School + Caribbean Culture

Every two years I teach Caribbean Music and Culture to students from the University of Delaware.

These sessions are a mixture of theory and practice. And when I say practice I mean practice.

Check this Bajan Dancehall session below led by the amazing Shameka Walters.

 

Isn’t this great?

This to me this is the gift of all Afro musics, the lived community!

Big shout out to Juanita Clarke on drums who also made this session happen.

 

 

What is the difference between Soca and Calypso anyway? Check these 5…

It is carnival season in the Catholic Caribbean.

And in the English-speaking areas,

the music of choice will be soca.

It wasn’t always this way

40 years ago it was all calypso.

In fact, many today still tend to refer to all singers at carnival time as calypsonians whether they do calypso or soca. But the difference between the two genres could not be more distinct.

And just to help out those that are still confused, here are the differences between soca and calypso.

1. Lyrics-no-lyrics

Soca music has and always will be a party music. As a result, it keeps the beats heavy and the words light. Calypso, on the other hand, is the old guy who use to party but spends his time philosophizing about life.

If it says “Jump, wine , wave,bacchanal, carnival, jump” it is Soca.

If it says “existential threats to the diaspora need a panacea,” then chances are you are listening to a calypso. See Chalkdust singing a calypso below.

 

2. Hook line and sinker

If you missed the hook you definitely do not have a soca stream on. Soca repeats itself.

Even though there is repetition in calypso, it does not even come close to soca’s jump and wave stammering. Hear this classic repetition by Barbadian soca star Blood.

 

3. Brass less – drum machine more

Calypso songs generally have different instrumentation to soca, especially post 90s soca. Calypso songs are generally more organic (although not all the time) and usually feature a brass section of some type.

Here is calypso plus brass plus Singing Sandra.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-ZH27vGntg
Soca, on the other hand, is minimalist (not many instruments) with the drum machine, and laptops running Ableton, prominent. They also tend to be more synthesized.

Take “Advantage” of what I mean below ;).

4.  Tempo

Since the 90s, soca has been in two different time zones, mid-tempo and break-your-neck speed. An example of break-your-neck speed is Advantage above.

Calypsos NEVER EVER REACH these tempos.

So if you hear a song over 150 b.p.m. then it is CERTAINLY a SOCA song. Anything under 130 b.p.m, then it at least has a chance of being a calypso.

(Then you have to go from #1-3 to see if it actually is of course.)

5. Beats (Check out my book Caribbean Composers Handbook on Amazon for more)

Soca uses a number of beats and these have changed over the years. However, if you hear the following beats then you are dealing with a soca song.

soca drums

soca-beat-1

Calypso is more than comfortable to maintain the beat like the one below and it has done so for many a year.

calypso

So wherever you are from,  enjoy the carnival in the Catholic Caribbean but whatever you do, don’t call the soca a calypso.

Downtown Kingston – 4 Not So-Straightforward Global Influences

Downtown Kingston has to be the most influential piece of musical real estate in the world.

Please note I said Kingston and not Jamaica because the majority of music which exploded globally came from inner city Kingston and not the country at large. In fact, all Jamaican music you can think of, with the possible exception of mento, has its roots firmly planted Downtown.

The impact of their artists, Rastafarianism and weed use are well-known. However, I want to look at other things.

So here are 4 not so-straightforward ways Downtown Kingston has influenced the world.

1. Showing Communities you can do it too – Reggae en Español

Many dancehall and dub producers were NEVER professionally trained and  by demonstrating that technical expertise does not limit expression, Kingstonians opened the door for all with tape recorders to immortalize themselves and their neighbourhoods.

Here is a typical lo-fi example:

Reggae en Espanol from Panama*.

 

2. Giving people not considered singers chances to perform.

Kingston’s music gave those without access to music education a chance to participate by opening up the aesthetics of music. By using devices such as speech rhythm, it allowed many people to perform who might have never had the chance to because they thought they couldn’t sing.

Here is Rankin Taxi from Japan who clearly shows what I am talking about.

 

3. You could look like anything once you are unique

Reggae and dancehall have all types performing within it. Unlike other popular music, you don’t have to have a look, you just need a UNIQUE voice. To show you what I mean take a look at some big Kingston stars below.

King Stitt
King Stitt
Yellowman 2
Yellowman

 

4. Soundsystem

The biggest piece of technology that Kingston has given to the world is the soundsystem. This record player hooked up to speakers created a sense of belonging for so many neighbourhoods across the world and created billions. Here is an example of one in the Philippines which obviously took the soundsystem culture and ran with it.

 

The 4 influences here show how much of a sledgehammer Downtown Kingston music has been on world culture.

Thank you Kingston

Can you think of anymore?

