Creating through limits

I created the following re-arrangement of 2 Mile Hill and Buggy’s Talk to Me using just one virtual instrument.

I chose BBC Discover by Spitfire because this library is very affordable in comparison with others and gives very few articulation choices.

As a creative person, setting up limits forces you to solve problems in others ways.

I recommend this process highly.

Anyway, here is the video, enjoy. 

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.

Barbados National anthem

Hello everyone! 

Here is my orchestral re-arrangement of the Barbados national anthem to celebrate what has been a challenging year.

On vocals is the amazing Allison Norville!

A .pdf version of the arrangement is available to download under my Books and Arrangement tab.

Thank you, Barbados for everything. 

Happy Independence.

60 Caribbean Folk songs available on amazon now

I present to you my final book from the lockdown period.


60 Caribbean Folk Songs with Audio.


60 Caribbean Folk songs is a book which has compiled folk songs from Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados. For the first time, all these Caribbean treasures can be found in one document that is digitally preserved.

All songs come with audio tracks so you can sing along.


Check the link below.

Enjoy

The Battle of Bronze Nelson

The statue of Lord Nelson is about to be removed from its prominent position in the centre of Bridgetown.

The debate which led to the removal has been fierce with the Nelsonexiters, those that wanted him gone for years, the Remainers, those that don’t want to see him budge and the Penny-savers, those who think that the money to remove him could be spent elsewhere, all arguing and venting on social and traditional media. 

So before the bronze man disappears into the museum, I want to try to make sense of what has been going on in simple language to show that the Battle of Bronze Nelson can tell us a lot about meaning and how it works in modern Caribbean societies.

  1. Symbols do matter to people, just ask the Egyptians.

Despite what the Penny-Savers think, symbols matter to many Barbadians, because Bronze Nelson HAS mattered.

If we were to look at all human communities throughout history, we will see that symbols have always counted. Every community has objects that serve no functional purpose towards the survival of members of those communities.  The Egyptians built pyramids when they could have used holes in the ground. 

 

nations have flags when bar-codes would be cheaper; all modern states put up statues that they cannot eat and have to clean.

Ridiculous you say — then why?

The short answer is because we humans think in signs, and it is the MEANING we get from these symbols that makes us act together.

Every communist regime understands this just ask North Koreans how many statues of the Kims are erected or how their country does a military parade.

A government even makes sure its citizens use the same symbols, they are called letters. This is because letters, like statues, are symbols they STAND in for things and are essential for communication.

In short, whether it be a statue or an alphabet.

Symbols are not just important, they are ESSENTIAL to human life!

  1. What society thinks of a symbol CHANGES over time!

One argument the Remainers put forward in keeping the Bronze Nelson goes like this,

“You take down Nelson, what’s next? You remove Sir Gary from Kensington you stop teaching British history, where does it stop?”

The answer to that question is no one knows and frankly unless you plan to live to 1000 years old, you shouldn’t care. 

For the Nelsonexiteers of 2020 Bronze Nelson was no longer ACCEPTABLE as a public symbol. 

The same thing will happen to other symbols we now consider sacred. 

For example, there is no white or brown in the broken trident. 

However, as the Asian descended population continues to grow and inevitably become more publicly engaged, they might see this as an issue and demand removal of the BLACK broken trident from the national flag.

If something like this happens it will not be the first time.

One only need to look at post-war Germany to see the mass removal of symbols by the following generation as the symbols of the previous Nazi regime become unacceptable.  

In short,

Nothing last forever, statues included.

In summary

The Battle of Bronze Nelson is ultimately a battle of meaning. And at this moment in Barbadian history, he represents an oppressive form of colonialisation which is not acceptable.

Who knows, he may return as racial politics changes and who controls those meanings changes.

But for now, he is on history’s page and in the Barbados Museum.

 

Caribbean Musican’s handbook

The COVID-19 period allowed me to re-visit this work.


Caribbean Musician’s Handbook!


With genre overviews, transcriptions and audio of some common Caribbean forms.


This book represents 15 years of teaching Caribbean Music at BCC and is perfect for those teaching CXC music.
I think I have finished it at a great time as CXC Music transitions to a more Caribbean music-based syllabus.

Check it out!

Bashment Soca ain’t about Dat!!! – Looking for music in all the wrong (right) places –

There are few sub-genres in Soca at Crop Over that are as divisive as Bashment Soca (both 1st and 2nd comings see my article).

To refresh, Bashment Soca (the I and the II) makes heavy use of Bajan dialect with speech as melody.

Most with traditional musical training usually dismiss it as sonic drivel sighting its harmonic simplicity and melodic monotony.

But are they looking for music in the right places?

Let’s take a look at “Go Stabby” to try and answer that question.

“Go Stabby” is a typical Bashment Soca song.

Here is it below.

To my surprise, “Go Stabby” was popular outside of Barbados despite Stabby being unintelligible to most non-Barbadians. Why may you ask? It is because “Go Stabby” connected on a different musical level to other pop and carnival soca songs; it is was all about the RHYTHM!

Believe it or not “Go Stabby” is quite interesting rhythmically. “Go Stabby” has something called rhythmic tension and release with the “Go Stabby” repeated line, the tension and the “Stabbyyyyy,” the release.

Net result?

INTEREST.

It also helps that these two parts of the song are the ones most clearly understood by non-Bajan speakers.

In short, there is a reason for everything under the sun, and though some might claim the reason for “Go Stabby’s” popularity was because of duped and ignorant audiences, that’s not the case.

One has to look in the right places.

* Side note, I performed this song as part of the backing band at Bacchanal Calypso Tent in 2008. The initial reaction was tremendous, but in performance, Stabby didn’t realise that the verses were not what people wanted to hear, and he chose to perform it like the recording. Of course, the verses fell flat, meaning the live performance was lukewarm at best. Which brings us to a future blog, performance of Soca, stay tuned.

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!