Music

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

 

10 Apps (music and otherwise) and Websites That I Can’t Live Without

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.
1. Sribd

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.

2. Allmusicguide

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.

3. Wikipedia

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.

4.  Evernote

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.

7. Dropbox

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.

8. Facebook

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.

10 Finale

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.

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.

Just so Bajan Dub become Bashment Soca???!!!!!

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.

https://stefanwalcott.com/2014/05/23/what-is-bashment-soca-crop-over-blog-1/

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.

 

 

And below

 

The examples above I considered to be Bajan Dub, a genre that I posted about with a Top 10.

https://stefanwalcott.com/2014/02/05/top-10-bajan-dub-dancehall-records-for-beginners/

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???!!!!

Answer: YES!!!!???!!!!!

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!

 

Riding Cow – Dancehall Prepared Piano

“If you can’ find horse, ride cow,” is a saying we have in Barbados. It means that if your ideal tool is not present; you have to improvise.

Teaching in a public education system in a 3rd world country means that riding cow happens regularly. Sometimes cow jockeying produces unexpected results such as in the videos below.

The videos you will see were made on the piano in the performing hall at the only tertiary level music institution in Barbados. The piano is busted and terribly out of tune.  However, because the strings in the lower register are gone, they produce a percussive sound that is very close to a prepared piano. The prepared piano sound comes from adding objects onto the strings to get different textures. For those of you unfamiliar with how that works watch and listen below:

In my videos, I played a variety of dancehall numbers as that music inspires me.

Enough program notes though, here are the videos. First up is Clarks by Vybz Kartel and the other is a Dancehall improvisation piece. Enjoy!

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?

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