On 1688 Orchestra and Collective!

A big part of what I do is lead the 1688 Collective.

The collective is a musical ensemble based in the Caribbean that is dedicated to keeping music#aLive in Barbados and throughout the English-speaking Caribbean.

Check the video below as I speak to how the group works and what I do in it.

Enjoy!

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!

 

 

 

Caribbean Underground I – GRENADA

The Caribbean is a cosmopolitan space.

The music known both internally and externally from it is generally based on indigenous rhythms.

However, there are some artists who do not use local sounds.

These artists are usually part of the Underground…

So let me present the Caribbean Underground scenes I, GRENADA

 

1. Here is a charming little group called Sabrina and the Navigators who have digested the current popular style – check the “indie/jazz” voice. The quality of the recording and the video are quite good as well.

 

Here is their Facebook link.

https://www.facebook.com/sabrinaandthenavigators

 

2. Here are some gospel guys, called Soul Deep, who are bringing an American style with a hint of Jamaica.

 

Their link:

https://www.facebook.com/SoulDeepGnd

 

3. Finally on my Grenada underground list is Tammy Baldeo, who too has internalised what is up and current. Enjoy.

 

 

Her Google link:

https://plus.google.com/102205452253370730781/posts

 

So guys, that has been a quick look at the Underground in Grenada. Special thanks to my researcher and former student, Renee Plenty who hit me up with these links. Feel free to send me some links of other Grenadian Underground artists.

 

Be sure also to look out for II, Trinidad and Tobago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musicians Listen Differently…End of story…(sort of)

Musicians generally have certain types of ears.

Stefan Walcott taking a listen
Stefan Walcott taking a listen

It is pretty important to have those ears if you deal with sound all day.

Musicians, no matter the style, have all developed awareness towards the components which make up music – melody, harmony, rhythm and texture.

For example, dance/house/electronica musicians are what I call textual bosses, in that so  much of their work revolves around the ability to make sure the synthesized sounds are performing their assigned function.  Check this link below.

For Dancehall producers on the other hand, it is all about the rhythm. For them the groove needs to be right. See King Jammy below.

I can go on and on and include performing musicians as well because the ability to hear and decode/work out what the hell you are hearing on stage is equally important as in the studio setting.

Musicians therefore feel justified in thinking (by their years of discussion and reproduction of what they are hearing) that everyone should hear like them. After all, what is music education other than – this is music – listen to it this way. However, given the general lack of traditional music education in many places, musicians find themselves frustrated when people do not hear music the same way they do. Watch the following link which has done the pandemic viral rounds on the Web.

If you did not hear those four chords no problem. It just means that you listened to those songs completely differently to how I did.  However, Classical musicians, in whose company I do not include myself, must be saying, can’t they hear that?? Those are the same chords over and over damn it!  While jazz musicians (not the pop-smooth ones) are saying that second chord could have been a lot more tasty with some harmonic tension. In short, they are all listening to it with musician’s ears recognizing what they think is musically important and what is musically lacking.  But are they in fact justified? Should their (our) listening practices be more respected, appreciated or ‘righter’ than those of the ‘Average Listener’?

These are not easy questions to answer. What I do believe is that everyone has a musical opinion and what musicians do is provide different perspectives on that particular experience. I do not however subscribe to the idea that the musician’s way of listening should be the ONLY way a song should be listened to. Take this example from Gyptian.

When this song was released in 2006 it was extremely popular. However, musicians would identify some glaring mistakes in the second verse not to mention the horrible tuning of the instruments. But should this take away from the pleasure of the so-called ’Average Listener’ ? In my view, it should not and there are other factors like Gyptian’s approach and singing style that still make this a TUNE!!!

To end, the listening experience and who is ’right’ within it is not a topic with easy answers. To me this is the difference between the arts and sciences, all interpretations are valid one, even if musicians think otherwise. So don’t be ashamed when a musician gives you strange looks, we just listen differently! Just look here at  Harry Connick  Jnr. who is dumbfounded at the aural ignorance of Jennifer Lopez.

*There are several good discussions on this by Tagg and Middleton. Check them out.

Singing – Am I Really that Bad?

Singing, as most of my friends and family will say, is not a strong suit of mine.

Singing was also not an activity I was particularly interested in either.

