What is the difference between Spouge and Ska?

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,

Guitar Srum Jazz Ed.jpg
Jazz Big Band Guitar Strum
ska-rhytmic-unit-edited
Ska Clave 

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.

spouge-main-beatedit

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:

  • Rhythm section instruments – bass, drums, organs, keyboards, guitars
  • Vocal melodies
  • Brass lines

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. 

http://www.slideshare.net/stefanwalcott

 

 

 

 

Kes Wine Up, Soca or Soca Impostor?

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:

FOR

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. soca drums

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 *

AGAINST

  1. The influence is Tropical House

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.Cinquillo.gifTake 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!

4. Tempo

“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.

CLOSING

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.

Therefore,

“Wine Up”  Soca or Soca Impostor? The answer is:

BOTH!

*Many other genres use those chords but so too does Soca.

Nothing to Show from the Showminar – Why Showcases and Industry workshops are a waste of time!

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.

1.

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.

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.

3.

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.

Guerrilla Music Marketing Online
Guerrilla Music Marketing Online

4.

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.

5.

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

 

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

 

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 😉

 

 

 

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. 🙂

More Short and Sweet Commentary from Roy Byer

Roy Byer was a cultural activist and archivist who passed away in 2014.

He was also one of the best commentators on Caribbean and Bajan culture I have ever come across. I have posted this short clip today because it goes some way to explain two social events happening currently in Barbados. These are:

1. The xenophobic public reaction to 90 Nigerian students studying here

2. The alleged/or not so alleged desires of a headmistress to patrol black natural hair

Here Roy is speaking about music but he is really addressing how black cultural practices have historically been viewed in Barbados.

This post might appear quite local but race and identity politics are Caribbean wide issues.

Over to you Roy!

 

 

* Banja was a term used by early 19th and 20th century Barbadians to denote rhythmic, black working class music.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Caribbean Music Documentaries

StefanWalcott-LogoRedesign-vertical-grayscale

 

1. Marley

There are several Bob Marley documentaries out there. This one is the newest and unlike the others, seeks to present Marley as a complex character. However, I still recommend watching “Caribbean Nights,” which is one of the oldest, to get even more perspective on this Caribbean musical giant. However, you can’t go wrong with this one.

2. Sons of Benkos

I see the Caribbean as a cultural area and this documentary focusses on a music type, Champeta, that is not from the archipelago. Instead this popular music form is from Colombia and is a fascinating fusion of popular Western and Central African music and Colombian music. Although Champeta has changed, this documentary shows its roots as well as a fascinating examination of the Palenque region, which is seen as the heart of African culture in Colombia.

3. Made In Jamaica

Made In Jamaica is one of my favourite documentaries on Jamaican music. It does not only have the talking heads as in most documentaries but live performances as well. Each performer is backed by one of the premier rhythm sections in the genre, Sly and Robbie and the sound is fabulous. If you are one that likes more than just info and bios, this documentary is definitely one for you.

4. Routes to Rhythm

5. This PBS documentary from the 80s is one of the BEST on salsa.  Everyone is in here. Like Made in Jamaica, some killer live performances are also present. Watch all of it if you have any interest in Salsa music and Cuban music in particular, REQUIRED VIEWING!

5. La Musique Antillaise

This Banyan documentary looks at French Antillean music. Zouk is here as well as older traditional forms.  A short and good watch and for non-French speakers like myself, it is in English.

6. Soca Power

Soca Power is good, it could have been better, but it is good. The documentary follows monster soca artists Bunji Garlin, his spouse Fay-Ann, and Machel Montano at Carnival. While not being fly-on-the-wall, it still manages to capture some of the excitement behind Carnival performances. Worth a watch.

7.  Reggae inna Babylon

Reggae inna Babylon examines the music in the Caribbean diaspora as it focusses on the work of reggae artists in the nineteen seventies in the United Kingdom. The usual suspects Aswad and Third World are here, and though the documentary itself is not quite riveting, we get to see them in action at the time of their greatest popularity – for that alone it is worth a watch.

8.  Puerto Rican Bomba : A Search For Our Roots

This documentary, like Reggae inna Babylon, is partially based in the Diaspora, but then again so much of Puerto Rican culture straddles that divide between mainland and diaspora. It makes the Bomba, a traditional folk form its basis and for those interested in the sound of it, we get break downs of the indivudal parts. It is detailed and very enlightening.

9.   Straight Outta Puerto Rico: Reggaeton’s Rough Road to Glory

If you want an overview of Reggaeton, this is a good place to start. Despite the gawdy ads that seem to suggest a much less mentally stimulating offereing, this documentary manages to speak to the movers and shakers and highlight the events which were important to this genre as it emerged.  With plenty of loud music and imagery, this one would keep you watching for sure.

10. Calypso Dreams

 

Calypso Dreams is one of my favourites on this list. It has singing heads as opposed to talking heads, and manages to find many of the calypso artists in their natural environment. Due to this, we hear them without the trappings of arrangements and stage mics. They instead have guitar accompaniment most of the time. If that wasn’t enough, a history of calypso is also given. Every one is here, even Roaring Lion – this is a must see for anyone interested in Trinidadian calypso.