Top Ten crop over Songs of all time

Crop Over is a summer festival held in Barbados. Originally it was a post-harvest festival held after the sugar season, but it was re-introduced in the 1970s as a carnival-like event.
Since its re-introduction, the festival has grown considerably to where it is now one of the main cultural events in the Barbadian calendar. Over the years, many songs have been released for Crop Over that fall into two genres:

  • Calypso
  • Soca
    The calypsos are usually written for the calypso competition while the soca songs are for the parties and the street celebration known as Kadooment.
    I will now give a Top 10 Crop Over songs of all time where I seek to narrow down the thousands of songs that have been released in these two genres. To get on this list, a song had to be:
  • A prototype of a particular period
  • A song that went on to change how music was being made in Crop Over.

So here is my Top 10 (not in any particular order).

Tek Off Something – Stiffy – 2016
1. Tek Off Something is the newest song on this list. It gets its place because it represents the Bashment Soca form of soca which is the favoured Crop Over genre by the current youth in Barbados. Bashment Soca is really a re-emergence of Bajan Dub from the 1990s, and the music was then re-branded and given a competition within the Crop Over Festival. Stiffy won the first-ever Bashment Soca competition with this song. Tek Off Something gets on the list, therefore, because it is a prototype of Bashment Soca. I actually call it Bashment Soca II because the original Bashment Soca I is different to this newer form.

Hard Wine – Lil Rick – 1996
2. Hard Wine is a song from the mid-1990s sung by Crop Over giant and Bajan cultural icon Lil Rick. This song gains its place because of the influence it had on later producers and singers. It was raw in its production and had Lil Rick chanting/singing in Bajan dialect. It started a whole sub-genre, Bashment Soca I, where bed-room producers came to the game with raw production and songs sung in Bajan dialect. This type of Bashment Soca was popular for another ten years and formed part of the soundtrack to Crop Overs of the early 2000s.

The Country Ain’t Well – RPB – 1989
3. The Country Ain’t Well was part of the calypso competition, called Pic-O-De Crop in 1989. It gets on the list because it represents the calypso writing style of RPB, who had the most success in Bajan calypso competitions. The RPB style is based around simple, singable melodies and lyrics that display the use of metaphor. This song is a prototype Bag and helped him win the competition in 1989.

West Indian Politician – Gabby – 1985
4. The other influential way of composing calypso is the way it has been done by the Mighty Gabby. Unlike RPB, the Gabby method is full of melodic complexity in comparison to other calypsos. Gabby loves chromatic notes, and he also varies the rhythm of his melodies between verses as well. This way has also been very successful at the calypso competition, with Gabby being the second-highest winner. Basically, Bajan calypsonians either utilize the Bag style or the RPB style in making their music.

Ragamuffin – Square One with Alison Hinds – 1996
5. Alison has been one of the leading female voices in soca, a genre that has been male-dominated since its inception. Ragamuffin represents the type of fast soca which emerged in the mid-1990s that was more sung when compared with the Bashment Soca I. This type of soca, like Bashment Soca I did not feature a lot of instruments and was considerably quicker than the other types of Soca, which were popular in the 1980s. Although Obadele was the first to win the most popular on the road with this type of soca, Raggamuffin because Alison Hinds sang it, is not only a prototype of this quicker soca in the 1990s; it also is the prototype female artist within soca and thus an automatic entry on this Top 10 list.

Pump Me Up – Krosfyah with Edwin Yearwood – 1995
6. The slower type of soca, known as Ragga Soca, is very popular at Crop Over. Though it has been renamed under the influence of Trinidad to Groovy Soca, it still forms a critical element of modern parties. The first soca of this type is Pump Me Up by Edwin Yearwood, which fused dancehall with soca music. This slower tempo, plus the way Edwin sings, was imitated by many and went on to have considerable influence in all carnivals in the English-speaking Caribbean. Pump Me Up was this a no-brainer inclusion to the Top 10 list.

