Media

New Documentary on ConPong

Heah guys,

Some news

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.

2016-07-10 18.40.55

Peace!

New Year? Get some Wynton Help

Happy New Year again!!

I know it might be a bit late, but I came across this great article on social media.

It is from the great Wynton Marsalis and it will help all musicians and want to be musicians sort out their new year practice resolutions.

Enjoy and work hard.

http://arbanmethod.com/wyntons-twelve-ways-to-practice/

 

From the Caribbean music man!

 

Top 10 Jamaican Dancehall Voices of All Time

Jamaican Dancehall music has always maintained the Afro-Diasporic aesthetic of having a distinctive voice.  This voice does not merely relate to content but the sound of the voice. 

Here is a Top 10 of the most distinctive voices in Jamaican Dancehall.

JAMAICAN FLAG

10.  Tiger

Tiger was one of the mid 80s Dancehall dons. Tiger’s unique self call-and-response, where he goes between a broad pronunciations and a deeper clipped tone, is not only humorous but terribly unique.  He also possesses one of the most elaborate speaking/chanting styles you will ever hear on a stage. If that was not enough, he also uses his call phrase, “see!” copiously.

 

9.  Shabba Ranks

In the early 90s Shabba Ranks was possibly the biggest name in Jamaican Dancehall.  Shabba gained cross-over success with his Mr. Lover track which replaced the Dancehall reggae beat with a generic back beat.  However, I have chosen the seminal “Dem Bow” tune which started a whole genre to showcase his unique vocal. Shabba brings a deep baritone and an aggressive attack to his chanting. He also has surprisingly clear diction especially when compared to other Dancehall artists.

 

8. Vybz Kartel

From the modern brigade we have Vybz Kartel who has a school of Dancehall performers who implement his template of low chanting and contrasting higher pitches between sections. This style makes Vybz Kartel distinctive and a solid member of this list.

 

7.  Sizzla

Sizzla brought a distinctive lyrical voice to Dancehall in mid-90s. As a Rastafari from the Bobo Ashanti mansion, Sizzla set about inserting his ideology which at the time was largely relegated to Reggae. Sizzla also brought a new approach with a singing chant style that used double-time rhythm and falsetto singing. As time went on, Sizzla utilised more of the falsetto and remains one of the most recognizable voices in Dancehall.

 

6. Eek-a-Mouse

Eek-a-Mouse was one the early 80s Dancehall performers and a contemporary of the more famous Yellowman. With his nonsense syllables and a nasal voice, Eek-A-Mouse set himself apart in terms of sound.

 

5. Snagga Puss

Although not original in terms of sound, the idea of chanting like Snagga Puss the cartoon character, is a stroke of genius. With a speedy vibrato like the character and a quick rise and descent pitch at the end of each word, Snagga Puss scored some moderate Dancehall success in the late 80s and early 90s. Needless to say, his lyrical content was mostly far from serious.

 

4. Mavado

Here is another of the post 2000 Dancehall artist. Mavado and his call, “baby” are as well-known as his singing come chanting style. Unlike Sizzla, he does not use the falsetto, instead Mavado engages in what can only be described as a whine where he constantly slides into notes like if his fingers are caught in a door. His success shows this style pays off however.

 

3.  Lady Saw

In a space dominated by men, a female voice would of course stand out. Lady Saw is easily the premier female voice in Dancehall and has been for quite for a while.  She also is very rhythmically secure with an attack and ride of riddim that is as good as any.

 

2.  U Roy

In the earliest days of Dancehall this toaster was the man. With an elaborate speaking style that doesn’t always reflect a Jamaican accent, U Roy was a pioneer and is still distinctive some 40 years after his initial success.

 

1.  Tommy Lee

Tommy Lee is the youngest person on this list. Due to the fact he emerged so late in a genre of so many great and unique voices, he took it upon himself to be as extreme in terms of sound as is possible. From an extremely nasal voice, to a guttural sound and an elaborate style like Tiger, Lee does it all. The combination is  not to everyone’s taste, especially the older Dancehall heads. However, Lee has marked a space for himself and no one sounds like him.

