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.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The rise to prominensce of Banga Mary

In the not too distant past when I was a child growing up in Kitty the previous administration had an entity called Guyana Fisheries Ltd. This government owned company specialised in the distribution of fish nationwide at very affordable prices. One specific set of fish that was specifically earmarked for those in the lower income bracket was “Mixed Fish”.
Mixed Fish was what its self-explanatory title suggests: a mixture of several types of fish. However, the predominant species of fish in this bundle is what Guyanese call “Banga Mary”. In a pound of Mixed Fish you could get two “Banga Mary” and a Butter Fish. You fared better buying more than a pound if you wanted a wider variety of fish.  In my time – which might provide an idea of my age – Mixed Fish was sold at GUY$6 per pound.
As a little boy, I would scurry round to Kitty Market obliquely opposite which the Guyana Fisheries Complex was located on Shell Road, for my weekly purchase of Mixed Fish. Given GUY$20 by my granny to buy three pounds of Mixed Fish, I would use the two dollars change to gratify myself with some phoulourie sold by a little Indian lady at the corner of Shell Road and Alexander Street, Kitty.
This activity continued weekly until the entity was closed in the early 90s. By then however, I had acquired a liking for “Banga Mary”. Especially when fried dry, this fish could be consumed either by itself or with a combination of other dishes. In “Rum Shops” “Banga Mary” was sometimes used as cutters and carried a modest price. After all, “Banga Mary” reflected a price befitting its modest status.
In 2012 however, “Banga Mary” is no longer that lowly fish with that modest price enjoyed exclusively by the low income Guyanese. “Banga Mary” has been rebranded as the desirable fish of choice to be consumed and enjoyed by the larger cross section of the Guyanese society including the middle and upper classes. This situation is believed to have resulted from the proliferation of “Fish Shops” that have sprung up around the country.
“Banga Mary” was always being fried on a commercial basis but not in a mainstream manner as it is today. Today a serving of Fish and Chips which often is a Styrofoam lunch box of fried “Banga” and Plantain chips costs GUY$900. It seems as if there is now a premium price on “Banga Mary”.
I remember when “Banga Mary” made its reappearance about 12 years ago, a box of Fish and Chips cost about GUY$ 300. Can you imagine USD$5 is what it costs for box of fried “Banga Mary” and Fried Plantains?
“Banga Mary” must be proud of herself. She has risen from depths of her lowly existence to take her rightful place alongside her other seafood counterparts. I do not see “Banga Mary” ever getting cheaper as local fast food entities continue to exploit the uniqueness of her flavor and texture.
Long live Banga Mary!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Remembering Whitney Houston

During the evening of Saturday February 12, 2012 the disturbing news of the death of Whitney Houston sent shockwaves around the world. Instantly persons took to social media networks to express their surprise, shock and heartfelt condolences. The world has lost an iconic female vocalist in the passing of Whitney Houston.
A girl born into a family of extraordinarily talented and successful musicians with mother Cissy Houston being a renowned gospel singer, soul sensations for cousins in Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, and a Godmother in Aretha Franklyn, it is no small wonder that Whitney Houston grew to become the most prominent and powerful female voice of her era. Beginning her singing career in church, her unmistakably unique and powerful voice eventually found the ear of one of the music industry’s keenest ear for talent, Mr. Clive Davis who wasted no time in signing her to his Arista Records.
Whitney Houston is regarded as one of the all-time bestselling female artistes in the music industry to date, selling over 170 million copies of albums, singles and videos during her time at Arista Records. She was also cited by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2009 as the most awarded female act of all time. Some her awards include: two Emmy Awards, six Grammy Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards, among a total of 415 other career awards as of 2010.
Some of her record sales achievements are as follows: Being the only artiste to chart seven consecutive #1 Billboard Hot 100 hits ("Saving All My Love For You," "How Will I Know," "Greatest Love Of All," "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)," "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "So Emotional," and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go"); the first female artiste to enter the Billboard 200 album chart at #1 (her second album, Whitney, 1987); and the only artiste with seven consecutive multi-platinum albums (Whitney Houston, Whitney, I'm Your Baby Tonight, The Bodyguard, Waiting To Exhale, and The Preacher's Wife soundtracks, and My Love Is Your Love).
The Bodyguard soundtrack is still regarded as one of the top 10 biggest-selling albums of all-time (at 17x-platinum in the U.S. alone), and her career-defining version of the Dolly Parton written "I Will Always Love You" remains the biggest-selling U.S. single of all-time (at 4x-platinum).
Sadly with all her success Whitney seemed to not be able to find true happiness. Drugs and alcohol and eventually a failed marriage helped to contribute to her legendary fall from stardom. Her perfectly pitched voice no longer had its power and range. However fans still adored her and understood the human weaknesses she was experiencing. Even amidst her much publicized battle with drugs, she maintained her love for music and tried a few times and most recently, to restart her singing career. But now she’s gone, taken from this world at the relatively young age of 48.
Whitney, you have set the benchmark for contemporary soul singing with your powerful yet exquisitely melodious voice. Many singers both male and female have learnt many things from you. Your touching lyrics and distinctive melodies amply supported by a unique harmonic style will forever be cherished and remembered by millions of fans worldwide. As for me I know that I Will Always Love You.
R.I.P Whitney.

Friday, February 10, 2012

All must fight to eradicate sexual child abuse from our society.

Children are special. They are God’s gift to us. Children never ask to be born. They are conceived and are brought into the world to be loved and cared for by their parents and relatives. As children grow they learn. Children learn from every circumstance around them. Therefore, parents and other adults have a responsibility to ensure that children are protected and raised in a manner that will guarantee their unharmed physical, mental and emotional growth.
In today’s world and indeed from time immemorial, numerous factors have played varying roles in the underdevelopment of children. One such factor is the scourge of sexual child abuse.
Sexual child abuse happens in all racial, religious, ethnic and age groups, and at all socio-economic levels. Since children are abused in homes across the country, adults need to learn what makes children vulnerable, how to recognize warning signs of those who may be sexually abusing children, and what to do if sexual abuse is suspected.
Not being in possession of the actual statistics of sexual child abuse in Guyana, I am unable to comment further on its prevalence in Guyanese society. But I am sure there exists in Guyana very stark figures of this heinous crime. One is being constantly reminded in the Guyanese media about a religious leader presently before the courts on child abuse charges.
Internationally as far back as 2003, a journal article entitled, “Prevalence and Psychological Sequence of Self-Reported Childhood Physical and Sexual Abuse in General Population” stated  that one in three girls and one in seven boys will be sexually abused at some point in their childhood (Briere & Eliot, 2003).
Parents and adults must play a more active role in protecting children from child molesters. Early detection and intervention can reduce the potential for harm and assure children of their safety. Since children cannot protect themselves alone, adults must learn to recognise and inquire about behaviors that make children vulnerable or suggest that abuse has occurred. Adults must not wait for children to tell about abuse. This position leaves them to face the confusion and trauma of victimization on their own.
Adults must start listening to children and looking for the signs of potential pedophilic behaviour. One ought not to be paranoid about the issue, but to be extremely guarded when allowing children to interact with adults. Sadly most pedophiles are person parents and even children trust which complicates the issue of curtailing the actions of these sick adults. However, as mentioned earlier, keen attention must be paid to the early signs of abuse. Parents must learn to listen and take seriously the verbal and nonverbal cues of children suffering from the sexual advances of adults.
Together we must stop child abuse. Children deserve to live as children and not as victims of sexual crimes.