Mr T – Grynner – 1983
7. Before the considerable changes in soca music in the 1990s, Grynner was the dominant sound of soca music in Barbados in the 1980s. Grynner’s sound was built in Eddy Grant’s Blue Wave Studio, and it basically involved a backbeat which is found across many genres as the drum pattern and then calypso percussion on top. In addition, Grynner’s unique Bajan voice carries the melody. This combination was very popular, and Mr T. represents this sound to a T.

Ragga Ragga – RPB – 1993
8. Although Pump Me Up was the most influential of the Ragga Soca songs, the song that opened the door of Jamaican dancehall mixed with soca was Ragga Ragga. This song gave Ragga Soca its name and is a definite inclusion on this list. It is on this, however, to represent the regional influence of songs released in Crop Over as Ragga Ragga was very popular in the Caribbean region of Colombia and Panama. It probably remains one of the most recognizable songs from Crop Over in that region and has a redone Spanish version (reggae en Espanol).

My Car Brek Down – Contone – 2006
9. Contone was a car-washer and part-time singer. His song My Car Brek Down was the most popular Bashment Soca I song ever and marked the end of that particular era. Some may consider this song a strange inclusion, but in my time on stage, I have never seen such a reaction from an artist as Contone received at that time.

All of We – Peter Ram – 2015
10. In 2021, the other sound that dominates Crop Over and Bashment Soca II is the sound of Red Boyz soca. The Red Boyz are a production team of Scott Galt and Mikey Hulsmeier with a garrison of hit songs since their 2006 debut album. In 2015, Peter Ram’s All of We, which was written by Shaft Bishop, a close associate of the Red Boyz, completely dominated 2015 Crop Over. The Red Boyz sound is based a lot on the re-introduction of 1980s style production of soca with live instruments frequently featured.

So there it is, my Top 10 Crop Over List to date. Do you agree with mine? Which other songs should be included?

Barbados National anthem

Hello everyone! 

Here is my orchestral re-arrangement of the Barbados national anthem to celebrate what has been a challenging year.

On vocals is the amazing Allison Norville!

A .pdf version of the arrangement is available to download under my Books and Arrangement tab.

Thank you, Barbados for everything. 

Happy Independence.

60 Caribbean Folk songs available on amazon now

I present to you my final book from the lockdown period.


60 Caribbean Folk Songs with Audio.


60 Caribbean Folk songs is a book which has compiled folk songs from Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados. For the first time, all these Caribbean treasures can be found in one document that is digitally preserved.

All songs come with audio tracks so you can sing along.


Check the link below.

Enjoy

XX Bajan Folk Songs with Audio

Heah,

Take a look at my latest project:

XX Bajan Folk Songs with Audio.

Available now on amazon.com.

XX Bajan Folk Songs is a compilation of twenty Bajan folk songs from the now out-of-print Folk Songs of Barbados book.  The book also comes with audio as the name suggests so you can sing along.

Check it out!

 

 

Bashment Soca ain’t about Dat!!! – Looking for music in all the wrong (right) places –

There are few sub-genres in Soca at Crop Over that are as divisive as Bashment Soca (both 1st and 2nd comings see my article).

To refresh, Bashment Soca (the I and the II) makes heavy use of Bajan dialect with speech as melody.

Most with traditional musical training usually dismiss it as sonic drivel sighting its harmonic simplicity and melodic monotony.

But are they looking for music in the right places?

Let’s take a look at “Go Stabby” to try and answer that question.

“Go Stabby” is a typical Bashment Soca song.

Here is it below.

To my surprise, “Go Stabby” was popular outside of Barbados despite Stabby being unintelligible to most non-Barbadians. Why may you ask? It is because “Go Stabby” connected on a different musical level to other pop and carnival soca songs; it is was all about the RHYTHM!

