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Friday, July 3, 2015

Dear Fay Ann...

Soca is a relatively new form of music that is still trying to figure out what it is as a genre.  Artistes like Fay Ann, Bunji, Kees, and Machel are experimenting with different sounds to define soca and carry it beyond Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean, and its Diaspora.  The most recent trend is the fusion with EDM led by Major Lazer and other soca artistes, which they hope will carry the music “international”.

But what does “carrying soca international" mean? It means making the music popular outside of its current space.  Popular in this sense, is selling as much of it as possible to a mass heterogeneous audience outside of the Caribbean.  So Bunji performing on BET’s 106 and Park or having his song played on Grey’s Anatomy did not position Differentology in mainstream popular music.  In the same way, the use of Destra’s Bonnie and Clyde in a Parrot Bay rum ad did not give the song mass appeal.  However, soca did make its presence known in the past. The first major hit for calypso internationally was the Andrew Sisters’ version of Lord Invader’s  Rum and Coca Cola which spent 10 weeks on the US Pop Billboard charts in 1944. Harry Belafonte’s album, Calypso (1956) and Arrow’s single, Hot! Hot! Hot!, which was later redone by Buster Pointdexter )(1982/1987) were also classified as popular. And in recent times, Kevin Lyttle’s Turn Me On (2001), Baha Men’s version of Anslem Douglas’ Who let the Dogs Out (2000), and Rupee’s Tempted to Touch (2004) made their way to the mainstream market.  Although these were proud moments for the Caribbean, the artistes were one hit wonders and failed to keep soca on the global popular music scene. 
Now on to Fay Ann and the Raze music video...Fay Ann Lyons is a great soca artiste, not because she is Super Blue’s daughter or Bunji Garlin’s wife, but because of her songwriting, particularly her ability to create a hook, her strong vocals, and her stage presence.  She is the third woman to capture the Road March title and the first to capture the Soca Monarch title.  She is also the first artiste to win all of the categories in the Soca Monarch competition and win the Road March in the same year. With these achievements, Fay Ann is committed to taking soca out of its seasonal nature and making it a truly popular music genre.  Recently, she has been experimenting with the EDM sound in an attempt to carry the music international.  Her signing with VP records is also a step in that direction. Now, why a successful soca artiste would release such a mediocre music video for the song that she wants to cross musical borders? 

Although Fay Ann believes that Trinbagonians are too small minded and unintelligent to appreciate the production of a music video, there were many small minded wanna-be experts who failed to see the artistic greatness of the video and in true Trinbagonian style, did not hold back their views.


But I don’t think Fay Ann was ready for her own people to share their feelings on the video and she took to traditional and social media to respond:
 “As far as I am concerned I am happy with the video and have no time for negativity”
“Lol thank you, being different has always been ok in my book. Even if no one else thinks so”
“Ok off to bed...but I hope all these experts on videos can point me in the direction of the place where they are in rotation in Trini! TNX”
“Problem is yal say things and think because we artiste we must not respond or say anything. But guess what you wrong”

“Dont know who say vids must depict song, take me to church song watch the vid? All these experts! Locally!! Lol”
“I wonder where these "experts" does be hiding I did the vid I like the vid that's it. Stueps!”
“No sorry, to Trinidad the song old. Don't know why they pretending to care. When they let soca mostly play for carnival:”
“Vids are done with many purpose my dear, do you think I did it with you in mind? Lol nope. The ppl it was done for got it!”
And my personal favorite:
“Lol the vid was not done for a carnival Trini audience, so I am on target with them not getting it. Plus the RIGHT ppl like it”
I really don’t believe that after Fay Ann read the thousands of comments, she literally Lol-ed.  It must have been very hurtful to get such negative feedback particularly when she felt the self directed video was up to international standards. 
So Dear Fay Ann, instead of taking your precious time to read and respond to every single comment from those you perceive as ‘haters” (and we know Trinbagonians can carry it too far), acknowledge the feedback and redo the video. As an artiste, it is important that you do not insult your audience because without the local, there would be no international.

