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OFF THE CHEST: Tracking Bajan music

rhondathompson, [email protected]

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THE CROP-OVER festival and the local music industry are intertwined. Now, Crop-Over should not be seen as a reflection of the total music industry, but an impetus to the further development of it. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s there was no Crop-Over Festival, but our entertainers stood out. If there was any doubt about the popularity of our music during that period, one only had to be part of a get-together of regional professionals a couple of years ago in Trinidad and be privy to a conversation about Barbados music. It was enthralling to hear regional musicians speak in such glowing terms of Bajan singers. These colleagues came from as far north as the Bahamas, right down to Guyana in the deep south. Bajan music was much bigger than thought. There were also stories of how Bajan artistes were mobbed when they visited the other Caribbean islands.Recently, a number of local artistes have been making headlines, carrying the flag for Bajan music throughout the Caribbean again. But it does not feel the same as with the 1960s/1970s’ experience. Today’s Bajan artistes Alison Hinds, krosfyah, Peter Ram and Rupee (not to mention Rihanna) are creating waves overseas; but one may argue that they had to go outside to make it, and that their local impact is more seasonal.   The earlier artistes Richard Stoute, “Go Flook” Richards, Carlyn Leacock, Tony “Poser” Grazette, the Draytons Two, among others, were more an all-year-round staple that could be considered born-and-bred Bajan stars. These guys made an impact locally in a big way, and did not have to be on anybody’s label or team up with other artistes to make it. We felt then that Barbados was a musical entity, and we were proud.Our guys were singing and playing, and it mattered not that we sounded like Joe Tex, Lou Rawls or The Temptations. We had Barbadians doing music like anyone else, and we were performing it in spouge. And what made a significant difference at that time was that the local music held its own on radio, alongside that which came from North America and Jamaica. However, somewhere along the road Barbados’ music lost its way. The radio stations seemed not excited about it any more. Disco and the lot took over, and the Jamaicans continued to have favourable airplay, as they absorbed themselves into our pysche by “covering” every hit out of North America in reggae. It did not matter that it was all covers. Overwhelmed, spouge started to lose its dominance – and the senseless debate on whether it represented the masses did not help. Radio stations that played an integral part in the 1970s became surly, and airplay that used to be an impetus to the local music started coming in dribs and drabs.Now a cry is being heard again about our local music industry. Some people, looking for reasons for its continual dormancy, are blaming the annual calypso competition. Nonsense!As happened in the 1960s and 1970s, radio stations have to play the Bajan music; not at the expense of other regional artistes. But Bajan music must be given more prominence on our airwaves. Airplay must not be relegated to the sponsored half-hour sessions or fillers before the news.Artistes must agitate for their piece of the pie, also lobbying their parliamentary representatives to make a difference.In spite of other social networking avenues available, radio still has a crucial role to play in building a sense of nationalism and uniqueness by exposing local talent, so that the wider region can once again be proud of our sound.Truth be told, there is a Bajan sound.• Off The Chest is written by a WE Magazine insider.