuk and other fife and drum music types in the Caribbean. Like others, it is heard on festive occasions.

9.   Kaseko – Suriname

 

Kasesko is a music out of Suriname. Its rhythm is based around the snare and an indigenous drum called the skratji. Leading artists include Carlo Jones and Yakki Famirie.

8. Calypso – Costa Rica

 

The construction of the Panama canal had a profound effect on the culture of the Caribbean as thousands of men left their agrarian lives to work for the Yankee dollar. Another Central American country touched by this Anglo-Caribbean transfer was Costa Rica, as shown beautifully by Costa Rican calypso.

7. Tambú – Curacao

Tambú is a folk form from the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao. At one point controversial, it is gone on to be part of Curacao’s cultural heritage, especially for its African descendants.

6. Ra Ra -Haiti/ Ga Ga – Dominican Republic

 

Ra Ra, as it is known in Haiti, or Ga Ga, as it is known in Dominican Republic, is a street music heard at Easter. It features keyless trumpets as well as bamboo tubes known as vaccines.  Call and response is of course a big part of this form and like other street music types in the Caribbean, it is great fun.

 

5.  North Caribbean Soca -St. Kitts and US Virgin Islands

 

In the northern Caribbean countries such as the US Virgin Islands there is a derivative of Soca that I think deserves special mention. It  obviously borrows from the American pop sub genre crunk and therefore its melodies are more shouted than sung. It also sounds “loud” as the mastering engineer probably has all the gains at maximum.

4.  Jonkonnu – Jamaica

 

While Reggae and the whole Ska complex are widely known, the folk and traditional forms of Jamaica are not nearly as popular. Jonkonnu is one of the oldest musical practices in the Caribbean and is a fife and drum music with relatives in Bahamas, the Carolinas and Barbados.

 

3.  Bouyon – Dominica

Bouyon is a fusion genre. The group which promoted and performed this, WCK, sought to bring various Caribbean popular elements together. Bouyon really is a sub-genre of Soca but I still think it worthy to put on this list.

2. Gwo ka – Guadeloupe

 

 

Gwo ka is a drum ensemble music. It usually does not feature harmonic instruments. It is in the tradition of other large-scale drumming ensembles from the Afro Diaspora such as samba from Brazil and comparsa from Cuba.

1.  Spouge – Barbados

 

 

Spouge is a popular form that lived and died in 1970s Barbados. It is played around November in Barbados, the time of national celebrations where things Bajan take centre stage.

 

So there they are, if you like what you hear, go check out more artists from these genres!

You will not be disappointed.