How Bobo is Mekking It
MOVING From sneaky classroom concerts to calypso tent performances at Crop-Over – along with guest appearances at all the major fêtes of the season, Damian Bobo Bowen is fast becoming a songwriting force to be reckoned with.His Chris Allman-produced Mekking It and Fabian Minim Worrell Muddy are enjoying heavy rotation on the popular radio stations. As with so many of the up-and-coming soca artistes, Bobo’s interest in performing music came against the backdrop of reggae and its derivatives.“In the beginning [1993 and 1994] it didn’t start out as soca. It started out as dancehall and reggae at school. Back then it wasn’t about creating original pieces; it was about using popular pieces and infusing them with lyrics that were relevant to the particular setting I was in,” Bobo told the SUNDAY SUN.This talent was born out of a “percussion” group formed by fourth form boys at Queen’s College.“We had a group called the Classroom Chorale and it was about 12 of us, and we used to beat anything. I had fellows positioned at the windows, the teacher’s desk, the students’ desk, the chalkboard with board cleaner, exercise books, louvers. Every surface had its own unique sound.“We even found that a Bic pen used to beat different from a Parker pen,” he said laughing.At lunch time the boys would hold concerts that were supported by the entire student body“We used to sneak around to classrooms to put on ten-minute impromptu shows. The whole school used to come running,” he said.In fact so popular were the lunch time concerts that some of the seniors turned it into a profit-making venture.“The older fellows turned promoters and started charging people $1 at the door. And the classrooms used to be burst with students. For us it was fun, but for them it was a business,” Bobo joked. On hindsight he understood why teachers would have been concerned about the seeming vandalism of the school property, but he knew those days were fundamental to his musical development. The chorale composed their own songs much to the delight of the students. While they were simply having fun, exploring rhythms, sounds, harmonies and melodies, the essence of good songwriting was being honed right in those classrooms. It was further developed when he went to Combermere School for his A Levels.“The guys at school organised a big clash with other students. The headmistress came out and saw the entire school gathered and wondered if there was a coup d’etat in the making during lunch time. “After that, there were end-of-term concerts where I used to perform, continuing the tradition of social commentary as it related to the school while riding dancehall rhythms,” he said. So impressed were two members of staff with his ability that they offered to manage the young artiste.
Serious calypsyHis segue into serious calypso occurred when he started reading for his undergraduate degree in accounts at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus. While there he competed in the annual Pic-O-De-Campus carnival activities. He placed fifth that year, but his perseverance would soon take him to the very top.He went on to write winning songs for subsequent competitors after he graduated.Bobo’s penchant for double entendre developed while at campus; it was a style he wanted to further explore. He was attracted to the likes of Invader, Adonijah and Serenader, and later decided to join their calypso tent. “I really wanted to continue in the double entendre vein and I felt House Of Soca had the level of mentorship that could really impact on me. I went in there and while I wanted to be associated with these stalwarts, I still wanted to differentiate myself from them. “My songs were a bit risqué and were never meant for the radio. So I never recorded them. “They were songs I used to get four and five encores for every night,” he said. And while he never intended to get involved in traditional kaiso writing and singing, he acknowledged it was a good foundation for him to have.
Competition views His anti-competition views are by now well known. He competed in the Pic-O-De-Crop competition for a few years with House Of Soca, as well as with Bacchanal Time, but was never comfortable with the concept of hierarchy. Despite the tremendous popularity he has had with songs such as Jalapeno, Bin Laden, Pyromania, Lion On De Road and Riddim Of De West Indies, and others which he would have recorded with noted producers Allman, Kirk Arthur, Peter Coppin, Dwain Antrobus, Worrell and Red Boyz, he opted out of the contest and broke away from the tent circuit.“I never wanted to risk cheapening my music to a panel decision. I have seen tonnes of discrepancies in judging which convince me that crowd response is the ultimate barometer/criterion. “Many of those who are in competitions don’t do it because they love it, or think it’s fair; they are driven by money and the prize. “I have learnt over the years to appreciate intangible prizes. Thus competitions offer no appeal to me,” he said.Bobo’s life is particularly hectic at this time. Although he does not compete, he still tries to manage his artiste appearances at night with his nine-to-five job as a financial comptroller and his role as a single parent to his four-year-old gem Mekai. Responding to the demands of his peers, Bobo plans on bringing out an album next year that would include some of the public’s favourites, as well as new songs he has already started composing.