Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Congratulations to Team Guyana on their 2014 Guinness Caribbean Street Football Tounament Performance

I would like to express my heartfelt congratulations to the Team Guyana (Queen Street Tiger Bay) for their stellar performance at this year’s Guinness Caribbean Street Football Tournament in Trinidad and Tobago. This year Guyana showed its dominance by disposing of all opponents in the preliminary and semifinal matches, only to be defeated by defending champions Trinidad and Tobago by two goals to one. Nevertheless, Guyanese should be proud of the efforts of Team Guyana as they signaled to the Caribbean a significant improvement in the street football skills of Guyana. 

The Queen Street Tiger Bay Team dominated the local finals with an avid mix of nifty dribbling, precise passing and fearless shooting that saw them easily emerging as local champions. I would urge that the unit stay together and train together so as to further refine their football skills for the next competition. A comprehensive review of the Caribbean finals by the Guyana team can serve them well particularly in the area of play organization; an area that required much work by all local teams. 

Banks DIH through the Guinness brand it manages must also be commended for hosting a successful Guinness Greatness of the Street Competition 2013-2014, even amidst a challenging first half of the year for the Company. The Guinness Greatest of the Street competition is an excellent outlet for inner city youth that helps channel much of their energies into something positive; both for themselves and the community in which they reside. I wish the Company and Guinness in particular every success as they strive to further positively engage communities through the medium of sport.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Guyana must urgently raise the standard of its recorded music

Once again it is the season of Soca music. In Guyana, we have our Mashramani celebrations fast approaching, and in neighboring Trinidad and Tobago, Carnival 2014 beckons. As is the norm, lots of pulsating Soca music is released during this period, so that persons can familiarize themselves with the sounds of the season. Here in Guyana, many of our local artistes have unleashed their Mashramani ‘Soca’ fare on the nation, as some prepare for the various competitions and the much anticipated and coveted Road March title. 

However, while there is a fair amount of quantity coming from our local artistes, I am afraid that there is not much quality prevailing. In 2014, much of our ‘Soca’ productions lack creative lyricism, musicality, and sound mastery. I am eager to know when our artistes and producers will get it right musically and create high quality world class sounding Guyanese music. 

This is not to say that there have not been some productions of good quality emanating from studios in Guyana over the years, but there is also an obvious lack of consistency regarding the quality of productions. 

Our attempts at creating ‘Dancehall’ music have been satisfactory in some instances; save for the pseudo Jamaica accent with which some of our artistes struggle. Some of the ‘Dancehall’ and ‘Reggae’ riddims produced in Guyana can stand up to regional scrutiny. But again much work still needs to be done by all parties concerned if they intend to make profitable music.

Guyana once boasted a viable and competitive music industry in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Numerous string bands dominated the dance spectrum in Guyana in those days. Many Guyanese artistes recorded great songs of high quality that were sold in the regional and international markets. Guyana produced renowned musicians of regional and international repute. So it bothers me that most of what we have today in the local music industry comprises notorious mediocrity. 

We need to establish recording standards and rigorously enforce them. Not because a person can pay for studio time should he or she be allowed to permanently place the toneless sound of their voice on a recording and think it is a great sound/song. At some point, producers must determine what is good sound and what is unwanted sound. More importantly, producers must be professional musicians who can advise persons who over sing and who do not pitch properly. Moreover, producers also need to address lyrical content and song structure. Musical arrangements must be thoroughly assessed and reassessed for the best quality sound. We need to stop producing tracks that sound hollow and empty.

A lot of work needs to be done locally to significantly enhance the sound quality, lyrical content, tone and structure of the music we produce in Guyana, particularly our attempts at ‘Soca’. Perhaps Guyana needs to reestablish its own sound instead of trying to make ‘Soca’, ‘Dancehall’ and ‘Reggae’ music.

Whatever happened to the sound of Shanto? Can it be modernized?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The passing of a Jazz icon

Today lovers of jazz mourn the passing of a legendary jazz innovator, musician and band leader, Dave Brubeck. Gone at the ripe old age of 91, Dave has left his indelible iconic mark on jazz music, to be celebrated forever as a standard bearer of the genre. A pianist of high renown, Dave Brubeck learnt the rules of music only to break them and test their boundaries, through his relentless experiments in tone and rhythm.  

