HOW FAST IS TOO FAST?
The evolution of Calypso to Soca tells a fascinating story. One of the most fundamental musical changes with the past is tempo. Tempo dictates the dance pulse and mood. Aside from key, it is the most important parameter in dance music.
I give 5 examples below of the Trinidad & Tobago Carnival Road Marches spanning a period from 1974 to 2018. Have a listen.
Up until the mid-80s, a fast tempo for dance was set around 115-120 bpm (beats per minute) range. By the 90s the tempo range for a fast dance increased to 120-130 bpm. By 2018 is hit 150-160 bpm.
As tempo increases, melodic phrases are compelled to become simpler and shorter, more aggressive, and agitated. Chord changes and harmony must be simplified or removed. The complexity of rhythm and melodic counterpoint have to be removed. Lead singers are forced to match the frenetic pace with simple chants, shouts, vocal interjections, etc. Call-and-response is used a lot to give lead singers a chance to catch a breath.
What does this new norm in Trinidad & Tobago’s Carnival dance music signify to you?
Shadow - ‘Bassman’ (Road March 1974) 118 bpm
Tambu - ‘This Party is It’ (Road March 1988) 122 bpm
Preacher - ‘Jump & Wave’ (Road March 1994) 140 bpm
Naya George – ‘Trinidad/Right Hand’ (Road March 2002) 154 bpm
Machel Montano - ‘Soca Kingdom’ (Road March 2018) 160 bpm
In the mid/late-90s Barbadian entrepreneur Orville Folkes spearheaded a project in Toronto called BANJA. Its aim was to bring together Bajans and friends in the diaspora to celebrate the music and culture of Barbados and the Caribbean. The group numbers varied but was around 30 at its peak. BANJA performed original arrangements of folk songs and was accompanied by a 3-piece "engine room" (Sammy Clarke, Maq Sealy, Percy Pilgrim) and often by traditional folk characters Mudda Sally and Donkey (Wendy Clarke, Wayne Morris).
The group performed at various functions, special events and festivals across the GTA and eventually folded in 1999.
Here's a rare recording of the group singing Vernon Cadogan's 'Sugar Cane', a Bajan folk song from the early 60s. The recording of this song was recently chosen to be featured in an international project led by the University of Edinburgh on sugar and Scotland's role.
Hi Calypso Family!
Grab a bottle n spoon or your guitar / cuatro / uke.
'Tribute to Winston Spree' Kitchener
'Carnaval' Waletr Gavitt Ferguson
'No Money No Love' Sparrow
'Gimme Da Drum' Vern Best