Top Ten crop over Songs of all time

Crop Over is a summer festival held in Barbados. Originally it was a post-harvest festival held after the sugar season, but it was re-introduced in the 1970s as a carnival-like event.
Since its re-introduction, the festival has grown considerably to where it is now one of the main cultural events in the Barbadian calendar. Over the years, many songs have been released for Crop Over that fall into two genres:

  • Calypso
  • Soca
    The calypsos are usually written for the calypso competition while the soca songs are for the parties and the street celebration known as Kadooment.
    I will now give a Top 10 Crop Over songs of all time where I seek to narrow down the thousands of songs that have been released in these two genres. To get on this list, a song had to be:
  • A prototype of a particular period
  • A song that went on to change how music was being made in Crop Over.

So here is my Top 10 (not in any particular order).

Tek Off Something – Stiffy – 2016
1. Tek Off Something is the newest song on this list. It gets its place because it represents the Bashment Soca form of soca which is the favoured Crop Over genre by the current youth in Barbados. Bashment Soca is really a re-emergence of Bajan Dub from the 1990s, and the music was then re-branded and given a competition within the Crop Over Festival. Stiffy won the first-ever Bashment Soca competition with this song. Tek Off Something gets on the list, therefore, because it is a prototype of Bashment Soca. I actually call it Bashment Soca II because the original Bashment Soca I is different to this newer form.

Hard Wine – Lil Rick – 1996
2. Hard Wine is a song from the mid-1990s sung by Crop Over giant and Bajan cultural icon Lil Rick. This song gains its place because of the influence it had on later producers and singers. It was raw in its production and had Lil Rick chanting/singing in Bajan dialect. It started a whole sub-genre, Bashment Soca I, where bed-room producers came to the game with raw production and songs sung in Bajan dialect. This type of Bashment Soca was popular for another ten years and formed part of the soundtrack to Crop Overs of the early 2000s.

The Country Ain’t Well – RPB – 1989
3. The Country Ain’t Well was part of the calypso competition, called Pic-O-De Crop in 1989. It gets on the list because it represents the calypso writing style of RPB, who had the most success in Bajan calypso competitions. The RPB style is based around simple, singable melodies and lyrics that display the use of metaphor. This song is a prototype Bag and helped him win the competition in 1989.

West Indian Politician – Gabby – 1985
4. The other influential way of composing calypso is the way it has been done by the Mighty Gabby. Unlike RPB, the Gabby method is full of melodic complexity in comparison to other calypsos. Gabby loves chromatic notes, and he also varies the rhythm of his melodies between verses as well. This way has also been very successful at the calypso competition, with Gabby being the second-highest winner. Basically, Bajan calypsonians either utilize the Bag style or the RPB style in making their music.

Ragamuffin – Square One with Alison Hinds – 1996
5. Alison has been one of the leading female voices in soca, a genre that has been male-dominated since its inception. Ragamuffin represents the type of fast soca which emerged in the mid-1990s that was more sung when compared with the Bashment Soca I. This type of soca, like Bashment Soca I did not feature a lot of instruments and was considerably quicker than the other types of Soca, which were popular in the 1980s. Although Obadele was the first to win the most popular on the road with this type of soca, Raggamuffin because Alison Hinds sang it, is not only a prototype of this quicker soca in the 1990s; it also is the prototype female artist within soca and thus an automatic entry on this Top 10 list.

Pump Me Up – Krosfyah with Edwin Yearwood – 1995
6. The slower type of soca, known as Ragga Soca, is very popular at Crop Over. Though it has been renamed under the influence of Trinidad to Groovy Soca, it still forms a critical element of modern parties. The first soca of this type is Pump Me Up by Edwin Yearwood, which fused dancehall with soca music. This slower tempo, plus the way Edwin sings, was imitated by many and went on to have considerable influence in all carnivals in the English-speaking Caribbean. Pump Me Up was this a no-brainer inclusion to the Top 10 list.

Mr T – Grynner – 1983
7. Before the considerable changes in soca music in the 1990s, Grynner was the dominant sound of soca music in Barbados in the 1980s. Grynner’s sound was built in Eddy Grant’s Blue Wave Studio, and it basically involved a backbeat which is found across many genres as the drum pattern and then calypso percussion on top. In addition, Grynner’s unique Bajan voice carries the melody. This combination was very popular, and Mr T. represents this sound to a T.

