Dancehall, which is referred to as Dub in Barbados, took root in Barbados in the early 1980s. The music became the music of the working class and the youth of the time. Eventually, some Barbadian artists produced their own Dancehall records and given the expense of recording at the time, they all did it the low budget way. The important difference with these artists and their Jamaican influences was that they all chose to produce melodic and lyrical content rich in Bajan dialect. In the last 2 years, there has been a resurgence of the form with a new generation of artists involved with Bajan dub. To help out those new to this, what I hope is an emerging form, I have compiled a Top 10 of the most influential/popular Bajan Dancehall/Dub tunes for beginners.
10. Peter Ram – Quicksand
Peter Ram was a chanter who came out in the late 1980s. He went on to become involved in Ragga Soca and the various Carnival scenes where he gained the majority of his popularity. However, this song from 1988 is how most in Barbados came to know him.
9. Dub is a Force – Jesse James
As a boy, the reaction to Dub was not favourable. The obvious conservative backlash to its overt sexuality occupied much media space. “Dub is a Force,” with its lack of expletives and sexual references, came as a defence to the music. The video was also memorable as well as the hook, “Dub is the force!”
8. Don’t Ask Me – Crimeson
The re-emergence of Bajan Dub Dancehall owed much to the Dub, a low budget house/community party and YouTube. Young hungry artists went to various communities to perform as well as putting their music on YouTube, skipping the traditional media. Crimeson embodies this perfectly, and his ‘hit, “Don’t Ask Me,” did much to throw the form back into the public spaces again.
7. Do Sain Fa Mi – Exclusive Soundz a.k.a Fari
Another of the 2nd brigade of Bajan Dub artists is Fari. This song with its partial ode to Kelloggs, actually had no Froot Loops on the shelves of local supermarkets for a bit in Barbados. By the way, his lyrics are really commands to females to perform dances. He is not speaking about motorsports.
6. Kid Site – Minibus
Kid Site was not only a Bajan dub pioneer but a calypso artist of some merit. He later went on to win the National Calypso Monarch competition at Crop Over. His roots, however, are also planted in Bajan Dub and Reggae. His song Minibus, gives a humorous and fairly accurate portrayal of the private transportation taxis which to this day are responsible for the transmission of Dub and Dancehall from Jamaica and Barbados. Here you can hear the obvious Jamaican influence with much of Site’s inflections and phrasing coming straight from Jamaican Dancehall.
5. Matrix – Meat Gaw Pull
I included this song, “Meat Gaw Pull” because it is what Dancehall is about to me: honesty and humour. Whether you agree with this honesty or not is another story.
4. Rankin Ricky – Driving Skill
Another one here from the old school. This is influenced once again from Jamaica and the at the time ubiquitous “Sleng Teng Riddim.” Ricky, however, maintains more of the Bajan phonology. The song, like Site’s, speaks to the public transportation in Barbados.
3. Ninja Man (Barbados) – License to Kill
To complete the public transportation set, here is Ninja Man’s song from the early days of the Bajan Dub. Here we can hear the riddim being similar to the Jamaican Jammy rhythms.
2. Lil Rick – De Yutes
To end, I will give the premier, in my opinion, Bajan Dub lyricists. Lil Rick started firmly in Dancehall and went on to start a strand of Soca, Bashment Soca, through his highly influential, “Hard Wine” composition. Rick, before this, did some of the most popular Bajan dub song ever*.
1. Lil Rick – Dollar Wine
*Rick o, of course, nt on to do what can be considered Bajan Dub in his biggest song to date “Guh Dung”.
*Special mention must go to Lil Rick’s “Talk for Me” and “ABC” two other hugely popular Bajan Dub songs. They would have been included but in order to give a wider cross section of artists they were excluded from the main list.
The last snapshot in Soca is taken from the early to mid-nineties and runs right up to the present. This period can be broken down further but is not necessary given the musical similarities of songs called Soca in the last twenty years. In this time, there have been generally two musical styles in Soca composition and performance: Power Soca and Groovy Soca. These terms come from Trinidad, with Barbados referring to the latter as Ragga Soca (a term which Trinidadians generally use to refer to another modern sub-genre of Soca, but that is another blog for another time). It is interesting that Barbadians, and much of the rest of the Caribbean for that matter, have no name for the faster Soca and generally refer to it as just Soca, but that too is another blog for another time. I want to look now, however, at how these two forms of Soca—Power Soca and Ragga/Groovy Soca—came about. Firstly, here are two examples of both these types.
It is my view that the Power Soca has its foundations in RingBang, at least musically anyway. Ringbang was a musical style and way of life devised by our good friend Eddy Grant in the early 90s, as a sort of concocted style-life culture which was supposed to introduce a new way of ‘cool existence’ to the Caribbean. Ultimately, this Ring Bang entity ended up influencing mostly music and sounded as below.
The most striking thing about RingBang was the stripped-down nature of it. The drums and voice were purposely in the foreground and there were no horns or keyboards nor guitar strumming. This differed considerably from the work of the producers of Classic Soca who were operating the same time as Grant. Listen to another track below, this time by Super Blue from 1994, who was obviously influenced by the Ring Bang vibe as this song is on Grant’s Ice label.
What Ring Bang sound did, in my opinion, was to open the door to increased tempo. In music, the more harmonically light a song is, the faster it can be played. Just think of dance trance music, for example, or some traditional Indian music. In addition to the suggestion of quicker tempos, the songs that came after RingBang used a similar drum beat.
Some of the later nineties songs are as follows:
Machel Montano Xtatik and Big Truck
Square One with Raggamuffin
Eventually Soca songs increased from less than 120 b.p.m, with the classic Soca songs, to over 150 b.p.m.! (See Jumbie above). This was mostly due to the new emphasis on rhythm.
The other style to come to the fore in the 90s is the form known as Ragga/Groovy Soca. Ragga Soca owes much of its early development to the work of producer Nicholas Brancker. The first recordings of the style that became known as Ragga Soca are below. These two works are what I consider, even to this day, some of the most important songs in the genre.
What these two songs have in common is their tempo. In addition, they both have the same musical influence—both these songs are of medium tempo and are influenced by Jamaican Dancehall. These stylistic properties are in essence the core of the Ragga Soca style (along with other stuff which I do not have time to deal with here).
Here are some other examples of Groovy/Ragga Soca.
Currently, most Soca artists operate within either style, Power and Ragga/Groovy Soca, and there are now established competitions in both sub-genres in most Caribbean carnivals.
So here end the Snapshots in Soca’s life. I hope you have enjoyed viewing the album. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel, STEFAN WALCOTT, which has the snapshot songs in playlists as well as my book, Caribbean Composers Handbook for further elaboration. And stick around for the other blog articles to follow, including the promised blog on other Eastern Caribbean Soca groups and their influential songs.