In recent years, the young people of Trinidad and Barbados, the Caribbean’s duelling calypso nations, have begun to turn their brand of Soca into a viable commercial entity. It wouldn’t be too far off to suggest that they’ve been determining that the direction for quite sometime now.
Go to any Calypso show, check the bands that pass this Carnival, there are hardly any face in the revelling hordes over thirty. The only older people around seem to be forever dotted around in the stands of the venue’s available, or standing on the sidelines, or standing at home. Look at who’s partying to this new soca beat: It’s the ‘youth’ who are the ones with the fire and spark, all that 12 midnight to 12 noon party mentality. And isn’t that the way it should be? On the long list of things that young people are conveniently blamed for is the demise of traditional calypso. While adding this to the long lists of complaints against young people in Barbados and Trinidad, it seems not only short-sighted of We’re blamed for the demise of jjust about everything that was our parent’s way of life before we grew personalities and started to think, want and get for ourselves. I wanted to take a closer look at this schism between the traditional and contemporary, wanted to offer my two cents in this ongoing battle of words.
I have heard many a debate on our airwaves, about the standard of the music being churned out each year, and the openly critical manner in which artist like ‘ Lil Rick and Ramases Brown are alternately respected and vilified. Even Edwin Yearwood, Barbados’ calypso-prince has been dissed from every thing to his singing style, to his hair, to the height at which pants ride his narrow hips.
It almost seems as though, all this complaining echoes any generation of its youth. It seems that in an effort to maintain control, our parents always forget that change is not only unavoidable but neccessary. Without the young, fresh blood and perspectives to take Calypso further, how will we convince artists that their personal financial investment in the music that they make is worth the effort? How will we keep our music alive? In this article I have no intention of examining every artist under thirty-five’s contribution—I will refrain from doing so. However, I must champion the right of these artists to take the music forward in whatever manner is both creatively and financially expedient.
Calypso’s history is as long and as beautiful as that of classic blues, R&B, and what has turned into modern music that uses the roots laid down in these styles to build a new sound. Come on, stop your bitchin’, it was bound to happen. I for one, don’t see it as all bad.
In today’s musical climate in the Caribbean, there are two schools of music that are stirring the elemental forces: The Reggae School and the Calypso School. Both schools have artist that concentrate on social commentary, and artists whose lyrics contain blatantly sexual overtones—and undertones as well. Both schools have messages of spiritual continuance (“Sticks and stones, they may break my bones, but Jah never leave I alone“) both have messages of alternate violence (dub is rife with expressions of this) and a disturbingly and dangerously incorrect mishandling of women, their bodies and motivations.
With many of the pioneers getting older and passing on (as is the natural course of a human life, even an artist’s life) the lines of appreciation of both modern Calypso and the traditional forms of Calypso, are widening, There are more young people naturally gravitating to the younger musicians and their music. When you see who the real money earners are, the ones with slick music videos, it is definitely the young artist that have the real star power. They’re the ones who are making bigger dents and are biting bigger pieces off for themselves. Not only have the older people stayed away almost en masse, but they have been openly critical of the direction in which the art form appears to be going.
MACHEL MONTANO AND SQUARE ONE TAKE CARIBBEAN MUSIC TO GREATER HEIGHTS
My generation is the future- and tomorrow’s generation, as far as calypso is concerned, the future is now. Tomorrow has arrived. The interjection of the new rhythms, the emphasis on party/’Soca’ music has created a new breed of calypsonian. The likes of Alison Hinds, Anderson King , Bunji Garlin and last but not least the incomparable Machel Montano are creating an entirely new sound entirely.
Back in the 1970s, both dub and rap were still very much an evolving art forms, starting form threads of the musical history of the African legacy in the western world, and building upon musical styles that have cropped up continually in the last hundred years or so. Art forms such as bee bop, jazz, as well as the stagger and the ‘one- upmanship’ of ‘toasting’ that has been a rite of passage for young black men since time immemorial, all played their part. Toasting, boasting, circles of humanity speak-singing over Afro-derived rhythms evolved into what has become one of the biggest money earning genres in the international music industry today, giving birth to it’s own off-shoot genre—hip hop.
Hip hop and dub have been happy bedfellows, creating a sound for the young black people of the English- speaking western hemisphere, indeed the world. As much as we may (or may not feel left out) we as young people have a deep appreciation for these music forms, and we plunk down the cash continually to approve it.
Compared to Calypso and it’s development in the Caribbean, this new breed of artist (Alison, Machel) has been developing in a near vacum, tired of creating music only appreciated by local audiences. They have been adding a swell of imagination to what was an aging, tired but tried and true format. Calypso is now not just the higher end of the art-form, but must also be given credit for this new off-shoot, the neo- soca.
Purists, the people who don’t have either an appreciation or even a willingness to entertain this new breed of musician, complain bitterly about the change—but you know, you can’t change the flow of the tides. This is a natural evolution. The youth, the young, have a responsibility to their heritage to take calypso a step further. Calypso in the form of the classics: Roaring Lion, Sparrow, Kitchner, Lord Radio is slipping away with the generation of young people that fed and fueled it.
It is now described as “vintage”. There’s nothing wrong with that, everything changes.
When the likes of The Mighty Gabby, The Mighty Gryner, Red Plastic Bag, David Rudder, Tambu and others rose to prominence in the late seventies and in the eighties, they transformed the music they grew up listening to. Turning it into something else. A something that the others in their generation as well as the little babies like myself (at the time) loved and felt through and through. Is it not natural then, that this new generation create a calypso-based sound that defines their place in time?
Alison Hinds and Square One , Machel Montano and Xtatic stand as an expressive force of new breed of West Indian. One that is not insulated from the rest of the world. I predict that in short order, this Neo-Soca will continue to evolve into it’s own genre. Forays into Rapso, Papimento and Creole will incorporate themselves into the base from, and will create a wave of international interest the likes of which none of us are really prepared for.
When people criticise the artist of today for their ‘bastardisation of the great Caribbean art form’, as I heard one man declare at last Saturday’s Calypso Spectakula, I have to laugh. What would you have them do? Sing in a style that doesn’t reflect their physical attachment to here and now?
No… I think that the critics need to stop. Stop, think and be grateful. Be grateful that the young not only still have a place for Calypso in the overwhelming market that is music available for consumption, but that they are willing to take it to the next step in what is a natural process. When you see Square One, Bunji, Lil Rick and Machel on stage, like it or not, the future of Calypso is here.