Popular Culture

6 Things (truths) NoOne wants to say about Crop Over!

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Crop Over is at an end. And here are some uncomfortable truths about it. Note, I am not saying whether these realities are good or bad, just shedding some light.
1. Crop Over is…
not about musicians it is about music. Musicians are largely on the side when it comes to the festival. Think about many of the events, how many guys do you actually see playing music? Even in production, they have been marginalised. If not for the calypso competition, they would have died off completely.
2. Calypso at Crop Over is…
only kept alive by government and kids. Calypso is centred completely on the national festival. Outside of this, no content is produced. This competition is, however, a loss-making exercise and if the government would withdraw its large largesse, the art- form, as it is known, would have died along with the cassette tape. The kid’s competition, however, is vibrant, due to the fact that is one of the few youth art competitions that gets full national coverage.
3. The tent system at Crop Over is…
an economic failure. The tent system was developed for a certain time for certain people. With the export of carnival came the export of tents. In modern times, this system is woefully expensive and dependent completely on the national calypso competition. It is attended purely for nostalgia and would have disappeared a long time ago if not for the taxpayer.
4. Crop Over is…
a carnival..despite the packaging. Not only a carnival but a Trinidadian franchise carnival. The clever entrepreneurs in Trinidad have managed to export the bead and feather, all-inclusive fete experience to Barbados in a big way. There is even a Machel Pre bank holiday show. Some might be screaming what about Bridgetown Market and the Literary Reading? These events are peripheral at best and the fact that there are no private promoters hosting crop over dance, crop over comedy or cane cutting competitions speaks volumes as to where the emphasis is with all-inclusive carbon copy events of boats, breakfasts, paint-and-powders, all whites holding sway.
5. Crop Over should have…
left Bajan Dub alone. Bajan Dub in 2010-2013 had an energy about it. It was young, it was underground it was urgent. Enter the re-christening as Bashmnet Soca and its entry into a competition for the festival. Also cue standardization, blandness, and boredom. The artists, through their need ( and rightfully so given how expensive the country is) for short-term cash, have killed the pig to eat the ear. Or killed the pig to have Lil Rick eat it.
6. Crop Over has….
killed any form of US type of industry forming in Barbados. The US type of music industry is the holy grail for many. From politicians to artists to technocrats, all of them want the glitz glamour and more importantly the US dollar from what goes on north of Cuba. In the early 70s, Barbados had the foundation for this. However, Crop Over killed that for instead of having music created and consumed all year round, all creative activity through Crop Over became confined to a six-week period where 300-500 songs compete for public space.
So there are 6 unpopular truths about Crop Over. I know many enjoy the festival as it is great fun and many won’t care about these truths but not bringing them to light is like wukking up in the dark. Fun for a while but dangerous in the long-term.
Can you add any more?

Carnival Songs I Like -2018 (Trinidad)

Trinidadian Carnival has rolled around again. And here are a few songs that I really like. These songs are not necessarily the most popular songs of the year but just ones that caught my ear.

  1. Olatunji – Bodyline

This song is by far my favourite of the 2018 class. Olatunji, known for his previous experiments with Afro-pop, divorces that style for a joyous romp into swing music. I love the concept and the video is even cooler especially considering I was involved with one like this in 2017 with the 1688 Collective and Jabari Browne.

2. Kes – Hello

I know I said in the intro that this list might not include the most popular songs, but this one by Kes is definitely one of the front-runners of 2018. Here Kes the Band is on the Afro-Pop fusion vibe and this one easily calls out to the work of Flavour, Davido and the other members of the Afro-pop legion.

3. Full of Vibe – Voice and Marge Blackman

Kes is has a great voice and once again I like his contribution with Marge Blackman. This one fits into the more traditional Ragga Soca/Groovy Soca model.  It has a solid beat and great vocals which means that it fits neatly into any Soca playlist.

4. Machel Montano and Superblue

The of the biggest names in Soca in Trinidad have joined forces this year and this song pretty defines the genre in 3 minutes and 22s. There is nothing more Soca than this. It probably will win road march as well.