Believe it or not “Go Stabby” is quite interesting rhythmically. “Go Stabby” has something called rhythmic tension and release with the “Go Stabby” repeated line, the tension and the “Stabbyyyyy,” the release.

Net result?

INTEREST.

It also helps that these two parts of the song are the ones most clearly understood by non-Bajan speakers.

In short, there is a reason for everything under the sun, and though some might claim the reason for “Go Stabby’s” popularity was because of duped and ignorant audiences, that’s not the case.

One has to look in the right places.

* Side note, I performed this song as part of the backing band at Bacchanal Calypso Tent in 2008. The initial reaction was tremendous, but in performance, Stabby didn’t realise that the verses were not what people wanted to hear, and he chose to perform it like the recording. Of course, the verses fell flat, meaning the live performance was lukewarm at best. Which brings us to a future blog, performance of Soca, stay tuned.

Computer Calypso! Replace the writer, it’s all cliche!

There is a song called “In Time to Come” by Crazy.  In it he lists numerous events that he thinks will happen.  Check it out below.

For those unfamiliar, or those that just can’t be bothered to listen, Crazy makes a number of claims. Like,

1. The coming of a black President. Which he was right about.
2. Trinidad developing a nuclear program. Which I am not sure about.
3. A computer writing calypso. Which is what this blog is all about.
Because Crazy was right. The age of the Mighty Microchip or Lord AI is definitely upon us. How may you ask?

Because modern calypso is a cliche with repeated ways of doing things. And computers love cliches.
Let me show you.

1. Horns come the same place.
Since the rise of Soca, calypso has become a very predictable form. Firstly, most of them feature horns. These horns play the same role in all the songs. So for example, all songs have band choruses, melodies and sections where horns fill the spaces. So let me demonstrate this by using what has become the template for female calypso songs, Die With My Dignity by Singing Sandra.

The band chorus here plays the melody of the chorus at the beginning of the song and after each sung chorus. Here it is separated.

The horns also play in between the vocal phrases. And believe me, the majority of the melodic verse phrases last for four beats and the horns then play for two beats. Check below:

  1. Tempos vary, but not that much.

Since the birth of Soca 40 years ago, calypso has come to live in a particular tempo range, that is 85 to 120 b.p.m.

  1. Harmony

All calypsos these days are in major or harmonic minor. In addition to this, since the Chalkdust years, a particular harmonic progression has become prominent. Of course, this is too much to explain here in this blog, but I will be releasing some videos to prove this. But trust me, the harmony is very much cliche as well.

  1. There are three main beats

Calypso uses three basic drum patterns these days.

  • Traditional calypso drum pattern.
  •  The 1980s Soca pattern.
  •  The Shango rhythm.
  1. Lyrics are clever but not original

Lyrics have been seen to be the centrepiece of the calypso. However, like all good things, they have become cliche. The majority of well-written calypsos are based on the working class point of view on politics, world events. Calypsonians these days take the topic and use everyday objects as a metaphor to frame the argument. To get what I am talking about, take the Chalkdust song Chauffeur Wanted, as he is a leading practitioner of this type of calypso.

 

The same can be said of Red Plastic Bag, a noted admirer of Chalky.

Endings

Ok, Stefan, you have identified the cliche but how do you code all of this?

By laying out the rules, of course! Check these basic functions.

  1. Use major scale
  2. A tempo of 93 BPM
  3. Use 1980s Soca beat
  4. Use melodies in verse lasting for four beats with a range, maximum 6th.
  5. Have horns play for two beats in response to verse melody.
  6. For lyrics – get a local event from the front page, get a metaphor, rhyme it using AABB lasting for 32 bars in duple time, use ballad form of three verses.
  7. Band chorus between verses.

Boom! Calypso!

10 Rum Songs I like – For Carnivals and Beyond – English

Caribbean festivals (including Crop Over)  are propelled by spirits with the biggest fuel being rum.

Over the years many artists have dedicated songs to this deity. Here are 10 of the best:

10.

