Last month I contributed to an article written by Sharine Taylor from Noisey.
Here is the link.
Last month I contributed to an article written by Sharine Taylor from Noisey.
Here is the link.
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.
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.
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.
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 ;).
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.
Calypso is more than comfortable to maintain the beat like the one below and it has done so for many a year.
So wherever you are from, enjoy the carnival in the Catholic Caribbean but whatever you do, don’t call the soca a calypso.
A week and a half ago a friend of mine asked me to help him explain the difference between Spouge and Ska.
For those unfamiliar with these Caribbean music genres let me help.
Spouge is an indigenous genre of Barbados which came to regional popularity at the end of the 1960s. For a brief synopsis check my video below:
Ska on the other hand is a far more famous genre which came out of Jamaica in the early 1960s. It achieved much more global popularity than Spouge and is seen as the direct forefather to Reggae.
So are there any differences?
The answer is yes! And these are heard clearly in the rhythm.
Caribbean rhythms have been largely shaped by Sub-Saharan-West African approaches.
In Western Africa, much of their traditional music is based around complex rhythmic concepts, see below.
What keeps it all together is the key rhythm, or what is referred to in Cuba as the clave.
This CLAVE idea is found in all genres which have been influenced by West Africa.
In Ska, their clave or important rhythm came out of the shifting of the accent in Jazz guitar comping (accompaniment) to the ‘and’ or off-beat from the down-beat.
So in Jazz it sounded like below (listen closely to the guitar from 50s):
But it changed to this (watch from 24s)
Visually it looks like this,
Next to ackee and saltfish, Rastafarianism and Usain Bolt’s feet, the off-beat strum has been Jamaica’s biggest contribution to world culture because from that one idea came a whole host of genres including Reagge.
Spouge on the other hand has a different clave or important rhythm all-together.
In Spouge, especially that of the Draytons Two, the clave looks like below.
And is played like this.
Spouge takes no prisoners when it comes to this clave either as this rhythm is sometimes played loudly on the cowbell and on the drums as well (as was the case with Six and Seven Books of Moses above).
Because the clave is the most important rhythm in a song, all the other rhythms that go with it NEED to compliment it. This means that the rhythms from the:
All phrase and accent with this CLAVE rhythm.
This means that the surrounding rhythms in Ska and in Spouge are very different!
So in short the difference between Ska and Spouge is RHYTHM and in rhythm genres, you can’t get a much bigger difference than that.
Hope that helps!
* For more explanation on clave check out my Slideshare.
Today, I was tagged on Facebook to give my opinion on whether the following song is a Soca song.
Now genre, as I have discussed here before, all depends on perspective and there are arguments FOR this as a SOCA song and others equally compelling AGAINST it.
So without more “long talk,” here they are:
1. The song has been released for Carnival
By placing “Wine Up”in the context of a Trinidadian carnival means that it has instantly been placed in the lineage of Carnival music of which Soca is a big part. Song released for Carnival? It must be a Soca song.
2. It uses the beat
The beat underlying “Wine Up”, which I detailed in another blog but it is worth repeating as it is found in my Composers’ Handbook on Amazon ;), is a one of the main rhythms in Soca. It was not around from the beginning but has been there since the mega-hit “Hot, Hot, Hot” by Arrow.
3. It uses the chords
Music is made up of a number of fundamentals and one of them is harmony, or the chords of a song. This song, without getting too complex, uses the ones commonly found in Soca *
2015-2017 has ushered a new stage in American/United States popular music called Tropical House. I will not try to break down what it is in detail but basically, it utilizes the sounds of house (keyboard tones/drum beats etc.) and adds Caribbean rhythms. The most famous prototype of this and prototype is what it is about when it comes to genre, is Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.”
It is clear therefore that Kes is leaning on this in his song as opposed to other Soca songs.
2. Kes does not sing in a Trinidadian accent.
While Kes is Trinidadian, his accent went through the door in this song. Trinidadian phonology is a massive part of Soca songs. It allows Carnival to rhyme with festival when in other English dialects that doesn’t happen. So a Soca song without a Trinidadian accent doesn’t sound much like Soca.