Because of his ability to boldly experiment with odd time signatures, improvised counterpoints, polyrhythm and polytonality, he was able to establish a unique jazz sound that would be the signature of his career. From the 9/8 Blue Rondo a La Turk to the 5/4 Take Five, Dave made many acquire the exotic taste of his genius. 

The Dave Brubeck Quartet ranks among the greatest jazz bands of all time. The jazz faithful will forever pay tribute to his virtuosity whenever they play or listen to Take Five. 

Jazz has been around just over a hundred years. Dave dying at 91 spent about 70 of those years immersed in the genre of jazz. Therefore, much of the legacy of jazz so far belongs to Dave who has spent if not the longest time, an extraordinarily long time as a professional jazz musician, composer and band leader in the jazz genre. 

Dave Brubeck will always be remembered as a musician committed to the advancement of the jazz art form. As a white musician rising to prominence in a genre dominated by numerous black virtuosos, Dave will forever be remembered as the humble dedicated, professional he was, as he meticulously worked his way up the very musically competitive ladder of jazz music.

Becoming the first jazz musician to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, and the first jazz artiste to sell over a million copies of a jazz album in the 60s; highlights the genius of Dave Brubeck. Dave understood the universal language of music.  In 1988, while playing for Mikhail Gorbachev, at a dinner in Moscow hosted by the then-President Ronald Reagan for the Soviet leader, Dave said: "I can't understand Russian, but I can understand body language," this was after seeing the general secretary tapping his foot to the music he (Dave) played.

Rest In Peace Dave Brubeck. You introduced us to 5/4 time through your innovative compositions. Your music will forever live on. You have gone to Taking Five in heaven now.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Some challenges facing the internationalization of reggae music

I would like to agree with Mr. Charles Campbell on all the points made in his article published in the Jamaica Observer on November 05, 2012, entitled: “Wanted – good song writers”. The observations posited in this missive have always formed the base of my many discussions on the possible ways to further internationalize reggae music.

Indeed there are very strategically important marketing mechanisms that need to be developed and utilized to ensure the music reaches its intended target audience and market. Astute management and strategic international marketing must form the key support bases upon which the reggae music industry must be developed. However, in marketing one must pay very keen attention to the product being produced to be sold.

The world is in need of good reggae music. And while good seems a very common place word, I would like to further advance that sensible lyrics, conscious themes, enlightened expressions of current affairs both at home and abroad, the revamping of the reggae balladeer, all must form the collective psyche of the modern song writer. Reggae music will not take its rightful place on the international stage if it is encumbered by murder lyrics, homophobia, graphic pornographic references and melodious odes to the use of marijuana.
While perhaps in some sections of the local industry there might be an insatiable market for what one might deem hardcore reggae; internationally however, no market will welcome it. Therefore, when writing their songs, reggae song writers must look beyond the local and regional markets and the enclaves of Diasporas and cater towards a more international audience.

Reggae is not the only Caribbean genre facing the dilemma if internationalization. Trinidad faces the same battle regarding the internationalization of Soca. And unlike the way Sean Paul and Shaggy have in recent times been the international faces of reggae music, Soca sadly only has Machel Montano.

More emphasis must be made at putting out high quality songs not only in terms of musical arrangements, but also their lyrical content. Bobby ‘Digital’ Dixon, in a recent Jamaica Observer article, made the very poignant point when he said: “Not everyone is patient enough to make lasting material that will be still fresh 20 years into the future. Now it is like operating a fast food chain...the music is too disposable."

The reggae music industry must fix its product. With a viable marketable product, it can certainly sell it where ever it chooses. There is a need for good reggae music.

Mainstream artistes continue to flirt with reggae music. Bruno Mars’s reggae influenced “Billionaire” and “Lazy Song” have sold 2.9M and 2M copies respectively to date. Alternative rock band Maroon 5’s recently released “One More Night” has already sold over a million copies to date. These are just three mainstream songs that happen to be heavily influenced by reggae music performed by non-reggae artistes. The world has shown that it would buy reggae music. Jamaica needs to ensure that it assumes the role of market leader in the market for reggae music and not the distant follower it happens to be at the moment.

Long live reggae music!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Guyana in desperate need of police reform

It is with great consternation and resentment that I pen this letter condemning the obvious disregard for human life by the Guyana Police Force (GPF). The reckless actions of the ranks on the evening of October 5, who wantonly fired into the Friday night liming crowd in the vicinity of the White Castle Fish Shop leaving an innocent bystander dead, further reveals the urgent need for significant police reform. To have this kind of irresponsible policing will only further erode any little confidence in the GPF that Guyanese might have left. Together, Guyanese must vociferously condemn the GPF for their actions last Friday night.