 

Remember, can’t include all!! Who are some of yours?

Blurry Lines – Musicians Listen Differently – Part II

“It is the same, it isn’t the same, yes it is…” Round and around we go.

Since the Blurred Lines verdict for the Gaye family the above argument has been dominating my social media pages. For those of you unfamiliar with what this whole thing is all about see below.

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-blurred-lines-copyright-trial-verdict-20150310-story.html

So Did Williams and Thicke steal from Gaye? Is Blurred Lines a smokescreen for Got to Give it Up?

Well once again, as outlined in my last blog post, it depends on WHO is doing the listening.

To show you this, let us take a look at one of my global blogging colleagues, Joe Bennett who did a fantastic breakdown of the nuts and bolts from both songs. Here is the link below:

http://joebennett.net/2014/02/01/did-robin-thicke-steal-a-song-from-marvin-gaye/

So I believe that Joe shows conclusively that the songs are indeed different given his expert musical analysis. However, Joe’s expert ears were not part of the jury, instead the panel was probably made up of non-musicians whose opinions were ultimately similar to those expressed below:

“Not understanding the anger about this expected Blurred Lines ruling. Don’t blatantly copy songs, & if you do, get it cleared beforehand.” – Michonne

“‘Got To Give It Up’ is one of my all time favs, had no idea these fools claimed original production and didn’t share royalties.” J Vincennes

The two Tweeters here are absolutely convinced Blurred Lines stole from Got to Give it Up, so why the discrepancy?

Once again, as in my other post, it is because musicians listen differently. So while Joe can analyse the chord changes and bass lines to the cheques come home, to others that stuff was not even THERE! In other words, to many non-musicians the aural similarities between the two tracks are blatant, while to musicians, the songs are obviously quite different. Who is right? Apparently the musicians are NOT, at least for now. So once again, let me repeat my summary from the last time, musicians listen differently.

I therefore hereby decree an end to all social media arguments.    

 ūüôā  

Top 10 Books on Caribbean Music for (Academic) Dummies

Firstly, let me say that I, of course, would recommend my book,¬†Caribbean Composers’ Handbook¬†on Amazon.com for all of those interested in the actual music of Caribbean music but outside of that, here are some¬†others. ūüôā

1. Cooper, Carolyn. ¬†Noises in the Blood: Orality, Gender, and the “vulgar” Body of Jamaican Popular Culture. Durham: Duke University Press, 1995.

Carolyn Cooper is one of¬†the premier academics on Dancehall culture in Jamaica. This book is seminal in how it seeks to re-examine the common perspectives on Dancehall. Even though she is an academic, the book is generally accessible and Cooper’s points are still valid some near 20 years later.

2.  Bradley, Lloyd.  Bass culture: when reggae was king. London, Viking 2000.

Bradley’s Bass Culture is one of the best overviews on Jamaican Reggae music I have ever read. ¬†Bradley takes the reader from the pre-sound system of the nineteen forties to the emergence of Dancehall. All the major figures are there from the three big sound system operators of the 60s to the early Dancehall pioneers like Yellowman.

3.  Cowley, John. Carnival, Canboulay, and calypso: traditions in the making. Cambridge [England]; New York, NY, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Cowley presents a well-researched book on carnival. Cowley provides a great volume of historical information on early Carnival. He also gives many 2nd hand references on important events, such as the Carnival riots and early Calypso competitions. A good one for those who have to teach calypso history.

4.  Pérez Fernández, Rolando. A. La binarización de los ritmos ternarios africanos en América Latina. Ciudad de La Habana, Cuba, Casa de las Américas, 1987.