3. Kes does not use much Soca melodic syncopation.
This one is a really a musical point. But in short, Soca is descended from Calypso which uses the following rhythm plenty in its melodic line.Take my word for it, as there is little scholarly research anyway, the reason why Calypso and Soca melodies sound the way they do, is due in large part to the use of this particular rhythm.
Kes doesn’t use this one much at all!
“Wine Up” is quite a bit slower than even the slowest Ragga Soca/Sweet Soca song (which is the slower of the sub-genres on the Soca spectrum). For a comparison, “Pump Me Up”, which is the grandaddy of this form, is about 110 b.p.m. while “Wine Up” is around 90 b.p.m. Since “Pump Me Up in 1995,” Ragga/Sweet Socas have continued to increase in tempo. This makes Kes’ 2017 “Wine Up” sound even less like Soca.
5. Kes does not sing about Carnival
While tribute to women is a tried and tested Carnival theme, “Wine Up’s” has a distinct lack of Carnival referencing. Words such as the Savannah, bacchanal and even the word carnival itself are marked absent.
These missing traditional Soca words really place this song outside of the norm.
To end, genre is much more than the music. Genre is a complex thing. So I hope I have presented both sides of the argument in Kes’ “Wine Up” that shows when it comes to genre,
no side is wrong or no side is right.
“Wine Up” Soca or Soca Impostor? The answer is:
*Many other genres use those chords but so too does Soca.
Since 2005, and the explosion of Rihanna, Barbados has had its fair share of showcases.
Since the economic slowdown these have thankfully slowed down but they still do occasionally turn up with talking heads with American accents saying the same thing.
As I have been to a few of these and done a fair bit of reading on the American industry scene, I consider it my civic duty to tell you why these showcases make no sense and will make no difference to your career unless you require 1 hr of free air conditioning.
It is hoped that those that read this save themselves the trouble, including the suits with the government checkbooks.
So check this list as to why these Showminars make no sense.
They are not going to sign you.
Listen up artist, some might say this directly but they are not going to sign you. So ladies save your short skirts and designer hair for another occasion,
the guys that come here seldom have the power to sign unilaterally.
In fact, they are not going to take a risk on an unknown artist with no following from a tiny island, Rihanna is there already, see # 2.
Rihanna is there already
There is no next Rihanna, she is there already. The industry has changed so much in 12 years and they certainly do not need another unknown Caribbeanish artist who does hip-hopish, rapish, EDMish, and whatever ish Rihanna cares to dabble with. They certainly do not want to take that risk and expense, especially given the corporitization of the American music industry complex.
You know what they will say already.
They are going to tell you build a fan base and they are NOT going to help you do it!
By the way, this is a favourite workshop topic so let me break down what they will/wouldn’t say and then what you should do.
(a) What they will say –
Go online! Post, tag, share then post agian. Do it like Justin Beiber and this indie group or that indie group on YouTube/Vimeo/Mashable and hashtags.
What they didn’t tell you –
(b) Content creation is expensive and time consuming. No rich uncle? Forget it.
What you should do – Read this Kindle book instead.
They are not going to network with you. GET LOST!
These ‘execs’ do not want to hear from you. They do not want to hear from your manager either. They already have their artist stable and are currently hustling any which way to survive in the new music territory they are now in. So guys, they definitely do not want another email clogging up their inbox or another CD or poster to recycle. You are merely networking with their spam folder.
You are not going to get the acclaim for the next Rihanna (governments only).
These execs are not going to sign anyone, see #1. Therefore, in your report to the boss government official, while you may highlight the promise the exec said local artists have, that is all you will be able to write.
And if by pig flight they did sign an artist, that artist will be relocated with the maximum benefit going to L.A or New York.
So that my friends is the 5 point list as to why the exec showcase seminar or Showminats make no sense.
The only worthy showcses are those with a direct objective, that is those which are looking for talent for specific events/shows etc. So a NACA and cruise ship audition make far more sense for everyone than sitting with a guitar and an uncomfortable musician playing a cajon in front of A & R from Atalanta/MotownWhatever records.
You are welcome
Caribbean Music Man
* NACA is the National Association of College Activities
Like most artists living in tiny countries I do many things within my discipline.
To do that I need help
So here are 10 pieces of technology/websites that I cannot live without.