However, as this blog generally poses questions to accepted norms, it is only fitting that I ask, am I really that bad a singer?

Actually, I think I am not a good singer but definitely not a bad one. Here is why.

To start us off here is a clip of me singing.

 

It is obvious that I am not a technically gifted and by that I mean I don’t have the natural ability where my voice apparatus, vocal muscles etc, creates sound that matches pitches. Of course this was no big deal before the modern recording age. In fact, many communities before modernity were communal and their music activity was centred around participation, think Amazonian or West African village life, so no matter your voice, you sang!

What modernity did though was create the professional singer. And the recording of the professional singer gave value to a certain kind of singing which in some ways eroded how people considered singers globally, this ultimately made singers like me…

 

BECOME BAD!

 

Listen to the following clips, first up is Wendy Moten then Beyonce.

 

 

 

These songs are damn fricking hard to sing.They also have a certain history and tradition behind them that many people globally were not a part of. So for example, if a Tuvan tried to sing these, he might not succeed, even though he might be an excellent throat singer.

In other words, Wendy Moten and Beyonce are not only PROFESSIONALl singers, they are also showing a CERTAIN TYPE of good singing based on the values of their music culture. It does not make the Tuvan a bad singer. If you are unsure what Tuvan throat singing is let us reverse this now and take a listen to some Tuvan throat singing.

Here is a clip from American Idol where this guy was dismissed.

 

The judges and audience thought he was crap but was he? They were just using the value system from their music culture which was totally inappropriate to judge Tuvan throat singing. If I used the Tuvan method, Beyonce and Wendy Moten were rubbish because they only produced one pitch, in fact where was the drone Queen Bee!!!???

In short, there are no universal values when it comes to singing. Singing is dependent like all value systems on who makes the rules. So if I someone calls you a bad singer, just ask them if they understand the discourse of power at work in aesthetics. If the look at you blankly, continue singing just like I will now…

 

* This post does not condone karaoke. Any suggestion that it does is just a coincidence. 🙂

Christmas Music in the Caribbean in 5 Genres

Christmas is an important event in the Caribbean.

Here are five musical genres that are/were rooted/routed to this time of year.

1. Tuk – Barbados

Tuk music is a fife and drum music. It is perhaps the only indigenous Afro-Barbadian genre to have survived colonialisation. At Christmas, Tuk groups would come through villages playing and drinking rum. Tuk music is hardly ever played at this time anymore and has moved into the realm of nationalist celebration.

 

2. Masquerade – Guyana

Masquerade is another fife and drum music with a strong musical similarity to Tuk.  Like Tuk, the playing of it at Christmas has waned.

 

3. Plena – Puerto Rico

Plena is the one of the major indigenous Puerto Rican musical forms. The music is seen to have been created by English-speaking Caribbean migrants in the 1800s. It is also one of my personal favourites when it comes to Caribbean genres.

 

4. Parang – Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad is one of the more cosmopolitan islands in the Caribbean. Parang shows the Hispanic cultural influence as it was traditionally sung in Spanish and uses instruments found in other folk cultures of the Hispanic Caribbean. There is a Soca-Parang variant that is popular but here it is in its traditional form.

 

 

5. Parranda – Venezuela

To end, here is a popular genre from Venezuela. Parranda sounds like a more rhythmically complicated version of parang and I am sure they come from the same root. Here is one of my favourite groups, Maracaibo 15.

 

So I hope you have enjoyed this brief Christmas blog.

All that I am left to do is wish you a

Merry Christmas!

Please enjoy it wherever you are.

Caribbean Music Man

 

 

10 Things You Probably Did/n’t Know About Wuk/ing Up – Wuk Up and Wukking Up

To join in with the overt nationalism this time of year in Barbados, here is a blog feature on what I consider the national dance,

the Wuk-Up.

1. Wuk-Up is a dance from Barbados with roots in Africa.

Wuk-Up  is said to have come to Barbados via Sub-saharan African where isolation of the limbs and movement of the hips are part of the dance tradition. Here is a traditional one from Africa and then a Wuk-Up video.

 

 

 

2. Only Bajans are said to Wuk-Up.

In Trinidad they wine, Barbados however is the Wuk-Up capital of the world.  The difference comes from the hip movement, see if you can spot the difference between a wine and a wuk-up.

