Musicians

School + Caribbean Culture

Every two years I teach Caribbean Music and Culture to students from the University of Delaware.

These sessions are a mixture of theory and practice. And when I say practice I mean practice.

Check this Bajan Dancehall session below led by the amazing Shameka Walters.

 

Isn’t this great?

This to me this is the gift of all Afro musics, the lived community!

Big shout out to Juanita Clarke on drums who also made this session happen.

 

 

10 Apps 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.

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?

5 Things (I) (Musicians) HATE to hear 

Dear non-musicians,

I love you.

Because I want to keep loving you, I have compiled this short list.

In no particular order, here are 5 things I hate to hear from non-musicians (NM).

meshell angry

1. Heah, you must play a lot of instruments!

NM, playing and mastering one string is difficult enough furthermore multiple instruments. Instruments are not like like condoms, you do not burst the package and get instant gratification. When you hear someone playing, they have spent untold hours just trying to make their instrument coherent. People that readily tell you they play 5 instruments professionally are not to be trusted with your family members.

2. You don’t know that song? What kind of musician are you?

Dear NM, in case you didn’t realise, music has been around since Adam sung  Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree to Eve. This means that there are millions upon millions of songs and since musicians are not DJs, it is highly unlikely they know all of them. In fact, learning a song is once again a time consuming exercise and in the absence of eternal life, musicians only know a mere fraction of what is out there. Although, even if musicians had eternal life, many won’t dedicate their time to learning Hit Me Baby one More time the DJ Shakukzki remix.

3. Oh, you must want to be famous!

Dear NM, not necessarily. The majority of musicians are doing gigs because they enjoy what they do and they are providing a service. Many of them are as comfortable with fame as the awkward accountants at award shows.  Those musicians you see on TV are not the majority….trust me.

4. What else do you do for living?

This is perhaps the most common thing said to all artists (including me) which gets their underwear all twisted. If you admit to being a professional musician, chances are you don’t do anything else for a living because emailing, teaching, practicing, accounting, gigging and learning songs can be a little time consuming. However, I am sure NM that if most musicians gave up sleep they could fit in a medical job or two.

5. Your life must be exciting!

To end NM, let me debunk this myth. Much like the fame thing, the lives led by a few of our number distort our overall image. There are a huge number of fields within music with some being akin to sky diving off the Burj Khalifa while others are more like watching paint dry in the Arctic. So while you might be thinking sex, drugs and alcohol, most musicians are more like text, mugs and parasols.

So that is it NMs.

Avoid these 5 and let us grow old together.

Love

Caribbean Music Man

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.    

 🙂  

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. 🙂

My Top 10 Caribbean Lyrics

I am poor with lyrics.

In fact, I am dismal with them.

However, a number of lyrics have stuck in my head and really meant something to me over the years.

Here then is my Top Ten lyrics list (of Caribbean music of course, the US has enough lists to last for generations)

Top 10 Lyrics

  1. Caught me on the loose fighting to be free, now you show me a noose under cotton tree, entertainment for you, martyrdom for me. – Third World
  2. Watch out my children, they got a fellah call Lucifer with a bag of white powder. He don’t want to powder yah face, but to bring shame and disgrace to the human race. – Ras Shorty I
  3. Tell them they can keep they money, I goin’ keep mine honey and die with my dignity. – Singing Sandra
  4. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind – Bob Marley.
  5. West Indian politician, I check out yah evil ploy, the more you sing, the more you sound like Westminster choir boy. – Mighty Gabby
  6. Get up in the morning slaving for bread sir, so that every mouth can be fed. – Desmond Dekker
  7. The country sick, the country ain’t well, see it as a person and then you will tell. – Red Plastic Bag
  8. So let we live our whole lives, forIvah and Ivah. – Isasha
  9. I am the seed of me father, he is the seed of my grandfather. – Jahaji Bhai
  10. Black woman and child, for you I have so much love. – Sizzla

What are some of yours?