I came across this website as I was doing my PhD and scouring the web for articles. After singing up for 1 article, something that I thought I would regret, I realized that this site had so MUCH more to offer than just obscure academic material. Referred to as the YouTube for text, this site has music arranging books, songbooks and more importantly, transcriptions of some very difficult songs.
When I first joined it had copyrighted material.(Illegally of course) However, like YouTube, the publishers caught up with Scribd. It remains a great resource nonetheless.
I teach popular music courses part-time at the tertiary level. The Allmusic guide is the stop I make when I am trying to work out the new artists my students are talking about. It is also a good place to fact-check some of the music of the greats.
Even though it is the most quoted website for lazy students, Wikipedia is still a good place to start when trying to learn anything. It has enough starter-up information, and in some cases quite a lot more for you to grasp any concept.
I do many things including running a rather ambitious music youth development group called the 1688 Collective. To keep my life in order, I use Evernote. This app goes across every imaginable OS and its ease of use means that I keep not only reminders, but pdfs and pictures for all the necessary activities.
5. Music Registry (Google +)
Google +, despite parent company Alphabet’s best efforts, continues to be left in the distance by Instagram and Facebook. However, on Google + I follow a fantastic blog called Music Registry. This blog posts all the latest developments within the recording industry as well as really good interviews. I don’t know how they pay themselves as the pluses never really seem to be overwhelming, but this blog is definitely one of the best.
6. WhatsApp for PC
On a tour last year one of my band mates showed me this feature of the ever popular WhatsApp. Since then I cannot describe how grateful I am to him. This feature which mirrors the mobile messaging service, has postponed my carpel tunnel syndrome.
I came up in the early days of computers with highly unstable drives and even more unstable floppy disks and I mean the 5 and 1/4 inch variety. Cloud storage for me was a dream come true where devices could be synched and you could still have your info even if your hard drive got in a fight with the motherboard. Dropbox is one of the easiest to use and is compatible with multiple apps. I store all the music from my ensemble 1688 Collective on here which puts my mind as ease.
Even though it is quickly becoming the granddaddy of the social networks, most people where I live, LIVE on Facebook. It is also the space where I communicate not only what is going on professionally with my life, but also with the over 50 plus members of 1688 Collective. Without Facebook I do not want to think about the amount of messages and calls I would have had to have made to get even one rehearsal off the ground.
9. Microsoft Office Suite
If Facebook is a grandfather, then Microsoft Office Suite is an Egyptian Pharaoh. The most dominant set of programs when it comes to productivity for PC. I obviously spend a lot of time here.
Finale is the first scoring program I learnt. As I do a lot of arranging and composition it is perhaps one of my most used programs. Frequently frustrating but indispensable, I call it my troubled partner.
*no ranking order.
*special mention to YouTube and Google Chrome.
I am working on a documentary on the Bajan duo Contone and Pong along with the team from 13 Degrees North and Stuart Hall. For those who are wondering why, it is because this year marks 10 years since Contone’s mega-hit My Car Brek Down and we want to show what happened after.
Look out for a realease late in the year.
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….
A throwback if there ever was one!
Crop Over, Barbados’ major festival, has not been a place of musical surprises for some time now.
However, 2016 has produced a big one for me in the complete re-definition of the Bashment Soca genre.
In a previous blog post, I identified the common use of the term in Barbadian music circles and gave musical examples for the uninitiated. For those who missed it the link is below.
Here also is soca artist Gorg speaking on Bashment Soca back in 2011.
The conversation is about the song below.
From the interview, we can hear Gorg reference Bashment throughout as this was the common term used to talk about the variant of Soca heard above.
However, this is not so anymore.
This year, a Bashment Soca competition has started which has music not sounding like the above, but as below.
The examples above I considered to be Bajan Dub, a genre that I posted about with a Top 10.
Bajan Dub has its routes/roots planted in the early 80s and had a resurgence post 2010. But this year it seems that is ALL now BASHMENT SOCA!
What the Bashment Soca/Bajan Dub has shown therefore is that genre is a very FLUID thing. Despite what many think, one cannot proclaim a genre and expect it to stay the same. It also shows that the creation of a genre comes from different places including sponsors!!! So despite what I say here, the fact that a lucrative competition has come about means that those that said Bajan Dub before will definitely be singing Bashment Soca now.
So to answer the title:
Question: Just so Bajan Dub become Bashment Soca???!!!!