 

 

3. Wuk-Up has evolved.

Like all things of nature, Wuk-Up too is Darwinian and as the music has evolved, so too has the Wuk-Up.  I believe, and you are hearing it here first, that there are 3 distinct periods * of Wuk-Up. These changes remember correspond to musical change.

1. Pre-Independence

2. Post Independence 1966-1994

3. 1995-present

 

4. Contemporary Wuk-Up varies.

While there is a general post-90s style Wuk-Up, it does vary between sub-genres. Bajan Dub/dancehall requires a different wuk than fast soca. So in the former you find jucks, stabs, bend-overs etc. and while these exist in latter, the difference in tempo means Wuk-Up variations are found.

 

 

 

5. Wuk-\Up music is in duple time.

The Wuk-Up occurs in a duple-metre environment. No one Wuk-Ups to 3/4 waltzes, or 7/4 experimental Soca pieces. The hips sub-divide the main pulse, either in half (Bajan dub, Soca <120 beats per minute),  or in quarters (Bajan dub, Soca <120 beats per minute) or with the pulse (soca>135 b.p.m).

 

6.  Men and women Wuk-Up

Wuk-Up in Barbados is not gender specific. It was not always this way but in the mid 1990s the Grass-Skirt possee popularised male wuking up making it even more socially acceptable.

 

 

7. The Wuk-Up has 3 variants.

These are:

  • female on female
  • female on male – most common
  • solo

Male on male wuking up is hardly ever seen in public spaces. This is because Barbados continues to be conservative when it comes to public displays of male homosexuality.

8. People touch when wuking up

As said,  wuking up can be done in pairs between males and females.  When this happens the male is behind the female similar to perreo in Reggaeton. Like perreo, there is physical contact thus making the Wuk-up different to other sexualised dances such as rhumba, tambu, bomba etc. where touching does not occur.

Here is Tambu from Curacao where there is no touching.

 

See Example 4b for Wuk-Up.

 

9. The female dictates when the dance is over in the male-female Wuk-Up.

In Barbados a female decides when your Wuk-Up is over. She does not have to tell you this but her gradual moving away means it is done. This is not meant as a “pursue me” courtship practice a la kangaroos; when she leaves it is over.

 

10.  The average Wuk-Up is between 10-20 seconds.

Unless the couple wuking up is romantically involved, the average Wuk-Up bewteen strangers is 10-20s (per one Wuk-Up round). This research was done totally unscientifically of course but I stand by it. If you are a male be sure to pay attention to this as well as #9 and if you are a female it is better not to linger beyond this time. *

So those are 10 things to note on the Bajan dance. Thanks for dropping by and Happy Independence weekend if you are in Barbados.

 

* – Check out my Slideshare on Wuk-Up Music.

Also please note the soon to be released work of Cultural Studies dance scholar John Hunte on the dance.

* A number 11 could have been, the church does not like the dance.

 

 

 

 

 

In the Classroom with New Soca Writers

At the Barbados Community College I teach Caribbean music. In class, in keeping with my creative-centric approach, which like the Americans I have give a name, creativincism, I try to get the students to write in the styles taught. Given the fact that Soca has become confined to such a limited  range of compositional choices, I provide my students with the necessary ones and see what they come up with. Of course this stuff is graded, how else would they participate?  First up are two groups composing in the style of Destra circa early 2000s. I call this Power Soca (which of course puts me in contradiction with others but I grade the papers right?).

Here is another one. By the way, Lennox seen here is not a Soca/Calypso practitioner by any stretch of the imagination.

 

In my view, even though the audio and video are quite rough, they manage to at least provide you with a good understanding of the style the students are working with. The same could also be said of the next two videos which are written in the Bashment Soca style.

 

I have chosen the last two guys, Kevin and David, because they are as far removed from this music in terms of what they do regularly as any two musicians could be. However, given the guidelines and the space, they too managed to create something that is cool.

To end, I think that creativity lies in many humans. It just shows that once given the boundaries within style and a bit of space, what can be accomplished. It also shows that Soca can have new writers, just that the closed nature of the Caribbean media limit this.
Anyway, let me end with Lennox, “your Rum is my Rum, and my Rum…”