So here are some suggestions from a non expert:
  • Get a GOOD video director and videographer
  • The most powerful hook in the song is “wake up everyone who sleeping” which is a call to subvert or to unmask within the Carnival.
  • Keep the basic concept with the snow, but it needs to be contrasted with something darker like the oil and mud of Jouvert.  Jouvert (“a new day dawning”) represents this awakening and transformation.
  • The call to put “all hands in the air” is a significant part of the spirituality of Carnival- a reaching to skies, coming off the earth…it’s all a part of the revelry. We need to see this portrayal.
  • These dark scenes would complement the winter scenes, which is a significant image of social forces that restrict freedom in our everyday lives (ok ok, I hear you laughing so I’ll stop).
  • I am no expert on fashion so I’ll leave the styling to those who are, but K2K could have done something fabulous here.
  • A great editor, producer and director would be able to put all of this together to tell a critical story of getting out of our comfort zones and achieving liberation despite the status quo.
Raze captures so much of the spiritual and physical aspects of Carnival, but the video fails to do the same.  This depiction does not have to be literal in terms of the stage, big truck, mas costumes, or a night club.  So I’m confused about Fay Ann producing a song and a video for 2 different audiences.  Moving from the periphery to the center or carrying the music international is no easy task, but don’t alienate the local audience – don’t tell us that the video is not for us. We are your audience and we know when your work is mediocre, so stop taking it so personal…
Raze is a great song and the video should target anyone who experiences this waking up and transformation that defines the Carnival. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Jamaica Carnival 2015: Where All Dem Fetes Come from Daadddyyy???

Jamaica Carnival fete list for the next 2 weeks:

Jamaica Carnival really begins this week with more events to choose from and to budget for...but I can say that it is finally a Carnival season here in the land of reggae and dancehall.  For many of us, it is a welcomed change to the years of just Mas Camp Fridays, Beach Jouvert, and Bacchanal Jouvert.  I am happy to see that so many promoters are introducing new concepts and challenging the old school Bacchanal Jamaica model.  Yet, this comes with a hefty price tag.

Have some of these promoters lost their minds??? I know that Jamaica Carnival belongs to the middle and upper income groups and there is this unbelievable need to keep certain groups out (don't debate me on this), but jeezus, ease up on the ticket prices!!! These promoters will keep trying to exclude people until they are successful in keeping everyone out making it truly exclusive with not one patron in attendance (if only).

And promoters, please don't try to justify these prices with the "but it's cheaper than fetes in Trinidad" nonsense. Trinidad and Tobago has a stronger economy and stable foreign exchange.  In essence, the Trinbagonian middle income group has more to spend. I'm not saying that fetes shouldn't make a profit but damn, how can you double the price in the space of one year? But I guess this works because people are still going, especially the kind who needs to make an appearance for the various Facebook pages and has little or no interest in Carnival.  Let's call them the feters en blanc....

All is not lost, there are some affordable options that are still trying to keep us regular folk in.  For instance, the weekly fetes such as Tabanca Tuesdays, French Lyme, and Karnival Countdown are great for their no or low cost.  They don't go too late and you can get to work on time the following day.  You also get to enjoy the same DJs as the bigger more expensive fetes.

My personal favorite is the I Love Soca cooler fete which I have been to every year since its inception.  It has managed to keep the price low with good DJs and guest performers.  But then again, why should I pay any more to bring my own drinks, cups, ice etc ?

Another best bet for your money is Dusk that is drinks inclusive for $3500 (approx. JMD$116=US$1).  But my top pick has to be Glow, another drinks inclusive, but only for $1500! And the best part is that ladies dressed in white get in at a 2 for 1 price before 11pm.  At this price I am questioning why would a cooler fete charge $3000 *side eyes Sundown*...

In terms of the all inclusives, I can't believe that Frenchmen is actually the best choice.  Yes, they have increased their price but they have not reached the $9000 that one fete is asking (I see you Marbana).

For breakfast fetes, there is Frenchmen Rise Up for $6500, Canboulay for $5000, Sunrise for $8000 or $9000...and Vale Breakfast for $3500 ( no drinks)...you decide....

Now for the Jouvert fetes....I am confused that Cocoa Jouvert was $4500 (same price as last year), but Ambush is $8000 ($7000 if you got the early bird).  Although Bacchanal's Jouvert is the cheapest at $2000 with performances by Destra and Kerwin Du Bois, I am still not a fan of their events....

Who am I to complain?...this is just the ranting of someone trying to stay afloat in a struggling Jamaican economic situation but still trying to enjoy its best time of the year....while I can.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Why Trinis Should Do Jamaica Carnival

Now that Trinidad Carnival is over and the tabanca has fully set in, don't fear my Trini friends, you can always do Jamaica Carnival.

