Last month I contributed to an article written by Sharine Taylor from Noisey.
Here is the link.
Last month I contributed to an article written by Sharine Taylor from Noisey.
Here is the link.
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.
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.
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 ;).
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.
Calypso is more than comfortable to maintain the beat like the one below and it has done so for many a year.
So wherever you are from, enjoy the carnival in the Catholic Caribbean but whatever you do, don’t call the soca a calypso.
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:
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.
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 *
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.Take 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!
“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.
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.
“Wine Up” Soca or Soca Impostor? The answer is:
*Many other genres use those chords but so too does Soca.
I am working on a documentary on the Bajan duo Contone and Pong along with the team from 13 Degrees North and Stuart Hall. For those who are wondering why, it is because this year marks 10 years since Contone’s mega-hit My Car Brek Down and we want to show what happened after.
Look out for a realease late in the year.
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.
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).
Singing, as most of my friends and family will say, is not a strong suit of mine.
Singing was also not an activity I was particularly interested in either.
However, as this blog generally poses questions to accepted norms, it is only fitting that I ask, am I really that bad a singer?
Actually, I think I am not a good singer but definitely not a bad one. Here is why.
To start us off here is a clip of me singing.
It is obvious that I am not a technically gifted and by that I mean I don’t have the natural ability where my voice apparatus, vocal muscles etc, creates sound that matches pitches. Of course this was no big deal before the modern recording age. In fact, many communities before modernity were communal and their music activity was centred around participation, think Amazonian or West African village life, so no matter your voice, you sang!
What modernity did though was create the professional singer. And the recording of the professional singer gave value to a certain kind of singing which in some ways eroded how people considered singers globally, this ultimately made singers like me…
Listen to the following clips, first up is Wendy Moten then Beyonce.
These songs are damn fricking hard to sing.They also have a certain history and tradition behind them that many people globally were not a part of. So for example, if a Tuvan tried to sing these, he might not succeed, even though he might be an excellent throat singer.
In other words, Wendy Moten and Beyonce are not only PROFESSIONALl singers, they are also showing a CERTAIN TYPE of good singing based on the values of their music culture. It does not make the Tuvan a bad singer. If you are unsure what Tuvan throat singing is let us reverse this now and take a listen to some Tuvan throat singing.
Here is a clip from American Idol where this guy was dismissed.
The judges and audience thought he was crap but was he? They were just using the value system from their music culture which was totally inappropriate to judge Tuvan throat singing. If I used the Tuvan method, Beyonce and Wendy Moten were rubbish because they only produced one pitch, in fact where was the drone Queen Bee!!!???
In short, there are no universal values when it comes to singing. Singing is dependent like all value systems on who makes the rules. So if I someone calls you a bad singer, just ask them if they understand the discourse of power at work in aesthetics. If the look at you blankly, continue singing just like I will now…
* This post does not condone karaoke. Any suggestion that it does is just a coincidence. 🙂
Despite the general agreement that Soca has been around since the seventies, few attempts have been made in looking at Soca through the years. This is not really an earth-shattering observation, as the English -speaking Caribbean tends to always overlook its cultural knowledge, but given the fact that Soca is so old, one would have thought that differences in performance and compositional styles would have been compiled. To me, it is like having a 30 year old child and assuming this how he/she always looked and always was. This blog (these posts of this blog at least) intends to rectify this in Webspace and the ideas here come from my research and can be found in my Caribbean Composers Handbook, which I use in teaching Caribbean music on the Associate Degree programme in music at the Barbados Community College. I am doing this because whether I like it or not, I am kind of an expert here, and also because the Wikipedia article is so damn lousy – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soca_music. I must say now that this blog is not a complete directory, but it contains some prominent Soca stops and addresses. I will be doing this mostly through YouTube uploads as well, as musicians and people in general have little time for text these days. And besides, I need to put this stuff in some ultra dry academic article first.
The origin of Soca, which is presented as a clean coherent starting point (Machel – What is Soca on YouTube as but one example), is anything but.
I am going to get into trouble with my Trinidadian friends here, but to state that Ras Shorty/Lord Shorty/Garfield Blackman is the sole innovator of the genre is misleading. I say this because I believe that musical genre NEVER starts at the point of innovation. So, while you might start your style of Bangrasocakaiso Funk on your Akai MPC, it only becomes a genre if your fellow MPCers take it up and use generally the same musical approaches as you. Until that point, your song “Something New,” the Bangrasocakaiso Funk ORIGINAL, will continue to be a novelty at best or a testimony of madness aka “artistic expression” at worst ;). To make it utterly clear, A GENRE ONLY STARTS WHEN OTHER PEOPLE START DOING IT!!
I will return to this later, but back to Soca. Specifically, Shorty claims that Soca was a mixture of Calypso and Indian traditional music forms found in Trinidad. This definition more than any causes confusion because despite heavy repetition, not many people can locate where exactly the Indian influence was in what became known as Soca! Shannon Dudley, an academic and a musician threw in the towel (Judging by The Beat 287), noting that the early Indian influence is not discussed much these days. However, I believe though that Shorty VERY MUCH intended Soca to be Sokah, the original name he had for the genre, as can be heard in “Indrani.” Here the Indian and Calypso fusion can be argued for.
“Indrani” doesn’t sound much like what most people know as Soca and is not looked at as the starting point of Soca, at least not in any academic or Facebook argument I have heard. So where does Shorty as the father of Soca come in to play then? The track that is seen as the beginning of Soca, (in the backward-looking origins story) is Shorty’s “Endless Vibrations.” In this track, Shorty takes out the heavily identifiable or coded Indian instruments and places the rhythms on “Western Instruments.” The end result? It ends up sounding like American Funk/Soul (Guibault Politics of Labelling).
And there, my friends, we have the muddied beginnings explained–simple?…..Not quite. Check this space for Part II when the genre actually becomes a genre and a guy turns up who people definitely did not take for Grant(ed).