Ok, so I chose some really popular ones here…

What songs do you like?

 

JAB to the JAB

Jab Jab is a certified sub-genre of modern Soca

The Jab character is a staple of J’ouvert carnival celebrations and looks like the guy below.

jab2.jpg

The music itself is characterised by melodies with small ranges usually in minor with little harmonic movement. Check a Jab classic by the Grenadan boss Tall Pree below which explains the whole thing.

When it comes to Jab Jab tunes, the certified capital of the world is Grenada. and no one does Jab Jab like them.

So here are some of my favourite Jab Jab tunes from Grenada carnival 2017.  ENJOY!

 

 

 

 

Crop Over 2017 – The Lazarus 5

The early results from the Soca competitions are in.

This means that Barbadian radio rotation will now be based around the competition songs chosen to go forward

leaving the other 600 to die.

Before these songs go into the afterlife altogether though, let me try to keep five of them alive. Here is my Lazarus 5 of Crop Over 2017. a.k.a 5 songs that didn’t make it into the next round of competition.

  1. Makka Tree – Vybz I Love

I was introduced to this guy earlier this year when my Caribbean Ensemble from the Barbados Community Collge did the National Cultural Foundation’s Cavalcade. I was immediately blown away by his voice. Check this one produced by Quantum Productions.

2. Jafar –  Bang

Like Makka Tree, I met this guy in person on the Cavalcade gig. This Bajan Dub song, although not progressing further, has all the qualities of a really good Bajan Dub song.

3. Aidan – Life Nice

This song, written by the Waterstreet Boyz and produced by super-producer Chris Allman,  is in the tradition of the modern Ragga Soca. With a great hook and super saccharine melody, it should not be thrown on to the rubbish-heap. A good rendition by Aidan as well.

4.  Chenice – Sweet Carnival

Like Life Nice, this is a modern Ragga Soca. Chenice does a good job here as well.

5.  Contone – Come Back Tomor

Contone has been around a long time and has of late been battling his own demons. This year he reconnected with long- time producer, Anderson ‘Blood’ Armstrong to produce this. Like My Car Brek Down and 2 Sir Grantleys, this is Contone at his Bajan Blues best.

These are not all the songs obviously.

And I would be glad to hear more suggestions.

What are your five?

Special mention.

Here is my group’s offering featuring the super talented Jabari Browne.  We didn’t compete with this but keep checking it anyway.

 

 

 

Interview with Noisey on Bashment Soca

Last month I contributed to an article written by Sharine Taylor from Noisey.

Here is the link.

https://noisey.vice.com/en_ca/article/8xaxz4/bashment-soca-is-the-rebel-genre-the-bajan-government-is-reluctant-to-embrace

Enjoy!

My Bajan Dub – Crop Over 5

Bajan Dub is a big mover and shaker for Crop Over this year again.

If you want to call it Bashment Soca then fine…

Here is the Top 5 anyway.

5. Lady Essence – Fluffy Gal

The most prominent lady of Bajan Dub is back. Here she is keeping it like she normally does with Fluffy Gal.

 

4.  Stabby – Wukkist

Stabby has actually been around for quite a while originally doing the “original” Bashment Soca. This beat is one of the freshest in Bajan Dub.

 

3.  Stiffy – Tip and Ben Ova

Stiffy to me is one the biggest talents in the genre of Bajan Dub. Like Stabby, he came to prominence through Soca. This one has another fresh beat as well.

 

2.  Scrilla and Faith – Gimme

This one is the only duo entry and could have easily gone to Coopa Dan and Rhea’s “Bare Trouble.”* This one gets a slight nod from me but not by much.

 

  1.  Scrilla – Wood

This song is perhaps the biggest Bajan Dub song for the year and once again features Scrilla doing what he does best.

 

Enjoy theBajan Dub competition if you are in Barbados and if you are overseas please continue to watch this cultural space.

*https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZG6UrmFdBA

 

Soca Songs that are 10 years old this year!

*Nah Going Home is actually 11 years old but born after the school year…;)

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.

 

 

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.

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