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:

Did Robin Thicke steal ‘Blurred Lines’ 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?

Juan Formell RIP

Juan Formell

There have been a number of notable deaths this year and in Caribbean music none more significant than the recent one of Juan Formell.

As this blog’s readership is made up of mostly English speakers, (the global stats indicate this), many of you may have not heard of Juan Formell before.

Formell was the founder, composer, arranger and leader of the most popular post-revolution music group ever to come from Cuba, Los Van Van. This group, which has been around since the late 1960s is to Cuba what Bob Marley is to Jamaica, Kitchener to Trinidad, Blades to Panama and Red Plastic Bag to Barbados.  If you doubt me, take a brief look at minute 20 when they managed to get 270 000 people to a concert in Santiago de Cuba.

 

 

In short, Formell was immense.  Thanks for the music Juan, a Caribbean music great. Music aLive, now and forever more, Amen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Save Our Musical Language! Stop the abuse of musical terms now!!! Crop Over Blog 2

As the title shows, this post is intended to diminish the absolute abuse of musical terms which happens every Crop Over.

Unlike some, I am not against non- musicians engaging in musical discussion, I actually quite enjoy the debates.

Barbados Crop Over
Barbados Crop Over

However, pretending to use musical terms to sound knowledgeable when you don’t have a clue what they mean is not cool.

So here are some definitions of common musical terms so you (I) can have a more enjoyable Crop Over season.

1. Instrumentation is the texture of musical sounds in a performance and here is a list of instruments commonly seen or heard on Crop Over/Carnivals stages:

  • bass guitar
  • voice
  • guitar
  • keyboards
  • drums
  • mac laptops – which play sequences and background vocals, frequently seen on stage in Soca
  • drum machines – although they are becoming more and more extinct.
  • horn sections – trumpets, trombones, saxes

Here are instruments not heard on Crop Over/Carnivals stages:

  • that thing that you blow
  • aguitarIthinkitis
  • a piano
  • a mother fiddle

2. Rhythm/Time
Rhythm is a common musical term. In its strictest definition it is sound across time. In other words, once sound is played by whatever instrument and time passes (which it will) it displays rhythm. So for example, the bass guitar player plucks a string and whatever pattern or notes he is playing form a rhythm. The other more common use of rhythm refers to the beat and the way that beat is organised. So for example, the calypso beat is referred to as the calypso rhythm and that rhythm is played by the drums.  What must be remembered is that each individual instrument has a rhythm which in turn combines to create an overall rhythm (beat).

3. Melody

Melody is the standout sequence of pitches heard in a song. Melodies are the things that you remember in your head and sing in the shower. At Crop Over and all over the world, it is the thing lead singers produce when they sing. In addition, instruments which produce pitch also play melody. So in a calypso tent band for example, in the areas where the singer stops singing, a band chorus happens where the trumpets or saxes take the melody.

4. Harmony

Harmony happens when two or more pitches are played at the same time. This is a very musical concept and musicians spend a lot of formal and informal education dealing with this area which can get very complex. At Crop Over, the keyboard, bass guitar and guitar provide the harmonic bed. In calypso bands that have horn sections, harmony is also provided when the different horns, trumpet sax and trombone, play different notes together.

5. Key/Pitch/Scale

These terms are probably the most misused in Crop Over by non- musicians. The understanding of key, believe it or not is based on harmony and even though many people do not understand harmony, they definitely perceive key. However, perception and being able to explain it are two different things and the following terms heard frequently this time of year, all refer to key in some way (these terms are in Bajan dialect for my international audience).

  1. He is out of key
  2.  He sound bad.
  3. He out of key with the band.
  4. The band is out of key with she.

What people refer to when they make these statements is the relationship between melody and key centre. A key centre is established through harmony or through the melody itself where certain notes create a ‘home base.’ What is also created is a set of notes which ‘should’ be heard. When someone is out of key, it means that they don’t accurately hit the notes which should be heard. What usually makes this worse is when this person sings with musical accompaniment, as these instruments hit the right pitches leaving the singer sounding even more ‘out there.’ This is of course the science behind it and perception of pitch is done quickly by those good enough to hear the home base and accompanying right notes.

So that is it. Feel free, in fact, be compelled to use this information throughout the season and don’t hesitate to shout me back here if you want any further clarification. Also, pass it on to your friends having carnivals this summer, like those in St. lucia and Grenada…this is the only way we can stop the abuse!

