The Battle of Bronze Nelson

The statue of Lord Nelson is about to be removed from its prominent position in the centre of Bridgetown.

The debate which led to the removal has been fierce with the Nelsonexiters, those that wanted him gone for years, the Remainers, those that don’t want to see him budge and the Penny-savers, those who think that the money to remove him could be spent elsewhere, all arguing and venting on social and traditional media. 

So before the bronze man disappears into the museum, I want to try to make sense of what has been going on in simple language to show that the Battle of Bronze Nelson can tell us a lot about meaning and how it works in modern Caribbean societies.

  1. Symbols do matter to people, just ask the Egyptians.

Despite what the Penny-Savers think, symbols matter to many Barbadians, because Bronze Nelson HAS mattered.

If we were to look at all human communities throughout history, we will see that symbols have always counted. Every community has objects that serve no functional purpose towards the survival of members of those communities.  The Egyptians built pyramids when they could have used holes in the ground. 

 

nations have flags when bar-codes would be cheaper; all modern states put up statues that they cannot eat and have to clean.

Ridiculous you say — then why?

The short answer is because we humans think in signs, and it is the MEANING we get from these symbols that makes us act together.

Every communist regime understands this just ask North Koreans how many statues of the Kims are erected or how their country does a military parade.

A government even makes sure its citizens use the same symbols, they are called letters. This is because letters, like statues, are symbols they STAND in for things and are essential for communication.

In short, whether it be a statue or an alphabet.

Symbols are not just important, they are ESSENTIAL to human life!

  1. What society thinks of a symbol CHANGES over time!

One argument the Remainers put forward in keeping the Bronze Nelson goes like this,

“You take down Nelson, what’s next? You remove Sir Gary from Kensington you stop teaching British history, where does it stop?”

The answer to that question is no one knows and frankly unless you plan to live to 1000 years old, you shouldn’t care. 

For the Nelsonexiteers of 2020 Bronze Nelson was no longer ACCEPTABLE as a public symbol. 

The same thing will happen to other symbols we now consider sacred. 

For example, there is no white or brown in the broken trident. 

However, as the Asian descended population continues to grow and inevitably become more publicly engaged, they might see this as an issue and demand removal of the BLACK broken trident from the national flag.

If something like this happens it will not be the first time.

One only need to look at post-war Germany to see the mass removal of symbols by the following generation as the symbols of the previous Nazi regime become unacceptable.  

In short,

Nothing last forever, statues included.

In summary

The Battle of Bronze Nelson is ultimately a battle of meaning. And at this moment in Barbadian history, he represents an oppressive form of colonialisation which is not acceptable.

Who knows, he may return as racial politics changes and who controls those meanings changes.

But for now, he is on history’s page and in the Barbados Museum.

 

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.

Handel’s Caribbean Messiah #global

I am very proud to announce that Handel’s Caribbean Messiah has been selected for the Handel-Festspiele in Halle Germany for 2021.

The Handel-Festspiele is an annual festival celebrating Handel’s music in his birthplace by local German and international acts.
I am incredibly moved by this selection as we were chosen based on my re-imagining, orchestrations and in some cases compositions, with the performances executed by a 100% Barbadian cast.

The fact that this was done by a panel of Handel experts makes the achievement even more rewarding. Also, the fact that the negotiations began through my completion of the Caribbean Export process, which involved some sacrifice, made me more reassured in my music business decisions.

 

2019 HCM Messiah Poster


Handel’s Caribbean Messiah is one of the only locally created indigenous works that brings the strands of Caribbean culture together and even though we might not make the last financial hurdle to reach Halle, the fact that it has been looked at as having international quality by unbiased experts shows how we should rely on our own confidence as Caribbean cultural practitioners in what we do.
I encourage all who are in Barbados this week, December 20-22nd, to come out to the Frank Collymore Hall and see this production that will soon be leaving these shores by the 100% Bajan ORIGINAL cast.
Thanks to my team who supported the dream and to Fran Wickham and Ronald Grant whose support allowed for the first staging of the production in 2017. Also to Carol Roberts who was enthusiastic about it when it was only an idea and suggested the use of a Bajan nation language narrator who is now Jabari Prince Browne.

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.

Viral

I saw this video below today.

And it has gone viral.

For those who don’t know, going viral is when a lot of people watch your content, and in his case some quarter of a million shares on Facebook alone.

The fact that this video had so many views will obviously offend some artists. All the techie videos on YouTube will tell you that this track is poorly produced, not mastered, has poor editing and isn’t even in time.

But you know what, and this is what I want whoever reads here to leave with:

GOING VIRAL HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH QUALITY!

Going viral has everything to do with DIFFERENT. BEING WAY DIFFERENT! (or having millions of dollars)

For example, a cat eating a mouse will not go viral. However, a cat eating a Mouseketeer might. Similarly, a plus-sized black female singer belting Amazing Grace with all the vocal tradition that is impeccably recorded will not go viral, however, a poorly recorded Chinese child in a village singing, in the same manner, WILL definitely be shared on millions of pages.

So artists, unless you are truly willing to be odd-ball or you embody the tradition of another culture, you can give up your dreams of being shared and liked and trolled.

Just keep focussed and remember with each post what you are hoping to achieve, if it is just to let others know you still exist or to get a specific gig, then that is cool. In fact, on a personal level, I prefer just one like than to have a production like “Take you to the movies”

It is so catchy though!!! Maybe I should re-think that.

Below is a cat viral video compilation that has more views than any of my work combined x 10.

 

 

JAB to the JAB

Jab Jab is a certified sub-genre of modern Soca

The Jab character is a staple of J’ouvert carnival celebrations and looks like the guy below.

jab2.jpg

The music itself is characterised by melodies with small ranges usually in minor with little harmonic movement. Check a Jab classic by the Grenadan boss Tall Pree below which explains the whole thing.

When it comes to Jab Jab tunes, the certified capital of the world is Grenada. and no one does Jab Jab like them.

So here are some of my favourite Jab Jab tunes from Grenada carnival 2017.  ENJOY!

 

 

 

 

Crop Over 2017 – The Lazarus 5

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.

  1. 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?

Special mention.

Here is my group’s offering featuring the super talented Jabari Browne.  We didn’t compete with this but keep checking it anyway.