The Jamaica Carnival season is in it's early stages now, but things really pick up around Easter weekend with the Road March being held on April 12.

BUT... I am warning you to not compare Jamaica Carnival to Trinidad's because it's no where on the same scale.  Jamaica Carnival is a very small event (that is growing) and not a national festival.  The road march and costumes are managed by Bacchanal Jamaica, a private entity, and the fetes and J'ouvert are put on by Bacchanal and other promoters.  Even so, it is worth the experience.

Photo credit: Eloquence.com
1.  It is cheap(er).
Because of the exchange rate (about J$116 to US$1), Trinis can get more for their money in Jamaica  as it relates to fetes and costumes.  And since Trinis are feteing like oil is US$200 a barrel, then why not?  For instance, a cooler fete can range from US$20-25 and an all inclusive can start from US$70. In addition, you can get a BL costume from US$300 and a FL from US$400. However, keep in mind that the airfare from Trinidad on CAL is pricey with a cost of about US$500-600. If you don't mind a longer route, Copa airlines are sometimes cheaper than CAL (but through Panama).

2. You may not have to pay for accommodation.
Everyone knows a Trini in Jamaica.  I mean there are literally hundreds of Trinis living here.  You must know one who would be willing to put you up for at least a week (not me of course). But please, if you do go this route, offer to pay for groceries or contribute to the light bill because those aren't cheap. If you can't find someone to put you up (Jamaican or Trini), hotel rooms in Kingston can range from US$140-250 per night. You can check out Knutsford Court Hotel, Jamaica Pegasus, Courtleigh Hotel and Suites, and Spanish Court Hotel in Kingston.

If you plan to get here for the Easter weekend fetes, keep in mind that these do not take place in Kingston and you may have to get accommodation in either Ocho Rios or Portland where basic rooms can cost about US$60-100.

3. You can recycle your costume from Trinidad Carnival.
There is one band for Jamaica Carnival (yes, it's that small) and the costumes are okay and reasonably priced.  But if you want more, you can wear your own costume and simply pay for the t-shirt option (US$240) to get the armband. The prices are all-inclusive and come with drinks, meals, and snacks.  There is also a cool down area and restroom facilities.

Photo credit: Dwayne Watkins

4. The J'ouvert is awesome.
During the season there is Cocoa J'ouvert (March 7) and Beach J'ouvert (on Easter weekend), but on the Friday before the Road March, there are about 3 major J'ouvert events.  The 2 major events are Caesar's Army AM Bush and Bacchanal Jamaica's J'ouvert with my pick being Caesar's Army. Last year, AM Bush only catered to 300 patrons, but I'm sure it will be bigger this year.

Caesar's Army Ambush 2014 Photo Credit: Jamaica Gleaner
5. Machel will be here.
I'm not sure when and where, but Machel will be here; he's always here.  He usually does the Pandemonium fete on the Thursday before Carnival, so he might be here for that. And it's not just Machel, but a lot of local soca artistes and DJs are booked for the season.

Photo credit: Skkan
But even more importantly, Trinis should do Jamaica Carnival simply because nobody loves a Carnival more than a Trini.  Trinis be like: "aye, I hear it have ah Carnival in Space"..."Eh heh? When is dat?"

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Minister of Soca...

A while back I asked my Facebook friends to identify their favorite Machel Montano songs.  I was surprised that so many people responded and many called out songs that I had long forgotten about. With a career that spans almost thirty years, there's no denying that Machel is one of the greatest soca artistes in Trinidad and Tobago and that his Soul Train Music award for Best International Performance is well deserved, particularly for his 2014 hit, Ministry of Road (M.O.R.)

Machel Montano at the 2014 Soul Train Awards

In my opinion, M.O.R. (written by Jelani Shaw, Kasey Phillips, Nikholai Greene and Machel Montano) is one of Machel's best compositions to date.  In a time when power soca tunes were on the decline, M.O.R. was a sure winner for Soca Monarch and the Road March.  The song demonstrates how much more writers can do with the jump, wave, and wine themes that originally defined the power soca genre and like calypso, it can also take on contemporary socio-political issues in Trinidad and Tobago.