P√©rez Fern√°ndez’s book is in Spanish. However, this should not put off persons who do not speak the language.¬†P√©rez Fern√°ndez ideas are fascinating and unlike many other academics, he deals with the musical sounds of Caribbean music. His main idea is that there was a process which changed African music into the folk music of the Americas we know today. The influence of this work is obvious as he is frequently quoted.

5. Guilbault, J. Zouk: world music in the West Indies, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1993. 

There are few texts on Zouk in English, Guilbault’s book is one of them. Guilbault details the origins of this music as well as the identity implications it creates as a French Antillean identity emerges through Zouk. Guilbault also interviews the important players within the movement and provides transcriptions. Another plus is the inclusion of a CD which is also fantastic when dealing with music as a subject.

6.  Kenneth M. Bilby and Michael D. Largey. Caribbean currents: Caribbean music from rumba to reggae. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1995.

This book seeks to be an overview of Caribbean music in general. It does a decent job within the introduction of describing the conditions which led to the creation of many genres. It also seeks to detail the important regions within the Caribbean giving summaries and identifying important figures. This book is a good entry into the multi-faceted world of Caribbean music.

7.  Rivera, Raquel Z, Wayne Marshall, and Deborah Hernandez Pacini. Reggaeton. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.

Reggaeton is possibly the youngest popular genre to have a book about it in the Caribbean region. This book is excellent and through the different perspectives of the contributors, we get a wide view on Reggaeton from its sexual to musical implications. If you want to know anything about the genre, seek out this text.

8.  Lesser, Beth.  Rub a dub Style: The Roots of Modern Dancehall, 2012.

This book is the only one¬†that is available online free of cost as a pdf download. Beth Lesser said she did this to avoid the usual accusations leveled at outsiders who write about other cultures. Lesser’s book is good though and she details all the important figures in the genre; from U-Roy to Beanie Man. Pick it up!

9. Rohlehr, Gordon. Calypso and society in pre-independence Trinidad. Port of Spain 1990. 

Rohlehr, like Cooper, was an academic from the University of the West Indies.  Rohlehr is a literary scholar and in this book, he provides thorough analysis and documentation of the literary form of the Calypso. Rohlehr also details important historical events and how they impacted on the Calypso. It is a formidable text in terms of length so be prepared for the long haul.

10.  Mauleon, Rebeca. Salsa Guidebook: for piano and ensemble. S.I. Sher Music 1993.

This is another book which deals with the sounds of the music. Mauleon is fantastic at providing the necessary listening for the genres she is looking at. She also provides direct transcriptions from these songs. As it deals with Salsa, Mauleon also transcribes from the lesser-known Puerto Rican genres of Bomba and Plena.

So there it is. Remember it is only “a” list and there are other fantastic books out there. Leave a comment for other books you would recommend.

Vybz Kartel: Musical Genius! Dancehall Mi Seh I

Vybz Kartel happens to be one of my favourite Caribbean artists of vybz Kartel

all time.

Some might be shocked by this, but by growing up with the pounding modality of Dancehall, I was brainwashed into appreciating rhythm and a good hook.

What really gets me about Vybz is his creativity.

One must remember that Dancehall artists do not have the same musical vocabulary to rely on as other composers and improvisers in other types of genres. So one does not learn “Dancehall licks,” as in Jazz, where improvisers learn phrases they KNOW will work.

Dancehall is naked (pun intended). A dancehall performer has a ‘riddim’ (a beat with some chords at times) and they create entire songs using just that. The imagination and skills required to do this are therefore quite different than in other types of music (Rap of course being the exception). Some performers are rather good at creating songs from beats, others not so much. Vybz is a BOSS. Here is one of my favourites, “Realest Thing,” which testifies to this.

Of course that is not all; check this, one of his more famous works, “Clarks.”

What I like about Vybz is his:

  • ability to create sections, where melody as well as rhythmic attacks change.
  • thorough understanding of time and rhythm.
  • talent at placing an accent.
  • melodic variations ¬†in order to achieve sections. He does this so the riddim doesn’t get boring.