Ragga Ragga – RPB – 1993
8. Although Pump Me Up was the most influential of the Ragga Soca songs, the song that opened the door of Jamaican dancehall mixed with soca was Ragga Ragga. This song gave Ragga Soca its name and is a definite inclusion on this list. It is on this, however, to represent the regional influence of songs released in Crop Over as Ragga Ragga was very popular in the Caribbean region of Colombia and Panama. It probably remains one of the most recognizable songs from Crop Over in that region and has a redone Spanish version (reggae en Espanol).

My Car Brek Down – Contone – 2006
9. Contone was a car-washer and part-time singer. His song My Car Brek Down was the most popular Bashment Soca I song ever and marked the end of that particular era. Some may consider this song a strange inclusion, but in my time on stage, I have never seen such a reaction from an artist as Contone received at that time.

All of We – Peter Ram – 2015
10. In 2021, the other sound that dominates Crop Over and Bashment Soca II is the sound of Red Boyz soca. The Red Boyz are a production team of Scott Galt and Mikey Hulsmeier with a garrison of hit songs since their 2006 debut album. In 2015, Peter Ram’s All of We, which was written by Shaft Bishop, a close associate of the Red Boyz, completely dominated 2015 Crop Over. The Red Boyz sound is based a lot on the re-introduction of 1980s style production of soca with live instruments frequently featured.

So there it is, my Top 10 Crop Over List to date. Do you agree with mine? Which other songs should be included?

Handel’s Caribbean Messiah in Halle Germany

Look what came through yesterday.

The program to Handel Festpielle in Halle with Handel’s Caribbean Messiah as a featured production for the 2021 run.

I wrote and was executive producer on this work since its inception and what a ride Handel’s Caribbean Messiah has been. Here is a clip of me going through the process of composing for the debut show.

So here are the THANK YOUS!!!!

  1. Thank you Fran Wickham and Ronald Grant, for really believing in that first show at Frank Collymore Hall in 2017.


2. All of the Barbados Museum crew especially Kevin Farmer who brought us over in 2018. BCIDA for supporting the album production in 2018.

3. Jewel Forde and everyone at the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation for the success of the 2018 run.


4. The Caribbean Export Development Agency National Cultural Foundation for their support in 2019.


5. The original management team who assisted in the growth of the production, the original Bajan cast and our expanded cast in 2019.

This started as an idea on a page and ended up being accepted by Handel Haus, I am truly personally humbled and I have learnt soooo much.


We might not get there as a group but the production shows there is a global demand for what we do in these tiny islands once there is co-operation.


Eventually, I will be writing and blogging on this experience outlining where we can improve as cultural industry people.


But for now.

Thank you Barbados for allowing me to create Handel’s Caribbean Messiah.

Computer Calypso! Replace the writer, it’s all cliche!

There is a song called “In Time to Come” by Crazy.  In it he lists numerous events that he thinks will happen.  Check it out below.

For those unfamiliar, or those that just can’t be bothered to listen, Crazy makes a number of claims. Like,

1. The coming of a black President. Which he was right about.
2. Trinidad developing a nuclear program. Which I am not sure about.
3. A computer writing calypso. Which is what this blog is all about.
Because Crazy was right. The age of the Mighty Microchip or Lord AI is definitely upon us. How may you ask?

Because modern calypso is a cliche with repeated ways of doing things. And computers love cliches.
Let me show you.

1. Horns come the same place.
Since the rise of Soca, calypso has become a very predictable form. Firstly, most of them feature horns. These horns play the same role in all the songs. So for example, all songs have band choruses, melodies and sections where horns fill the spaces. So let me demonstrate this by using what has become the template for female calypso songs, Die With My Dignity by Singing Sandra.

The band chorus here plays the melody of the chorus at the beginning of the song and after each sung chorus. Here it is separated.

The horns also play in between the vocal phrases. And believe me, the majority of the melodic verse phrases last for four beats and the horns then play for two beats. Check below:

  1. Tempos vary, but not that much.

Since the birth of Soca 40 years ago, calypso has come to live in a particular tempo range, that is 85 to 120 b.p.m.