Why are some members of the GPF so eager to use deadly force? Moreover, why shoot live ammunition into a crowd of persons who are liming, listening to music and drinking? This kind of recklessness cannot continue unabated. It is time for the GPF to take a long hard look at its procedures and its operations tactics and re-evaluate its efficiency and effectiveness. There should absolutely be no way for a trained policeman to shoot live ammunition into a crowd of unarmed civilians. 

The irony is that this most recent brutal attack on citizens by a section of the GPF occurred as the Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the shooting to death of three protesters at Linden is being completed. Policemen fire into a crowd of limers last Friday night, about a month after three policemen executed a lad from Agricola. And just like Shaquille Grant of Agricola, Dameon was killed one day before his birthday. It seems as if there are sections of the GPF that are out of control.
I urge those responsible for the management of GPF to seek help in facilitating its much needed reform. They must seek out world-class agencies that can strategically engage the GPF in transforming it from the reckless killing machine it is, to one that demonstrates that it understands its motto: “Service and Protection”.  

To the family and friends of Dameon Belgrave, I extend my heartfelt condolences.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Is dancehall reggae and criminality inextricalbly linked?

As Dancehall music continues to strive for international recognition among the mainstream genres of music, it apparently remains blemished by crime, homophobia, and violence. While there have been several dancehall pioneers who have worked and continue to work tirelessly to highlight the versatility and creativity of the genre, and to launch themselves and the dancehall flavor into international markets, dancehall reggae still fails to garner the international appeal its producers, artistes and marketers envisage. 
Sometimes one wonders if dancehall music and criminality are inextricably linked. Recently, too many dancehall artistes have been brought before the courts for varying degrees of criminality. This state of affairs does not reflect favorably on a genre struggling to take its place on the international music scene. Dancehall artistes must know that they play an important role in Caribbean society, especially when one looks at the impact of dancehall reggae on the socialization of modern Caribbean youth.
Caribbean youth are tuned in to dancehall. This is a fact that cannot be denied. Therefore, it is my belief that our Caribbean dancehall artiste need to be more responsible in their words, thoughts and actions.
Bounty Killer was recently brought before the Jamaican courts on domestic violence charges. Movado was also recently charged with aggravated assault. Elephant Man was booked together with Bounty Killer and others on tax evasion charges. Ninja Man remains in jail on a murder charge. Vybz Kartel, the self-proclaimed “World Boss”, is also before the Jamaican courts on drug charges and his alleged role in two murders. Buju Banton is incarcerated in the US on drug charges. And a very beloved Busy Signal is about to be extradited from Jamaica to the US on drug charges.
Who precisely is a dancehall reggae role model? Can dancehall music even produce positive role models? Are Sean Paul, Shaggy, C├ęcile, or even Beenie Man role model material?
Rap/Hip-Hop also has its fair share of criminal personalities at the forefront of its success. However, it seems as if the world is far more interested in the Rap/Hip-Hop genres and exercises more tolerance for the notorious crime figures it exemplifies. A large number of rappers and hip hop artiste have gone to prison and continue to go to prison for a variety of criminal activity.
The litany of rap/hip-hop artistes who have been inmates at some point in time in their careers are too numerous to mention. Names like T.I., Lil Wayne, Tony Yayo, Mystical, and DMX immediately come to mind. Yet somehow rap and hip-hop manage to be widely accepted internationally, far more than dancehall reggae could dare dream of accomplishing. Arguably, rap, hip/hop and dancehall reggae are all black music albeit different genres.
Perhaps the dancehall industry might want to strategically focus on the image of their artistes who like it or not, are the brand ambassadors of the industry. While many might argue that a tough image is needed to lend ‘street’ credibility to the genre, this has little effect on the international audience. Dancehall must rise from its humble beginnings and establish itself as an internationally commercially viable product.
Dancehall lyrics must evolve from its primitive, internationally unmarketable form, where violence, explicitly gross sexual content and stunning homophobia forms the basis of its structure.
On the issue of homophobic lyrics, Beenie Man has come out recently with an apology for using this harmful lyrical formula in his music and urges its eradication from the genre. However, this brave move by the self-proclaimed ‘King of Dancehall’ has been met with conspicuously mixed reactions from friends, fans and foes.