Sunday, April 21, 2013

To my body: I'll never take anything for granted again with you

A friend of mine has MS. He's my age and lives in England. A really nice guy, a lawyer by profession.

Every year he comes to Trinidad to be with his family for a bit. Because of his condition he must be in England for treatment. I'm not too sure how much family he has in England, and having friends and family around does make things easier.

I guess that's one saving grace of living here, having a network of people that can help support you in any given situation.

But here in Trinidad I don't know if we have the right sort of treatment for MS, and it is a sad, crippling disease, one that robs a person of everything.

My friend now gets around in a wheelchair.

There was a show in Shakers on the Ave last night here in Trinidad, and he came to be with all of us and hear another mutual friend of ours play in the band Buzzrock. He wanted to go inside, he wheeled himself up to the stairs and we helped him up the five steps.

It was humbling to see.

Everyone offered to help and get out of his way, folks offered chairs. It was a wonderful display of human kindness.

He sat right in front of the stage and took it all in.

But it was also very sobering to see how this wretched disease takes away the one thing we so take for granted - the ability to walk, to move our hands, legs, our entire body any way we like.

If there was ever one wish I could be granted is this - that all human suffering (physical, mental and spiritual) will someday soon, eventually cease. That everyone will be cured of every affliction.

Sterling, I hope and pray that someday you will be completely cured of your condition.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Calypso is all but dead in Trinidad

Sometime ago, I got my hands on this CD - 'Calypso Awakening' from the Emery Cook Collection. I strongly suggest everyone get a copy of this. If you would like to hear real, authentic Calypso, then this is a must have in your CD collection.

Here's a link to the album.

When you (my fellow Trini), hear the songs on this recording, you will hear for yourself what I am talking about.

The level of skill, wit, talent, banter on each of these songs delivered by The Mighty Sparrow, Lord Melody, Small Island Pride, Commander, Wrangler, King Fighter and the John Buddy Williams Band are beyond contest.

It's absolutely brilliant.

The lyrical content has you thinking, the melody and harmony lines have you singing and the beat will have you chipping and bouncing in your seat. The song arrangements are timeless and precise.

It's a great record.

What's so special about this recording? Well, for one, many of the performances are 'Live'. And the studio-recorded songs have a thick, fat feel to them. They sound alive and true. You can tell that every instrument is really being played. It's not a 'sample'.

Contrast that to now where all songs from Trinidad - the ruling art-form of Soca (son of Calypso) and the dying form of Calypso use an electronic drum pad to make 'a beat'. Where a keyboard plays the 'horn lines' and in some cases the bass lines as well. There's no real instrumentation, cept maybe a thin guitar line or two. No real hornsmen. Nothing. Where ALL 'singers' use the cursed Autotune software to create an effect for their voice, when the truth is that most of these 'Soca singers' cannot hold their keys live. And no matter how much each of these modern recordings are 'mixed and mastered' they still sound flat. They have no depth, no dynamics.

The fact is, modern day music of Trinidad has no soul.

Contrast the raw brilliance of this great period in time (the early 1900's to roughly around the 1970's) for our music, for our 'Kaiso', to what we have now - a time where nobody knows what are the Calypso songs for a Carnival season, only the 'Soca Hits'.

Contrast the healthy, competitive duel that used to go on between Calypsonians to what happens now between 'Soca Artistes'. In some Soca camps it's almost war. There's that much hatred and back-biting going on inside this great 'Soca Fraternity' when really, it's a Soca Mafia.

In the meantime, Calypso lays bleeding to death.

Look at this year's Calypso Monarch (2013) how poorly attended it was as compared to the growing popularity of Soca Monarch competitions - which have everything from fireworks to flying Soca singers to you name it - it's a blasted circus show.