  • *The influence of Jamaican genres has been particularly strong  in areas with similar ethnic or economic circumstances to Downtown Kingston. So far example in the barrios of Panama, where there are large Afro communities, reggae music has a strong following. See the story of reggae-en-espanol.

Looking Back at Bajan Party Past

Frequently in popular culture yesterday becomes the forgotten man.

Here is a video clip from Bajan pop culture past as calypsonian and I guess Soca singer, Bumba, destroys the party.

Seeing this now it is hard to imagine that guys actually played Soca without Mac Book pros and drum machines

but THEY SURE DID

It is also hard to imagine a Soca song such as this causing such HYPE

but IT SURE DID….

Congaline 94!

A throwback if there ever was one!

#RIPpartyinglikethis.

Workshops and Stefan Walcott

I love doing workshops.

Here I am at Edna Manley College in Jamaica speaking to how Dancehall music can be used as melodic and harmonic material for Jazz large ensemble.

The case study here is Summertime, the Vybz Kartel composition mixed with the more well known Gershwin one. The students are using the fused melody to go through various Caribbean styles as well.

Enjoy

Top 10 Jamaican Dancehall Voices of All Time

Jamaican Dancehall music has always maintained the Afro-Diasporic aesthetic of having a distinctive voice.  This voice does not merely relate to content but the sound of the voice. 

Here is a Top 10 of the most distinctive voices in Jamaican Dancehall.

JAMAICAN FLAG

10.  Tiger

Tiger was one of the mid 80s Dancehall dons. Tiger’s unique self call-and-response, where he goes between a broad pronunciations and a deeper clipped tone, is not only humorous but terribly unique.  He also possesses one of the most elaborate speaking/chanting styles you will ever hear on a stage. If that was not enough, he also uses his call phrase, “see!” copiously.

 

9.  Shabba Ranks

In the early 90s Shabba Ranks was possibly the biggest name in Jamaican Dancehall.  Shabba gained cross-over success with his Mr. Lover track which replaced the Dancehall reggae beat with a generic back beat.  However, I have chosen the seminal “Dem Bow” tune which started a whole genre to showcase his unique vocal. Shabba brings a deep baritone and an aggressive attack to his chanting. He also has surprisingly clear diction especially when compared to other Dancehall artists.

 

8. Vybz Kartel

From the modern brigade we have Vybz Kartel who has a school of Dancehall performers who implement his template of low chanting and contrasting higher pitches between sections. This style makes Vybz Kartel distinctive and a solid member of this list.

 

7.  Sizzla

Sizzla brought a distinctive lyrical voice to Dancehall in mid-90s. As a Rastafari from the Bobo Ashanti mansion, Sizzla set about inserting his ideology which at the time was largely relegated to Reggae. Sizzla also brought a new approach with a singing chant style that used double-time rhythm and falsetto singing. As time went on, Sizzla utilised more of the falsetto and remains one of the most recognizable voices in Dancehall.

 

6. Eek-a-Mouse

Eek-a-Mouse was one the early 80s Dancehall performers and a contemporary of the more famous Yellowman. With his nonsense syllables and a nasal voice, Eek-A-Mouse set himself apart in terms of sound.

 

5. Snagga Puss

Although not original in terms of sound, the idea of chanting like Snagga Puss the cartoon character, is a stroke of genius. With a speedy vibrato like the character and a quick rise and descent pitch at the end of each word, Snagga Puss scored some moderate Dancehall success in the late 80s and early 90s. Needless to say, his lyrical content was mostly far from serious.

 

4. Mavado

Here is another of the post 2000 Dancehall artist. Mavado and his call, “baby” are as well-known as his singing come chanting style. Unlike Sizzla, he does not use the falsetto, instead Mavado engages in what can only be described as a whine where he constantly slides into notes like if his fingers are caught in a door. His success shows this style pays off however.

 

3.  Lady Saw

In a space dominated by men, a female voice would of course stand out. Lady Saw is easily the premier female voice in Dancehall and has been for quite for a while.  She also is very rhythmically secure with an attack and ride of riddim that is as good as any.

 

2.  U Roy

In the earliest days of Dancehall this toaster was the man. With an elaborate speaking style that doesn’t always reflect a Jamaican accent, U Roy was a pioneer and is still distinctive some 40 years after his initial success.

 

1.  Tommy Lee

Tommy Lee is the youngest person on this list. Due to the fact he emerged so late in a genre of so many great and unique voices, he took it upon himself to be as extreme in terms of sound as is possible. From an extremely nasal voice, to a guttural sound and an elaborate style like Tiger, Lee does it all. The combination is  not to everyone’s taste, especially the older Dancehall heads. However, Lee has marked a space for himself and no one sounds like him.

 

Remember, can’t include all!! Who are some of yours?