Plates…not the ones you eat With

There has been some debate on the use of plates or riddims within Soca.

For those who do not know, plates/riddims are instrumental tracks.

The unique thing with plates/riddims is that unlike other types of popular music, the same instrumental track can be used by multiple artists to create different songs.

The innovators of plates were the producers in downtown Kingston.  One of the most famous uses of these plates/riddims is with the Sleng Teng riddim, a dancehall staple.

As all the songs have the same instrumental backing, as in the Sleng Teng Riddim, Djs generally find them easier to mix (to transition from one song to the next). Kingstonian sound system operators, who were also record producers, realised this early on and they all made the recording of plates a priority within their work.

The penetration of Jamaican music into the rest of the Caribbean as well as the rise of the DJ within Soca made the introduction of the riddim concept inevitable. However, this practice is more frowned upon in Soca than in Jamaica because:

  1. It was not part of the tradition. Calypso and its offshoot Soca always prided itself on the original single recording. From the days of Lion to David Rudder.
  2. The use of plates is seen as the conquest of Jamaican culture, a sensitive topic with the rest of the Caribbean.
  3. Plates mean the DJs have won.

My personal view on riddims is a realistic one; they are here as a result of the modern carnival scene. Will they be around forever? Nothing lasts forever but possibly a while to come as the economy and value for producer buck make them attractive.

Are they any worse than what went before? I never try to judge that way cause the older I get, the better my youth music used to be, but what I can tell you is that

  1. some rhythms I like, others I don’t. And
  2. all songs on the same riddim, I do not like equally.

The last point shows that even within the same instrumental, there is still much divergence. Here are two songs I love on the same riddim.

So until global popularity switches from the DJ, look out for them for a while longer.

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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!

 

 

 

 

3 reasons why if I were Nikita I would go into terminal depression.

Crop Over has seen its first controversy for 2017.

For those not in Barbados, it concerns the release of Nikita’s song, “Same Way,” which basically was released 2 years before by DeeVine and called “We De Same.”

Check the links below:

 

 

For any artist involved in the Carnival music industry this mix-up is pretty much as life-shattering as they come and here are 3 reasons why I would be in terminal depression if what had happened to Nikita had happened to me.

  1. I spent plenty money!

To get any song out for Crop Over is expensive. There is the song-writer, the producer, the studio time, the mixing and the mastering to pay for.  Those bills could run north of 5000 BDS easily. So to shell out all of that cash to realize my song is not the original work I intended would have put me in firm connection with the Kleenex box.

2.  I look like a thief

Stealing is reprehensible no matter how and when it happens. It is even worse when it looks like a public heist of lesser known artist. If I was made to look like a hustler at best, or a thief at worse, when I am not even close to being dishonest, then I would be completely broken.

3.  I have one shot at this.

The carnival music complex is a CRUEL model. It allows for no mistakes. So to have a single which is going to be my only major release for the YEAR caught up in plagiarism is possibly the worse thing that can happen. It can also rule me out of the lucrative lottery of the soca competitions.

PAIN!!!!

To end,

Are there other issues in the Caribbean? Yes, they are.

But do not overlook for one minute the personal and professional predicament Nikita and the other members of the production team have been placed in.  This is a serious matter of integrity that is being played out VERY PUBLICLY. So after reading this, do like me and place yourself in her position and if you come out positive, then you are as good as Nikita, Deevine and the Red Boyz.

But if you think you would be equally depressed…

You are not alone

I would feel DE SAME WAY!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

 

Genre is more than Rhythm even in a Rhythm Genre

Due to the fact there is so little literature on Caribbean music (I have contributed however with my book, Caribbean Composers’ Handbook, shameless plug) and it is not taught with the biblical authority as with some other subjects within our school system, there is always debate as to what makes up a Caribbean genre.

This post cannot detail how genre works in the ENTIRE Caribbean, that would be 3 books and a thesis, however, what it can do, and is going to do, is show that a song does not belong to a Caribbean genre because of its music alone.*   To prove this, here is a YouTube collection of some songs, which while having certain “Caribbean” rhythms, are certainly not seen to be part of any Caribbean genre.

Exhibit one,  Artic Monkeys, “Do Me A Favour”

From a brief first listen, one could hear the distinct rhythmic pattern pictured below (taken from my book Caribbean Composers’ Handbook).  This pattern is of course common within the Classic Soca Sound. However, I don’t, and not many others would consider “Do Me a Favour” a Soca song.

soca drums

The same can also be said of the next song by Heather Myles which I don’t think was released for any Carnival.

Then of course there is the South Mediterranean and North African traditions, which use the main Classic Soca sound drum beat. Take a listen to traditional ballos from Greece.

 

Here also is Sam Bass from the Alan Lomax Collection doing a song that is certainly not from Trenchtown, although it has a reggae strum.

 It is clear from these examples that music is not the only thing which defines a genre. So whenever you hear someone saying, “Listen to this, you heard this record of an American playing reggae?” remember that it is not only the music that makes a song fall into a genre but a whole bunch of other stuff too.

* check Fabian Holt’s, “Genre in Popular Music” or any discussion on this subject by David Brackett for greater understanding (Questions of genre in Black Popular Music).