After hearing the winner of this year's Calypso Monarch, I had come to the sad conclusion that Calypso is dead. There is no Calypsonian who can save our music. The older heads are getting older and are dying, and the younger ones cannot sing without the help of Autotune. The younger Calypsonians have no idea of lyrical content nor melody structure. It is terrible song-writing, if that is even a word to call this material - a song.

Well, don't even talk about Soca Artistes, they're not writing songs, they're selling noise-making hits that market this year's gimmick, whatever the hell it is for the year.

If no one has realized the fact that Calypso is dead, then I ask you this?

- When last did you go to a Calypso show? A tent?
- What new Calypsonians you like? Are they able to carry the torch forward to the next generation?
- Is Calypso making it to the world stage? Will it ever?
- What did you think of this year's Calypsos? (Not Soca tunes)
- Are the Calypso songs of this year able to stand up to the all the timeless classics we all love?
- What Calypso albums do you have?

I rest my case.

I mourn for Calypso. But when I turn on my radio, all I hear is a bunch of Autotuned 'Artistes' singing about jumping, waving, and doing some damn gimmick move.

It's like we've all become jackasses and we're so amused and impressed by our own stupidity.

The real funny thing is that Calypso nor Soca are going anywhere on the world stage.

But yet, we continue to fool ourselves in this little bubble of ours.

I hope you will weep for Calypso as I do.

Pictures make a plain wall come to life

I've decided that all the walls in my place must have a picture or two hanging up on them.

It's strange, a wall is just a wall, nothing but bricks, concrete and paint, but when I hang a picture on the same wall, all of a sudden the perspective of the room changes.

The room has angles now, dynamics, light and shadow. Some pictures even reflect an image onto the wall, now the walls have a different hue at night and day.

Before, when the walls were plain, the place was serene and quiet, dull and lonely.

Now, my place is alive. The pictures are the scenery inside my home.

Outside, I have the garden and trees.

All around me is imagery.

Pictures do speak a thousand words, and they also display a thousand colours and images.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Colin Hay - I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You

 Dedicated to someone.....

An Obituary: the death of modern Western pop music

It is with deep regret that I wish to inform you all of the untimely (but blatantly obvious) death of modern Western pop music.

Sadly, 'Pop' as it was fondly called was ailing for sometime, and no one seemed to notice when it finally bellied up.

'Pop music' was renowned for bringing us many great hits over the decades. Some of these 'hits' date as far back at the 1940s, and over the decades there were many memorable songs from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.

One can even dare say that popular music from each age and from other parts of the globe (Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic) have also stood the ultimate test of time, with the works of numerous composers being studied and performed to this very day.

But something strange happened from the dawn of the new millenium. At first none took any notice, but by the end of the next decade it was painfully clear. 

There was no innovation and originality anymore. In fact most artists, regardless of musical category all started to sound the same, as if all these musical groups were being manufactured out of the same warehouse. It didn't matter if you were pop, dance, electronica, hip-hop or rock 'n roll (although I doubt the latter two will truly make it onto a mainstream radio playlist), all music had the same flow, the same chord progression (I, V, vi, IV), the same breaks, dynamics, and almost all the singers sounded exactly like one another.

It was terribly formulaic. It was too obvious not to notice, yet there were no cries for change.

Everyone seemed to be deaf to what was playing.

This writer believes the death was caused by three culprits, almost like the three legs of a good chair. But like anything else after a while with wear and tear, the legs of this musical chair started to rot, and there was no carpenter to fix the problem, so the legs became wobbly and the chair eventually collapsed.

The three legs were: Record Labels, Radio and the Artists themselves.

Record labels sprang up around the mid 1920s as a way to record, produce, market and distribute the music that was happening at the time. There were A&R departments (Artist&Repertoire) that sought out new talent and developed a roster of artists/groups that would 'sign' to that label and sell records to the buying public. But alas, the record execs became greedy and lazy over the years and have all but stopped their A&R departments. The bottom line is, you as an artist, you gotta have it all, ready to go for a label to jump in on your bandwagon. And you gotta be sell-able. If you're not cute, sexy, young or be hip with whatever gimmick is the latest trend, then you won't sell. It's that simple and crude. A label is nothing more than a bank now, and they want a great return on their investment. And the artist is the investment. The three main labels that are left now (because the others got swallowed up over the years) couldn't care any less about real music than a bank cares about helping low-income earners get a loan.