 

 

 

 

30 Tunes for Soca Dummies 21-30

Are you a Soca dummy? Can’t tell a wine from a pooch back a jump from a wave? Well here is a list that will help you, 30 Soca songs for dummies. The songs appear in no particular order and are merely numbered to keep you following my blog. So get smart Soca dummy, here we go:

30. Workey Workey (Antigua)

This song from Antiguan super group Burning Flames acknowledges a couple of styles, most notably Zouk, Konpas and Classic Soca. Its form is taken from the first two styles with some (comparatively) long instrumental breaks. The lyrics are suggestive in keeping with the tradition. This track never fails to destroy any Caribbean party and is part of the Soca canon. Speak ill of this tune in the Lesser Antilles and risk expulsion.

29. Differentology  (Trinidad)

Bunji Garlin has been a huge name in Soca since the end of the 90s. This track from 2013 has propelled him into another popular realm. In keeping with the tradition of noticeable popular music borrowing within Soca, there is a healthy presence of (euro) house synths in “Differentology.” It also shows Bunji’s tremendous rhythmic prowess with a verse that is tasty!

28.  Pump Me Up (Barbados)

This mid-nineties song more than any introduced Edwin Yearwood and Krosfyah to the region (important names to the Soca world, go and Google) “Pump Me Up” was at that time a very fresh approach to Carnival music and was responsible in large part for the eventual establishment of Ragga/Groovy Soca as a sub-genre of its own. Edwin’s vocals are unmistakable, and he continued from where David Rudder left off, by placing a R&B singing style into the rhythms of the Anglo-Caribbean.  A must check for anyone interested in what Barbadians term Ragga Soca and the Trinidadians call Groovy Soca.

27.  Turn Me On (St. Vincent)

Kevyn Lyttle’s smash hit is possibly the most popular Ragga Soca/Groovy Soca song ever.  This early noughties number propelled Lyttle to success in 2004 and for a while threatened to open the door to Ragga/Groovy becoming the next ‘big’ thing. That did not materialise however but both the genre and the track live on.

26.  Balance Batty (Dominica)

Bouyon was a style developed by Dominican group WCK. This track is the best representative of the genre and WCK gained tremendous popularity within the region from it. Sung in English, this song still gets the party going with their “Concentration” command. Possibly one of the most important Dominican Soca tunes outside of the influential Exile One group.

25.  Get Something and Wave (Trinidad)

Super Blue/Blue Boy has been one of the most successful Soca artists in Trinidad. This song, “Get Something and Wave,” confirmed his legacy, as it not only won the Road March that year, but started a whole change in partying at Soca fetes, where instead of dancing alone, waving emerged as the thing to do. Described at the time as a fad, this style of partying has been going strong for the last 20 years.

24. Ragga Ragga (Barbados)

This song was not meant to be taken seriously and was in fact a filler on Red Plastic Bag’s 1993 album. However, its impact has been far-reaching with this song being a true watershed recording and being played from Panama to Chicago. It also propelled Red Plastic Bag’s career and put the studio where it was recorded, Chambers studio, run by Nicholas Brancker firmly on the map.

23. Wicked Jab (Grenada)

Wicked Jab comes from Grenadian artist Tallpree and is but one in the long line of Jab songs from Grenada. The Jab Jab is a feature of Jouvert and once again Tallpree pays tribute. Notice the conspicuous conch rhythm which is a characteristic of the Jab songs. Needless to say this one would obliterate any party in the Spice Isle.

22. Endless Vibrations (Trinidad)

For sheer historical significance alone, never mind the killing arrangement, this song would have made the list. However, it remains the breakthrough Soca track which enabled Lord Shorty (Ras Shorty I) to say his (Soca) innovation had arrived. Even though Shorty meant an Indian calypso fusion, this track with prominent guitar and snare drum opened the door for Soul and calypso fusion, on which Soca as a genre became grounded.

21. Hot, Hot, Hot (Montserrat)

“Hot Hot Hot” is possibly the biggest selling Soca track of all time. Arrow, from the satellite Soca region of Montserrat, conservatively put its sales in the millions in the mid-80s and the remake was even bigger causing many a Caribbean cruise ship and hotel band since then to have to play it. For me this track IS the Classic Soca sound and highlights the arranging style of one of the big three producers of the time, Leston Paul. (see Snapshots in Soca)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkGgdIBX1to

Hit follow so you won’t miss tracks 20-11 for Soca Dummies. I promise thee more big TUNES and an end to Soca ignorance.