To end, it is obvious I am using mostly rhythmic criteria to judge Vybz. I feel fully justified in doing this because rhythm is one of the main things Dancehall is about. So it makes no sense judging Vybz Kartel by how many high notes he can sing or how many chords are in his songs.

It is all about the rhythm and Vybz is the drumming master!

* Yes, I just musically analysed Vybz.

** Yes, I did an article on Vybz unrelated to his murder conviction.

A Waka Waka Story – From Africa to the World and back

As Cameroon plays today in the World Cup here is a story from last time around…

World Cup 2010 is remembered for many things: the first World Cup in Africa, the Spanish conquest on a continent which historically had not been that kind to them. It is also remembered for the theme song, “Waka Waka.” Waka Waka” is a fascinating song, and the interest does not come from Shakira’s stomach alone, but from the story of cross circulation it represents. But just in case we forgot, let us remind ourselves of Shakira’s version.

Firstly, “Waka Waka” is not an entirely original song, which is not that surprising given the nature of pop music; what is surprising, however, is where it comes from.

I hope you had enough patience to get to, by my count, the 8th hook and tenth section of this song because that is where Shakira’s song is taken from. Taken from, but not directly, for Shakira’s “Waka Waka,” is actually twice removed from the original. Here is the remake which I assume is the one which really inspired Shakira’s team.

So what is the big deal? Well, this song represents to me the many sides of popular music. For one, there is the global popular, which Shakira is plugged into; this beast consumes everything before it. The other two songs represent the local popular, which has its own audiences and degrees of success but is inevitably outside the huge global pop complex where the Shakiras and Rihannas of this world reside. Shakira’s “Waka Waka” then, sends a reminder to the global pop world that the rest of the world DOES indeed exist, because ultimately they were responsible, (directly so and not through ancestral influence), on the making of Shakira’s version.

Although the Shakira remake might once again seem to be exploitation of the so-called Third World, I cannot help but look at the other side. “Waka Waka” has managed to escape the Western imagination, for when we consider the Cameroon and Colombia depicted here, we see images represented in these videos that are not commonly seen of either country. In the case of Cameroon, some guys having a ball with tied on pillows, and with Colombia, a variety show. There are no jungles, no cocaine or Sylvester Stallone

In short, Shakira’s “Waka Waka,” was more of a World Cup song than people realised and can even be said to embody the made-up notions of equality which sport sometimes alludes to; see pop music is not all that bad.

Waka waka!

Award Show Time! Time for my Fix!

academy grammy

Every February/March the global art and film complex, well really the European /American art and film complex, gears itself up for the award season.

The interest shown in these awards is quite astounding, especially among those whose countries and cultural expressions (film, music, costume design, make-up) are not even remotely represented.

On my Facebook for example, (the measurement of all things cultural of course) people become very touchy when their favourite artist does not take home the miniature man/woman or gramophone.

Being honest, the awards are local affairs with only Britain, (a specific part of Britain let us not fool ourselves) and the US (the two coasts) represented. These two communities then pat themselves on the back for being so great. In fact, the rest of the world looks on, hoping, those involved in the arts that is, that somehow, some way, they too can perhaps be there thanking God and their nursery school teacher. ¬†In reality this is not going to happen and in fact, only a small subset of people from anywhere else get to have their speech cut short by the orchestra. The fact is, this isn’t your party mate/Caribbean person/West African/Aborigine etc. etc.

But we on the outside still care. We care what dress our actress we just paid or pirated to see in Movie Overblown II is wearing. We are concerned about if an actor that looks like us might get an award. Why? Because we are all junkies, junkies addicted to the American dream project. And who can blame us when drugs like this are available. Here is Rihanna accepting her Grammy award in 2008

You heard what she said? She said Barbados?? So come on awards season, help out this struggling addict and give me a surprise as I peep through the window at your party from the non-Western alley, like all good addicts do!