  1. Harmony

All calypsos these days are in major or harmonic minor. In addition to this, since the Chalkdust years, a particular harmonic progression has become prominent. Of course, this is too much to explain here in this blog, but I will be releasing some videos to prove this. But trust me, the harmony is very much cliche as well.

  1. There are three main beats

Calypso uses three basic drum patterns these days.

  • Traditional calypso drum pattern.
  •  The 1980s Soca pattern.
  •  The Shango rhythm.
  1. Lyrics are clever but not original

Lyrics have been seen to be the centrepiece of the calypso. However, like all good things, they have become cliche. The majority of well-written calypsos are based on the working class point of view on politics, world events. Calypsonians these days take the topic and use everyday objects as a metaphor to frame the argument. To get what I am talking about, take the Chalkdust song Chauffeur Wanted, as he is a leading practitioner of this type of calypso.

 

The same can be said of Red Plastic Bag, a noted admirer of Chalky.

Endings

Ok, Stefan, you have identified the cliche but how do you code all of this?

By laying out the rules, of course! Check these basic functions.

  1. Use major scale
  2. A tempo of 93 BPM
  3. Use 1980s Soca beat
  4. Use melodies in verse lasting for four beats with a range, maximum 6th.
  5. Have horns play for two beats in response to verse melody.
  6. For lyrics – get a local event from the front page, get a metaphor, rhyme it using AABB lasting for 32 bars in duple time, use ballad form of three verses.
  7. Band chorus between verses.

Boom! Calypso!

Handel’s Caribbean Messiah #global

I am very proud to announce that Handel’s Caribbean Messiah has been selected for the Handel-Festspiele in Halle Germany for 2021.

The Handel-Festspiele is an annual festival celebrating Handel’s music in his birthplace by local German and international acts.
I am incredibly moved by this selection as we were chosen based on my re-imagining, orchestrations and in some cases compositions, with the performances executed by a 100% Barbadian cast.

The fact that this was done by a panel of Handel experts makes the achievement even more rewarding. Also, the fact that the negotiations began through my completion of the Caribbean Export process, which involved some sacrifice, made me more reassured in my music business decisions.

 

2019 HCM Messiah Poster


Handel’s Caribbean Messiah is one of the only locally created indigenous works that brings the strands of Caribbean culture together and even though we might not make the last financial hurdle to reach Halle, the fact that it has been looked at as having international quality by unbiased experts shows how we should rely on our own confidence as Caribbean cultural practitioners in what we do.
I encourage all who are in Barbados this week, December 20-22nd, to come out to the Frank Collymore Hall and see this production that will soon be leaving these shores by the 100% Bajan ORIGINAL cast.
Thanks to my team who supported the dream and to Fran Wickham and Ronald Grant whose support allowed for the first staging of the production in 2017. Also to Carol Roberts who was enthusiastic about it when it was only an idea and suggested the use of a Bajan nation language narrator who is now Jabari Prince Browne.

Jab = possession music

One of the biggest hits for Carnival 2019 is Mr Killa’s Run Wid It.

 

For those unfamiliar with the style, it is referred to as Jab, a sub-genre of soca which I posted on before. In terms of soca, there are no better musical sub-generes suited to talk about spiritual possession more than Jab because Jab, for all intents and purposes is possession/trance music. It ticks all the boxes. For example:

  1. Jab like other possession music is all about the repetition. You need to say stuff over and over.
  2. Jab has no chords. There is also little to no harmonic movement in possession music (chords, chordal instruments like a piano or guitar), especially with possession music of the African diaspora.
  3. Jab music is rhythmic.

To see what I mean check the music from Cuban Santeria below:

 

It is obvious, Jab is meant to induce possession.

The psycho-acoustic explanation for this is that the repeated patterns lead to less distraction which in turn can manipulate the trance-like state. For the more spiritual, these rhythms carry with them certain deities and given the reaction to this song, I think the latter definitely has a point.  Check below:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fdavid.isaac.9674%2Fvideos%2F10218678247008579%2F&show_text=0&width=560

So that my friends a brief look at Jab and its relation to possession music. Whenever this song plays, just be careful, it is meant to take a HOLD of you.

 

 

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!