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

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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?

Top 10 Edwin Yearwood Songs

Edwin Yearwood emerged to real popularity in the mid 1990s with his band Krosfyah. Since then, he has produced some of the biggest popular music hits in Barbados. He simply rocks, here is his Top 10.

 

10. Sak Pase

Done with co-lead singer Khiomal of Krosfyah, this duet uses “hello Haitian style” as its hook. It actually uses a blues form as well which is rather different (along with copious cowbell which is not very different). The Sak Pase dance was also huge and when this song is played in Barbados it is mandatory.

 

9.  Obadele

Edwin Yearwood won the Pic-O-De-Crop competition which is primarily a calypso competition using this up-tempo soca number. It was also on his seminal album with Krosfyah, Ultimate Party/Pump Me Up, which was a massive seller for the genre. Due to its significance it gets a place here.

 

8.

Krosfyah Massive

Krosfyah Massive is from the same period as Obadele and for me it marked the first time I heard the group doing their own material. This turned out to be Edwin’s first hit of many.

 

7.

Nah Missing Me

Edwin Yearwood is one of the major innovators of the sub-genre Ragga/Groovy/Sweet soca. This song was released years after the genre came into popular existence and typifies Edwin’s style with call and response and short motifs.

 

6.

Wet Me

This song was one which came after Pump Me Up in the early days of Ragga/Groovy/Sweet soca. It is still popular throughout the region despite being nearly 20 years old.

 

5.  Down the Road

Edwin Yearwood won the Barbadian Party Monarch competition with this song. This one is the other spectrum of his material and is a typical Brancker fast soca of the late 1990’s. Once again it typifies his strong call and repsonse style chorus and verse. 

 

4.  In the Middle of the Road

The Road March song is the most popular song played by bands at the climax of Carnival. Edwin won several in the mid-noughties all speaking about roads. This song shows a departure from his late 1990s work as he basically sings over a rhythm track. 

3. Sweatin

This is another Ragga/Groovy/Sweet soca. Call and response is heavily used again with the trademark Brancker style.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2twusbdPG8

2. Yardie

Yardie was released for the 1990s Congaline festival. This song is one of the biggest nostalgia party songs for the over 30s and it still rocks a fete to this day. It also spawned a Yardie Graduate 10 years later which though cool, could not make this list.

1. Pump Me Up

This song is possibly Edwin’s biggest. It spawned a new vocal approach to singing soca and ushered in the Ragga/Groovy/Sweet soca genre.

 A massive song!

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTL-2o8Mzjo

 

Genre is more than Rhythm even in a Rhythm Genre

Due to the fact there is so little literature on Caribbean music (I have contributed however with my book, Caribbean Composers’ Handbook, shameless plug) and it is not taught with the biblical authority as with some other subjects within our school system, there is always debate as to what makes up a Caribbean genre.

This post cannot detail how genre works in the ENTIRE Caribbean, that would be 3 books and a thesis, however, what it can do, and is going to do, is show that a song does not belong to a Caribbean genre because of its music alone.*   To prove this, here is a YouTube collection of some songs, which while having certain “Caribbean” rhythms, are certainly not seen to be part of any Caribbean genre.

Exhibit one,  Artic Monkeys, “Do Me A Favour”

From a brief first listen, one could hear the distinct rhythmic pattern pictured below (taken from my book Caribbean Composers’ Handbook).  This pattern is of course common within the Classic Soca Sound. However, I don’t, and not many others would consider “Do Me a Favour” a Soca song.

soca drums

The same can also be said of the next song by Heather Myles which I don’t think was released for any Carnival.

Then of course there is the South Mediterranean and North African traditions, which use the main Classic Soca sound drum beat. Take a listen to traditional ballos from Greece.

 

Here also is Sam Bass from the Alan Lomax Collection doing a song that is certainly not from Trenchtown, although it has a reggae strum.

 It is clear from these examples that music is not the only thing which defines a genre. So whenever you hear someone saying, “Listen to this, you heard this record of an American playing reggae?” remember that it is not only the music that makes a song fall into a genre but a whole bunch of other stuff too.

* check Fabian Holt’s, “Genre in Popular Music” or any discussion on this subject by David Brackett for greater understanding (Questions of genre in Black Popular Music).

Caribbean Underground II – TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO

The Caribbean is a cosmopolitan space.

The music known both internally and externally is generally based on indigenous rhythms. However, there are some artists who do not utilise indigenous approaches.

These artists are usually part of the Underground…

So let me present the Caribbean Underground scenes II, Trinidad and Tobago.

 

1. Here is to my view, one of the best rock bands ever to come from the English-speaking Caribbean, the phenomenal Orange Sky.

Here is their ReverbNation page.

 

2. Rap is global. Immigrant Caribbean youths were at the forefront of the early Hip-Hop movement and here is a group, H.T., which pays more than just a tribute to the urban style.

 

3. Trinidadian Brent Anthony, a R &B singer who brings the falsetto and the beats – check him out.

 

4. To end, here is Brent’s family doing some explicit R&B. Make sure the kids are not around.

If you know of anymore underground groups hit me up here!

 

 

 

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 😉