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!

10 Rum Songs I like – For Carnivals and Beyond – English

Caribbean festivals (including Crop Over)  are propelled by spirits with the biggest fuel being rum.

Over the years many artists have dedicated songs to this deity. Here are 10 of the best:

10.

Chutney Soca is possibly the rum genre of the Caribbean. This one by Ravi B from 2010 also manages to include the marriage scenario, another common theme.  One of my favourite songs period.

9.

Contone was a part-time singer and full-time car washer from Barbados. Through the years he has scored some massive hits at Crop Over with his rum lyrics.  This Bashment Soca number, “I Like Drinking Rum,” is fairly direct. You also get a two for one in this video as he throws in, “Fire in the Hole” (Live I may add).

8.

The first of our Christmas rum songs is sung by Barbadian DaCosta Allamby speaking of how important it is to consume rum in large quantities.  *Warning, drinking a gallon of rum is never advised.

7.

Lord Kitchener, another artist from the Trinidad carnival canon, is not to be left out.  This one is another Christmas song and rum classic. The name speaks for itself.

6.

This song from 2014 comes from the biggest soca artist from St. Lucia, Ricky “One to Dem” T. As it is new, it does not have the legacy of the others on this list. However, this is still a ‘big tune’ from the Helen of the West.

5.

The Mighty Sparrow is one of the most prolific artists in Calypso and Soca.  This one is a favourite among the mature crowd throughout the English-speaking Caribbean and speaks to being drunk and disorderly. It won the Road March in 1972, showing that unruly behaviour fuelled by alcohol has always been part of carnival.

4.

USVI Soca has one of the most fascinating soca sub-genre scenes. This riddim is just called Rum and Rave. 

3.

To back up my point about Chutney’s relationship with rum, here is another one by Adesh Samaroo where he confirms his “undying” relationship with it.

2.

Gorg is known as the drinks boss in Barbados and this song from 2014 is but one in his catalogue. Borrowing from the Chutney approach, Gorg uses the rum-troubled-relationship theme.

1.

Machel Montano is another massively popular Trinidadian artist. Here is Bottle of Rum, a soca song off the hugely successful 3Zero riddim from 2012. Love and/of rum are again the themes.

Can you add any more?

* Stefan Walcott does not condone mass consumption of spirits of any kind. This post was not sponsored by any beverage retailer, the Holy Spirit or any other related product (although a donation would now be welcomed…;)

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.

A Symphonic Arrangement – Emmerton

One of my life dreams was to write for an international symphonic orchestra. Because of the work of the Barbados Embassy in Brazil, I was finally granted that opportunity.

Here is Emmerton, the Barbadian iconic piece written by Dr Anthony ‘Gabby’ Carter and orchestrated by me with ideas from my previous string arrangement for my mentor Nicholas Brancker. (some chords and voicings heard here are ABSOLUTELY him.)

Big thanks to Ambassador Sealy-Thompson.

 

PS – I was hoping there would be a drumset there but the space for the Tuk Band Waltz is obvious.

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.

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.

 

 

Viral

I saw this video below today.

And it has gone viral.

For those who don’t know, going viral is when a lot of people watch your content, and in his case some quarter of a million shares on Facebook alone.

The fact that this video had so many views will obviously offend some artists. All the techie videos on YouTube will tell you that this track is poorly produced, not mastered, has poor editing and isn’t even in time.

But you know what, and this is what I want whoever reads here to leave with:

GOING VIRAL HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH QUALITY!

Going viral has everything to do with DIFFERENT. BEING WAY DIFFERENT! (or having millions of dollars)

For example, a cat eating a mouse will not go viral. However, a cat eating a Mouseketeer might. Similarly, a plus-sized black female singer belting Amazing Grace with all the vocal tradition that is impeccably recorded will not go viral, however, a poorly recorded Chinese child in a village singing, in the same manner, WILL definitely be shared on millions of pages.

So artists, unless you are truly willing to be odd-ball or you embody the tradition of another culture, you can give up your dreams of being shared and liked and trolled.

Just keep focussed and remember with each post what you are hoping to achieve, if it is just to let others know you still exist or to get a specific gig, then that is cool. In fact, on a personal level, I prefer just one like than to have a production like “Take you to the movies”

It is so catchy though!!! Maybe I should re-think that.

Below is a cat viral video compilation that has more views than any of my work combined x 10.

 

 

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?