Chutney Soca is possibly the rum genre of the Caribbean. This one by Ravi B from 2010 also manages to include the marriage scenario, another common theme.  One of my favourite songs period.

9.

Contone was a part-time singer and full-time car washer from Barbados. Through the years he has scored some massive hits at Crop Over with his rum lyrics.  This Bashment Soca number, “I Like Drinking Rum,” is fairly direct. You also get a two for one in this video as he throws in, “Fire in the Hole” (Live I may add).

8.

The first of our Christmas rum songs is sung by Barbadian DaCosta Allamby speaking of how important it is to consume rum in large quantities.  *Warning, drinking a gallon of rum is never advised.

7.

Lord Kitchener, another artist from the Trinidad carnival canon, is not to be left out.  This one is another Christmas song and rum classic. The name speaks for itself.

6.

This song from 2014 comes from the biggest soca artist from St. Lucia, Ricky “One to Dem” T. As it is new, it does not have the legacy of the others on this list. However, this is still a ‘big tune’ from the Helen of the West.

5.

The Mighty Sparrow is one of the most prolific artists in Calypso and Soca.  This one is a favourite among the mature crowd throughout the English-speaking Caribbean and speaks to being drunk and disorderly. It won the Road March in 1972, showing that unruly behaviour fuelled by alcohol has always been part of carnival.

4.

USVI Soca has one of the most fascinating soca sub-genre scenes. This riddim is just called Rum and Rave. 

3.

To back up my point about Chutney’s relationship with rum, here is another one by Adesh Samaroo where he confirms his “undying” relationship with it.

2.

Gorg is known as the drinks boss in Barbados and this song from 2014 is but one in his catalogue. Borrowing from the Chutney approach, Gorg uses the rum-troubled-relationship theme.

1.

Machel Montano is another massively popular Trinidadian artist. Here is Bottle of Rum, a soca song off the hugely successful 3Zero riddim from 2012. Love and/of rum are again the themes.

Can you add any more?

* Stefan Walcott does not condone mass consumption of spirits of any kind. This post was not sponsored by any beverage retailer, the Holy Spirit or any other related product (although a donation would now be welcomed…;)

Plates…not the ones you eat With

There has been some debate on the use of plates or riddims within Soca.

For those who do not know, plates/riddims are instrumental tracks.

The unique thing with plates/riddims is that unlike other types of popular music, the same instrumental track can be used by multiple artists to create different songs.

The innovators of plates were the producers in downtown Kingston.  One of the most famous uses of these plates/riddims is with the Sleng Teng riddim, a dancehall staple.

As all the songs have the same instrumental backing, as in the Sleng Teng Riddim, Djs generally find them easier to mix (to transition from one song to the next). Kingstonian sound system operators, who were also record producers, realised this early on and they all made the recording of plates a priority within their work.

The penetration of Jamaican music into the rest of the Caribbean as well as the rise of the DJ within Soca made the introduction of the riddim concept inevitable. However, this practice is more frowned upon in Soca than in Jamaica because:

  1. It was not part of the tradition. Calypso and its offshoot Soca always prided itself on the original single recording. From the days of Lion to David Rudder.
  2. The use of plates is seen as the conquest of Jamaican culture, a sensitive topic with the rest of the Caribbean.
  3. Plates mean the DJs have won.

My personal view on riddims is a realistic one; they are here as a result of the modern carnival scene. Will they be around forever? Nothing lasts forever but possibly a while to come as the economy and value for producer buck make them attractive.

Are they any worse than what went before? I never try to judge that way cause the older I get, the better my youth music used to be, but what I can tell you is that

  1. some rhythms I like, others I don’t. And
  2. all songs on the same riddim, I do not like equally.

The last point shows that even within the same instrumental, there is still much divergence. Here are two songs I love on the same riddim.

So until global popularity switches from the DJ, look out for them for a while longer.