His persona as a Minister, whether political or social is the main message in the composition.  His self-presentation is an obvious play on his presumed association with the People's Partnership ruling government and the benefits that he allegedly receives from this association (with specific reference to the TT$5 million payment by the government for the creation, production, marketing, and performance of the Going for Gold album in 2012).  The Minister could also be an ode to Junior Sammy, which is obvious in the video, and as all Trinbagonians know, Mr. Sammy has been the real Minister of Road long before Machel.  This feature forces us to question the financial relationship between Montano and Sammy, Sammy and the Government, or all three.  Could it be that Machel is making a statement on the age old ploy of road construction to gain electoral support?  Or as another blogger pointed out, is he supporting the construction of the Debe-Mon Desir leg of the highway and throwing shade at Dr. Kublalsingh and the Highway Reroute Movement?

But what is obvious in the lyrics is Machel's discontent about the annual congestion to cross the savannah stage on Carnival Tuesday and possibly throwing support behind the socadrome as a source of relief.  And like a true politician, he uses the fix-the-road ploy to gain the support of his constituents (the masqueraders) because they too, are fed up of the route issue:

See fuh dis Carnival, nobody waitin long
Cyah stay in de traffic jam
Or wait by de hospital
Help me tuh make ah mas
De trucks dem Line up in town
People ready tuh run
One million comin down

It's no secret that Machel has some issue with authority, which really came to light with the guilty verdict related to an assault incident back in 2007. The song scoffs at this charge and he seems unremorseful when he boasts that even that set back couldn't keep him down:

Nobody cyah stop we,
If it's not ah charge tuh pay money,
Kill de road we have authority.

In essence, the song is a big up to Machel by Machel. And why not? He deserves it.  He has a long list of hits and titles, a longstanding position in the soca industry, and a vision for the genre that makes him a true Minister of soca...but like our government Ministers, he has his shortcomings, which are hardly recognized by his voters...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thoughts on Tribe's Wings of Desire

Firstly, I am no fan of Tribe so note that there will be biases in this post.  For instance, I had a smh moment when I saw that their promo video for the band launch featured no soca. Really Tribe? Sometimes I wonder how much are these bands and their cult following concerned with promoting and preserving Trinidad Carnival, but again, that's my bias speaking. They are not.  I also don't like that you have to get past a gatekeeper to register withTribe, but I don't blame the band for that, I blame these soul-less masqueraders.  Now if you think I'm being too harsh here, try observing a Triber or a wannabe Triber around registration time...the devil makes a mint off of them...

Anyways, I am not completely anti-Tribe, but will give them credit where it's due. According to costume guru, Saucy, Tribe does literal interpretations well for the bikini and beads crowd.  If you remember Ole time Something Come back Again (which was my absolute favorite), Birds of a Feather, Butterflies, Beasts, and Bacchanal, and Tribe 10, these were all fabulous overall presentations.  For this reason I thought 2015 's Wings of Desire, which was supposed to be inspired by the Victoria Secrets' angels, would be brilliant.

Overall, Wings of Desire is simply, boring.  I expected more of the Victoria Secrets-esque wings with more vibrant and new color combinations.  I do not agree with the tired arguments that the designs are not original, they look too Brazilian, they are too skimpy...blah blah blah.  These critics need to remember that Tribe's model is not based on being cutting edge or producing Minshall type costumes.  They are satisfying their market, the same way that Poison did several years ago.  And while I'm on the Minshall and MacFarlane type costumes, a lot of them weren't original interpretations.

My main criticism of Wings of Desire, is that overall, the presentation is boring, but if you look closely, there are lots to applaud.  I think it's superficial to say that all the costumes "look the same". If you are of this opinion, I urge you to look closely at Solange Govia's designs. Vice's body wear where the sleeve and the illusion panty are remarkable concepts.  Although I'm not a fan of the color combo on Crave, she got the wings right and the details on the bra and necklace cannot be ignored.

Another costume where the body wear stood out is Raw. Oh em gee, do you see that bikini cut???

My overall favorite costume is Anya Ayoung-Chee's Luxe.  She captures the Victoria Secrets' wings and her signature fabric cape is the ish.

Source: Trinidad and Tobago Carnival Costume Photos

But these specific details on some of the designs do not help with the overall look of the band. More importantly, these are Frontline costumes and they make up a minority on the road.  Furthermore, at this point we have no idea what the backline will look like, but I predict they will all be lackluster and a poor scaled down version of the Frontline.  Over the years, Tribe's basic backlines have deteriorated and look like little or no effort went into them.  And for the males, just accept that board shorts and armbands will forever be your destiny in Tribe....

