Robyn Rihanna Fenty (GP)
FROM HER INITIAL hit Pon De Replay which peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100, to her recent designation as the first artiste to surpass the RIAA’s 100 million cumulative singles award threshold, Rihanna’s phenomenal success over the past decade has generated international interest in the music of Barbados and has raised the career aspirations of artistes hailing from the superstar's Caribbean island birthplace.
“The unexpected transformation of Robin Fenty from an unknown Barbadian school girl into Rihanna, an international music icon, has stimulated Barbados’ music landscape,” said Adisa “Aja” Andwele, Barbadian-born musician, poet, writer and event producer for the Barbados Government’s cultural arm, the National Cultural Foundation (NCF).
“In that regard, more younger people are now looking at music as a viable career, and getting involved in singing at Crop Over competitions.”
Crop Over, Barbados’ largest annual event, is actually a season that begins in late May and concludes the first Monday of August (Kadooment Day), which culminates in a parade along Spring Garden Highway, set to a pulsating soca soundtrack.
Rihanna’s return to Barbados in recent years to participate in Crop Over festivities drew widespread media coverage to the event, primarily in the form of captioned photos of the seven-time Grammy winner wearing an ornamented bikini, standard attire for Kadooment Monday’s female carnival masqueraders.
Crop Over’s rum-fuelled revelry is serious business – its various activities pull thousands of visitors to Barbados, filling hotel rooms and guesthouses across the 430-square-kilometre island, generating an estimated $80 million dollars for its economy in 2014, according to the NCF. Crop Over is also the engine that accelerates Barbados’ music industry into high gear, and the launching pad for many Barbadian (or Bajan) artists’ careers.
Originally founded in the late 1600s to celebrate the sugar cane harvest, the festival went dormant from the 1940s through 1974, when it was revived by the Barbados Tourism Authority, now Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) in 1974 as a tourism vehicle to combat the slow summer months. Crop Over remained primarily a heritage celebration until the early ’90s, when various musical competitions and other events were added to its cultural mix.
By the end of the season, the NCF would have staged approximately 30 events, including the Pic-O-De-Crop calypso competition, the Party Monarch competition for artistes performing rapid-paced soca, the Sweet Soca competition for slower songs and the Grand Kadooment carnival finale. Private organisations and promoters also put on various parties, concerts and all-inclusive fetes. “Crop Over reflects Barbados’ musical development and its constantly evolving trends,” says Andwele.
“In the 1980s, Crop Over music was confined to calypso’s social commentary. By the early '90s soca had replaced calypso as Crop Over’s most popular music, which influenced the NCF to create the Party Monarch soca competition, which attracted over 25 000 patrons in its first year . That impacted the local music industry as artistes made more records which engaged writers, arrangers, musicians, producers, etc.”
Years before Rihanna’s emergence, Barbadian artistes had already made international strides in local and regional Caribbean genres, especially calypso and its uptempo derivative soca, which originated in nearby Trinidad. Trinidad’s pre-Lenten Carnival is the world’s largest event for soca and the birthplace of several of the genre’s biggest acts including Bunji Garlin, Destra Garcia and Machel Montano. In 1995, Crop Over hits by Barbadian artistes including the bands Krosfyah (featuring Edwin Yearwood), Square One (featuring Alison Hinds) and Coalishun (featuring Rupee) impacted Trinidad’s February 1996 carnival so forcefully their music was collectively referred to as a “Bajan Invasion”.
“My career started with Crop Over and my presence here now can help younger people see what we have done and pass it along,” observed krosfyah’s lead singer Edwin Yearwood, whose unprecedented win of three major Crop Over competitions in 1995 for his soca classic “Pump Me Up” has yet to be repeated.
The majority of Barbados’ soca artistes release new music on their own or through independent labels during Crop Over to benefit from increased opportunities for airplay, performances at competitions, parties and on Kadooment Monday, with NCF estimating 500 songs to be released for Crop Over 2015. An artiste’s earning potential at Crop Over is difficult to gauge, says Yearwood, as it is dependent on their notoriety, the popularity of their songs during the season and whether or not they enter or win cash prizes at competitions.
Crop Over preparations
“Artistes that aren’t successful will lose the money they spent on recording, buying clothes for performances and other Crop Over preparations,” Yearwood acknowledged, “but artistes with popular songs will get bookings for performances at Brooklyn’s Labour Day carnival and at other carnivals in the US where they can earn much more than in Barbados.”
The influx of soca stars from other Caribbean islands now releasing music during the festival, including Trinidad’s Farmer Nappy, Patrice Roberts and Kes The Band, have raised the Crop Over stakes, opines Rhona Fox and Zack Cohen, co-owners of the New York City-based digital soca label Fox Fuse, now the world’s largest distributor of Crop Over music.
“The amount of people travelling to Barbados and the music being made each year for Crop Over continues to grow; credit must be given to the quality music made by Barbadian and other Caribbean producers, which has helped developed this niche market,” said the Fox Fuse team in an emailed statement to Billboard.biz.
“It’s not just soca artistes making music for Crop Over,” added John Doe, host of the popular Morning Mayhem programme on Hott 93.5 FM and the co-producer of the hit What A Way from The Crop Over EP by marquee Jamaican dancehall sing-jay I-Octane, who is also a Jamaica Brand Ambassador for telecommunications company Digicel.
“Caribbean artistes want to get into this market to access fans they might not reach otherwise and attracting an artiste of I-Octane’s calibre brings a greater shine to the soca business,” noted Doe, whose station adjusts its dancehall, hip-hop and soca format in early July and solely programmes Crop Over music for the remainder of the season.
Taken from Billboard Biz.