Where all of the sweetness gone?
I WAS WONDERING whether I was getting too old to soca until I heard a number of young people singing pretty much the same refrain: Bajan party music is not very sweet on the ears.
For a while now, I’ve been convinced that unless one is able to dance at a rate of about five wuk-ups per second without even breaking a sweat after 20 minutes, then one should not even attempt to move to local party music.
The speedy jump and wave, hand-in-the-air phase has long passed other countries which are leaders in the realm of soca music, but we Bajans are still for the most part galloping along a cart road of up-tempo cacophony that is honestly no longer sweet.
With this in mind, I was not surprised when Blood revealed at last Saturday morning’s Crop Over news conference that his Soca Kartel’s Roll It had its origin in a beat from Dominica. It was a clear attempt by the “kartel” to bring a refreshing zouk-influenced level of sweetness to the local potpourri.
So also was Biggie Irie’s Need A Riddim which has a distinctly Trini feel and is the sweetest rhythm I have heard for Crop Over 2013. Its mood is somewhat reminiscent of recent numbers by leading soca artistes such as Kerwin Dubois (Bacchanalist) and Machel Montano (Mr Fete et al).
Having said that, I was in for a pleasant surprise as some local sweetness came through in what had become over the years a fairly staid and pedantic Pic-O-De-Crop musical environment. Some of the overly-essayish compositions that had become the accepted structure for social commentary calypsos are now being mixed with catchy, mid-tempo rhythms that actually enhance the kaiso narratives.
Take, for example, TC’s Behind A Mask, Serenader’s Sophony in C Minor and Colin Spencer’s Parang Fuh Crop Over, among others – an effort, to say the least, to experiment and create something attractive to the ear.
It’s a pity, though, that most Barbadians don’t see it that way, for based on the dwindling crowd attending the Pic-O-De-Crop finals last Friday night, it remained clear which competition was not the favoured one.
It could also be that the massive attendance at Soca Royale may have less to do with the music than the fact that it has become an event for social interaction. Bushy Park may well be the place to be seen.
It tends to be the same with local jazz and pan shows. Most Barbadian patrons hardly listen to jazz music otherwise, or pan for that matter, but the events offer that golden opportunity to hobnob, to be seen among the who’s who of local society; to be, for want of a better word, a groupie.
In the meantime, my sincere congratulations go to all who reaped success in Crop Over music this year.
I saw Ian Webster as the Pic-O-De-Crop winner about 12 months ago, and I wish to commend him not only for his effort at raising the bar but the fact that his humility, in placing second in 2012 and first this year, has remained unchanged.
The quality of material presented by junior monarchs Honesty and Quinn P also prove that local calypso is in good hands; while the Soca Kartel, by trying to go beyond a so-called formula, has the potential to eventually hold its own in soca across the region and beyond.
Blood in particular deserved the reward for his hard work which, at a cursory glance, is exemplified in his annually being able to start the season before any other artiste – the first week in May – not with one song but with a string of releases from himself and other artistes on his Redhead label.
Such precise timing and goal-setting require the discipline that is still lacking among several Crop Over participants, who still seem to be “trying a t’ing”.
Blood’s work stretches back to 1985 when he became the youngest Pic-O-De-Crop finalist, and encompasses a large volume of recordings and live performances, the most noteworthy of which were with the band Square One.
Some friends and I once linked up with Square One in New York during the buildup to Labour Day celebrations, and since then we sometimes recall the apparent ease with which the group, led by Alison Hinds, moved from venue to venue – as many as four in a night – performing sets of their popular songs of the day.
And after making these rounds between 8 p.m. and the wee hours of the following morning, they then had to get to the airport and fly out for another series of performances.
So Blood has, without a doubt, paid his dues.
• Ricky Jordan is an Associate Editor of THE NATION. Email [email protected]