Finally, I would just like to point out to people, especially those outside of Trinidad and Tobago, that Tribe is not the be all and end all of the Trinidad Carnival experience although it is represented as such.  There are lots of other bands that do not require so much effort to get in and offer more for their backlines. If you are not into the bikini and beads, there are other bands that offer more creative representations.  If you don't want to play mas with 5000-6000 people, there are smaller bands.  If you want a more elaborate male costume, there are bands for you.  If you want to pay less, you can.  The Trinidad Carnival is not as insular as it may seem to be...

Soca vs Dancehall- Review

July 12, 2014
Hope Gardens
JMD$3000 (presold)

Out of all the soca sessions for summer in Kingston, I opted for Soca vs Dancehall.  I attended SVD last year and wasn't blown away so I wanted to give it another chance. Even though it's not a true soca fete, I had a good time, not the best, but good enough.

Throughout the night I kept getting mixed responses from people I knew.  Some were having a blast, while others felt it was boring.  I am going to go out on a limb and say they were all correct.  You see SVD is not for the die-hard soca lovers in Jamaica, but it works well to attract the non-soca crowd, especially those who are familiar with the standard 10 soca songs.  For those who didn't know, the theme is soca AND dancehall, so you should be prepared for the genre mix.  I admit that I was one of those who tuned out during the dancehall set, but I didn't mind it too much because it was not the real hardcore dancehall you would hear at a passa passa or container satdaze. 

Yes I know..I need to work on my pics

I am not an expert, but I do know that not every deejay can mix dancehall and soca well, which was the real problem at the party.  The deejays were either really good at mixing soca or really good at mixing dancehall, but not both.  For instance, Coppershot failed at soca ...miserably..and Dei Musicale fell flat with their dancehall set.  My suggestion is to leave the genre to its expert deejays.

I had no complaints about the bar.  I obtained my usual Johnnie and coconut water mixes without problem during the night.  I also liked that Haagen Dazs ice-cream was included.

Don't worry, I had my lactaid

As much as Hope Gardens is accessible and I suspect that it's a cheaper venue, it has become soca central.  I've been to so many parties at Hope Gardens that they've all merged into one memory.  For those who found SVD boring, could it be that they are tired of the same venue, the same themes, the same patrons, the same deejays? Again, it depends on who you talk to.  Although the soca crowd in Kingston is small, probably it's time to change it up.  What about an out of season Jouvert or breakfast party or even a cruise? (Thank me later promoters)....

Yet, there were many, I believe the majority, who had a blast at SVD and were just grateful for the little soca in July.  The SVD crew did well but with a party that's held so often, they need to think about the future of the concept...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Jamaica Carnival: Sunrise Breakfast Fete Review

Sunrise Breakfast Fete
April 26, 2014
The Lawns of Hope Zoo

I think I was excited for this breakfast fete since April 2013.  In fact, I was probably too excited because I wasn't blown away.

This year, the fete was bigger and a true representation of what an all-inclusive breakfast party should look like.  All of the elements were there: easy parking, a food court, an array of breakfast dishes (some of which were catered by Jacqui Tyson), several bars, a coconut water stand, bashy restrooms, but the best part was the chilled rags.

The music was pumping and we even got a fantastic 30-minute performance from Kerwin DuBois.  Machel and Skinny Fabulous also performed.  I really enjoyed these performances.

And can you talk about people; it seemed like the entire soca fraternity came out for this one.  Some people couldn't even bother to change after J'ouvert and came with their paint and all.  Side note: I find allyuh had enough time to go home, bathe, and change eh

My major issue with this fete since has always been the limited bar.  Because it's sponsored by CPJ, patrons  are forced to drink Dewars, Campari, Grey Goose and other CPJ beverage brands.  I can't tell you how much I hate Dewars, which tastes like death and the tears of small children.  But what killed the vibe for me was the heat.  That was a no joke heat even with the chilled rags. So by about 10:30 am, sweat stains were forming on my shirt and I was ready to leave.  Call me bourgie or whatever, but I didn't dress up to sweat like a nun at a cucumber stall....

Bless up Sunnation for those chilled rags

I'm almost sure that most patrons felt that this fete was epic (I know... I know ..we need put that term in the vault), but I didn't get that vibe.  It had everything and more for a great fete, but for me it was just okay....