Next up: Radio. 

In its' infancy, radio helped build an awareness of a new, hip trendy music that was taking the world by storm. The first radio news broadcast occurred August 31, 1920 and shortly after music performances began to be aired. The new trendy music didn't have a name as yet, but all that was about to change.

America was sitting on a goldmine, and along with British kids, musicians took to the blues and jazz, mixed it all up and gave it their own twist. Next thing you knew, Rock n Roll was born and the music of the late 1940s and 50s had spunk and VOLUME.

Rock n Roll brought music of the working man right to very doorstep, it gave birth to many sub-genres - Heavy Metal, Indie, Alternative, Grunge, Shoe-Gaze and Pop music all owe their life to Rock n Roll. It's worthy to note that each sub-genre bore their own children, so we can say that Rock n Roll had many children and grandchildren.

Here's a look at the children that Rock n Roll will leave behind (courtesy of Wikipedia)

But Jazz and Blues also had another offspring around the same time - R&B, a term sadly coined to differentiate music of African-American origin from Rock n Roll. Absurd and truly racist, but it is a term that 'stuck'.

Here's a list of contemporary R&B categories to date

Thus, Jazz and Blues leave behind two kids - R&B and Rock 'N Roll. Both had their fair share of radio airplay in the early days. Both kids helped to make Pop what it was.

But as the story goes, there came along a thief - Payola. Here's a nice little definition.

Thanks to the labels, they made sure that the ONLY content on radio, was theirs. Soon mainstream radio was nothing more than paid advertising for a label. If you don't believe me, turn on any mainstream Top 40 station and leave it on for a day or two. The station will play a handful of songs at least about five times a day. So there's only a couple songs on radio for airplay? Never mind there are hundreds of thousands of musicians/artists/bands worldwide, only a handful of songs get played on mainstream radio.

Which brings us to Artists: it seems that most artists these days all want to be famous and rich (if that's even possible with the label and entertainment lawyers owning everything. And rather than writing anything of creative substance, most modern-day pop artists are out to make an instant hit. The term one-hit wonder can't apply to them because the terrible hits keep coming. They should re-name 'Artists' to 'Factory Clones' because in almost every music genre there's a few that mostly sound/look exactly alike.

And then came along the worst part - the disease to end it all - Autotune (see definition below)

Together, these three along with their man-made disease helped kill the pop music industry.

Sad that no one saw it coming, maybe something could've been done.

But it is too late, and we have now are just the memories of when music used to mean something.

When we could remember a song from the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s.

But can you remember any pop song from the new millennium?

I sure can't. And for the most part, I don't want to, it's that terrible.

Rest in peace Pop, we had fun for a little while.

Life is truly fun when you have friends to share it with

I know this may sound like a previous post, but it dawned on me this week that staying in touch with long-time friends is a must to living a full, happy life.

For a few reasons - old friends understand you, the know you, they've shared the times with you (good and bad), you can count on them, they can offer good advice because they have your best interest at heart, and most of all, they make your life better.

I met up with some old friends this week, and we sat around laughing about the good old days. We laughed about all the rubbish we used to do. We really had some great times.

Those times were irreplaceable.

It was truly great to see all of them, to talk about the days gone by, and I am forever grateful for having those experiences, because what would we be laughing at, had we not had those times?

We can laugh at each other, and they fact that we can still remember those days like it was just yesterday.

Even if it's just for a short moment, just to re-live those days, talk about all our fond memories, that really makes life worth living, at least in my opinion.

For what are all the precious moments in life worth, if we don't have good friends to share them with?