history

What is the difference between Soca and Calypso anyway? Check these 5…

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.

1. Lyrics-no-lyrics

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-ZH27vGntg
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 ;).

4.  Tempo

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.

soca drums

soca-beat-1

Calypso is more than comfortable to maintain the beat like the one below and it has done so for many a year.

calypso

So wherever you are from,  enjoy the carnival in the Catholic Caribbean but whatever you do, don’t call the soca a calypso.

Downtown Kingston – 4 Not So-Straightforward Global Influences

Downtown Kingston has to be the most influential piece of musical real estate in the world.

Please note I said Kingston and not Jamaica because the majority of music which exploded globally came from inner city Kingston and not the country at large. In fact, all Jamaican music you can think of, with the possible exception of mento, has its roots firmly planted Downtown.

The impact of their artists, Rastafarianism and weed use are well-known. However, I want to look at other things.

So here are 4 not so-straightforward ways Downtown Kingston has influenced the world.

1. Showing Communities you can do it too – Reggae en Español

Many dancehall and dub producers were NEVER professionally trained and  by demonstrating that technical expertise does not limit expression, Kingstonians opened the door for all with tape recorders to immortalize themselves and their neighbourhoods.

Here is a typical lo-fi example:

Reggae en Espanol from Panama*.

 

2. Giving people not considered singers chances to perform.

Kingston’s music gave those without access to music education a chance to participate by opening up the aesthetics of music. By using devices such as speech rhythm, it allowed many people to perform who might have never had the chance to because they thought they couldn’t sing.

Here is Rankin Taxi from Japan who clearly shows what I am talking about.

 

3. You could look like anything once you are unique

Reggae and dancehall have all types performing within it. Unlike other popular music, you don’t have to have a look, you just need a UNIQUE voice. To show you what I mean take a look at some big Kingston stars below.

King Stitt

King Stitt

Yellowman 2

Yellowman

 

4. Soundsystem

The biggest piece of technology that Kingston has given to the world is the soundsystem. This record player hooked up to speakers created a sense of belonging for so many neighbourhoods across the world and created billions. Here is an example of one in the Philippines which obviously took the soundsystem culture and ran with it.

 

The 4 influences here show how much of a sledgehammer Downtown Kingston music has been on world culture.

Thank you Kingston

Can you think of anymore?

  • *The influence of Jamaican genres has been particularly strong  in areas with similar ethnic or economic circumstances to Downtown Kingston. So far example in the barrios of Panama, where there are large Afro communities, reggae music has a strong following. See the story of reggae-en-espanol.

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. 🙂

Crop Over Blog V – The Aural History of Calypso

The wide genre known as calypso has been a major part of the Crop Over festival in Barbados since its inception.

Here is part I of  a video that traces its aural history in Trinidad.  Unlike most Calypso history documents that I have come across,  this one actually has music. Enjoy and educate yourself, in fact, enjoducate yourself!

Here it is below.

 

Subscribe to my channel if you like what you see so you won’t miss part II.

 

*Oh yeah and here is the slide presentation from it in case you want to teach this or have really great parties.

 

Snapshot in Soca III – A History of Soca – 1982-1990

In snapshot II, we managed to see the creative burst that came about after Lord Shorty’s innovation. In this third snapshot, 1982-1990, what I term the Classic Soca Period, it is my view that a gradual settling down in musical sound occurred, led by the success of “Hot, Hot, Hot.” Before I get to “Hot Hot Hot,” I want to revisit “Sugar Bum Bum.” I briefly mentioned this song in Snapshot II, (where it indeed belongs in terms of time of release) but it needs to be dealt with separately, such is its contribution.

“Sugar Bum Bum” was written by Aldywn ‘Lord Kitchener’ Roberts, who was up to that time, 1978, singing calypso, and very successfully. In fact, Lord Kitchener is generally seen as one of the greatest calypsonians to have ever existed. It is true that before “Sugar Bum Bum,” Kitchener had solemnly pledged never to engage with Soca; however, after the success of “Sugar Bum Bum,” Kitchener never returned completely (if at all) to calypso. The song was produced by Ed Watson and was said to be inspired not by Funk, but by West African highlife, which is in keeping with the experimental period of that time. So here it is again.

The popularity of “Sugar Bum Bum” led, in my opinion, to listeners realising that something new was indeed going on in Trinidad. It opened up the ears of the Caribbean and the world to a ‘fresh’ sound, which featured plenty of repetition, both in lyric and in harmonic structure. This was made all the more apparent because “Sugar Bum Bum” came from Kitchener, a well-known practitioner of the ‘old’ calypso form, which had much less repetition and generally more chords.

The tremendous success of “Sugar Bum Bum” soon led to an Ed Watson Soca ‘sound.’ However, this sound was soon superseded by Leston Paul, the producer of “Hot, Hot Hot,” who, with Arrow (and the other 2 big producers of the 80s), changed the game forever. 

“Hot Hot Hot” is one of the most successful singles created within the Caribbean. According to Arrow, in his interview for the Unesco/Banyan show in 1991, it had sold (up to that time) 3-5 million copies!!! Here he is.

With success comes replication, and the rhythm of “Hot Hot Hot,” the tempo, the general relationship the instruments had with each other, influenced many Soca songs to follow. This influence was further multiplied by the fact that several of the already popular artists  were now seeking out Leston Paul to produce songs for them; this meant that Paul eventually became one of the biggest and most influential producers of the 3rd Soca snapshot period, and indeed of ALL time.  So here they are: “Hot Hot Hot,” followed by “Soucouyant,”  Crazy’s 1985 winning Road March song, arranged by Emmanuel Ector and we should be able to hear the definite similarities.

The other big producers of that period were Pelham Goddard and Frankie McIntosh, with the former producing many hits. These three producers (along with Leston Paul of course), defined the sound of Soca in the 80s. Here are two selections from Goddard— Tambu’s 1988 song, “This Party Is It,” (Road March Winner) and “De Hammer,” by David Rudder from 1986.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t67lXPPtww0

Here also is the Mighty Sparrow, another calypso legend who too vowed never to sing Soca, doing the Soca, “Doh Back Back” arranged by McIntosh.

Incidentally, “De Hammer” won Rudder the CALYPSO competition in 1986; Soca music had infiltrated into the realm of the Calypso in a big way. This showed that what was new and different in the late 70s, was now absorbed into the Calypso by the end of the 80s, at least with the musical rhythms. The difference however, generally remains (and I say this gingerly, as it requires a blog in itself) in the lyrics and the amount of repetition found in each form. Calypso = plenty lyrics + more chords + less repetition; Soca = little/less lyrics + plenty repetition + less chords…sort of. I promise to come back to this.

What I did not mention is that Arrow was from the small island of Montserrat and McIntosh from St. Vincent. In Snapshot IV, I return the regionalisation of Soca, as it becomes the soundtrack to the street element of Caribbean carnivals.

In conclusion, snapshot III, the Classic Soca Period, contains many of my early childhood memories of Caribbean music. The songs from this time, people generally call ‘sweet’ (another blog), and herald them as not only classic songs, but ‘golden’ songs. There are many artists from this time who I have not mentioned, but Baron, Stalin, Duke, Explainer, are but some of the who made this 80s/early 90s time memorable.

 In Snapshot IV, I revisit good old Eddy Grant and the work of his Ice Record label. It was this label that initiated the next movement in Soca, as the Classic Soca Period was shot “Bang Bang” in the chest.  The noise “Ring/rung” out for years!