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RON IN COMMON: The art of songwriting

ERIC SMITH, [email protected]

RON IN COMMON: The art of songwriting

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CROP OVER SEASON is in full swing, given the varied activity taking place. There is something about the festival, whether the tents, the fetes; Pan Fusion, Pan Pun De Sand, Grand Kadooment or Foreday Morning jam that we all love.

But, I must agree with the calypsonians that it is the music which drives the festival.

Music is indeed integral to all aspects even if only as background music for the literary and visual arts components.

So when our musicians go to the trouble of recording their music, I believe that it should not be simply be a fun exercise. It ought to be a way of exploiting that unknown opportunity as much as it is about the known – looking towards winning one of the competitions.

This is why I am hoping that long before the start of the next season in 2017, the National Cultural Foundation, will be looking at helping a segment of the contributors to the festival to build on their skills and encourage those who want to take the plunge into songwriting.

Listening to some of our music over the years tells me, as someone who has never written a song or even contributed a line to one, but as a consumer knows when I hear one, what is sweet music to my ears, or something I would hardly listen to in my home or car. Songwriting can be a lucrative profession for those who perfect the art, are willing to work hard at it and done expect they will write a hit song every time they put pen to paper.

This is why I respect the efforts of Don Marshall, Stedson RPB Wiltshire, Gabby, John King, Tony Waldron, Eric Lewis, Viper, Roger Gittens, Edwin,  Mac Fingall, Billboard, Herring, Kid Site, William Waithe, Ian Webster, Cheyne Jones, and the many, many other people who contribute to the development of the local music industry in this manner. Their experience gained over many years ought not to be lost to those wanting to follow in their footsteps and do even better.

We need to have some great songwriters who can exploit the full business opportunities this segment of the entertainment industry offers..

But what I would like to see our songwriters, present and upcoming do, is avoid some of the long, complex and wordy pieces, especially if the objective is to reach an international market and record some success. Yes, not every song writer will have a catalogue with only top 10 hits, so we can expect songs at different grades. But, it should not be a total wash-out, a wasted effort.

The late Alphonsus Cassell better-known as Arrow from Montserrat showed that simplicity was the way to go in song writing … He had a monster hit in Hot, Hot, Hot, which became perhaps the most played song ever, not just Soca and was recorded in many languages.

He was influenced by the masters, Mighty Sparrow and Lord Kitchener, but took the music to a higher level. He is credited with influencing Kevin Lyttle of St Vincent with his Turn Me On and Baha Men of the Bahamas with their Who Let the Dogs Out. The one thing about all these songs – simple and catchy.

If you don’t believe we have first class songwriters in this region, then consider the work of Gamble & Huff or Lamont Dozier and even Smokey Robinson,.

The one thing about those songs, as is the case with any other song which resonates with an audience, is that you remember it or certainly parts of it. So if you want to sing along in the bath, in the car, tap your feet if you hear it while at work and enjoy watching a music video of it, as was the case with We are the World, then keep it simple. People like a hit song and the radio stations will certainly give it heavy rotation. This is so whether in Bridgetown or Bridgeport, somewhere in Japan or London.

It takes practice, lots of it, to be a successfully writer. That is why the NCF needs to help develop the raw talent out there by ensuring these would-be songwriters have the correct pointers. It would also be a good way of tapping into the extra ordinary skills of some on our top song writers.

We need music, not just for the Crop Over season, but throughout the year; for calypso tents, for school and theatrical productions; religious music; at NIFCA; for the world stage. Our songwriters must aim to produce work, whether songs of praise or of regret, songs of protest, dance tunes or work songs.

It must all be about using those 26 letters and 12 notes whether in the major lift or the minor drift as effectively as possible.

Oh, and please, as a listener, I don’t like those songs which are now four minutes and longer and also over 140 beats per minute. This is too restrictive if your vision is beyond Barbados.