Yesterday the Caribbean country of Barbados celebrated 50 years of independence from British colonial rule and I couldn’t be prouder. My Bajan (Barbadian) heritage has always played a significant part in my life and Bajan music in particular has always been near to my heart. For such a small island, Barbados punches well above its weight musically and has produced too much talent to mention everyone but I’ll attempt to list some of the stand-outs.
First some honourable mentions that barely missed out on this list: Adrian Clarke, Ras Iley, Merry Men, Madd
11. Joseph Niles
Often hailed as the patriarch of Barbadian Gospel Music, Joseph Niles started out as a bus conductor but somehow found himself on the radio of every family member I have of Bajan descent. I particularly love the way he was able to take sometimes stiff-sounding ancient Christian hymns, inject some calypso or spouge rhythm and have everyone dancing. Sadly, Mr Niles passed away last year but he remains a Barbados gospel legend and has left a legacy for younger acts such as Promise and Sheldon Hope to continue.
This soca band has some of the grooviest music I have heard to date and much of their success can be attributed to lead singer Edwin Yearwood. Krosfyah also seems to have a song for many occasions, “Weekend” is my Friday jam and “Feels Like I’m Home Again” is the perfect song to play when you touch back down in Barbados. I remember a group of children from across the Caribbean arguing over where their hit song “Pump Me Up” came from (Barbados suckers!). Furthermore, I lent a Krosfyah compact disc to a friend when I was going to school, in Jamaica mind you, and never saw it again. Apparently, his grandfather borrowed it and liked it so much he never gave it back.
Rupert “Rupee” Clarke needs no introduction because his song “Tempted to Touch” has beaten me to the punch; it continues to enjoy airplay across the world and somehow in my mind is the natural follow up to Kevin Lyttle’s “Turn Me On”. Clearly incorporating elements of Jamaican dancehall into his music, Rupee sounds quite different from your usual soca artiste but he remains true to his Bajan heritage. “What Happens In De Party” is another of my favourites and echoes the sentiments of anyone who has had a little too much fun while out partying.
I first heard about Shontelle when she co-wrote the equal parts patriotic and danceable “Colours” with Natahlee. Whereas her colleague continues making strides in the soca arena, Shontelle has gone in a completely different direction with her smooth, soulful R&B vocals making their mark internationally. Miss Layne has single-handedly proven that Rihanna wasn’t a fluke and little Barbados has a lot to add to mainstream music. If you haven’t yet discovered her music, you definitely should.
7. Alison Hinds
When asked to name soca artistes from Barbados, the name Alison Hinds invariably comes up. Sometimes called the Caribbean Queen of Soca she has made a name for herself in soca circles from Square One (Faluma anyone?) all the way to the present. In my opinion, no Allison Hinds song represents her better than the anthem “Roll it Gal”. She has also ventured out of soca with notable examples being “King and Queen” a collaboration with Richie Spice and “Hold You in a Song” with John King.
Another Square One production, “Young Blood” matured into “Blood” but don’t judge his music by his grisly name. Versatility is Blood’s middle name and he must collapse on his bed at the end of every Crop Over because he seems to be a part of every competition every year. I’m partial to his social commentaries like “Calypso Owes You Nothing” but he may be more at home in the party arena with songs such as “Foot on Fire”. I doubt anything quite eclipses older songs like “Kitty Kat” and “Turn it Around” in popularity though.
5. John King
A true veteran of the calypso stage, John King has always impressed me. Old recordings of Johnny Ma Boy like “I Want a Plantation” were impressive. He also impressed me when my young mind finally wrapped itself around the double entendre nonexistence of the Mighty Cree in “Singing Fuh Cree”. He impressed me with his picong verses for “I Dun” when I heard him perform live in a tent. Probably “Heaven” played with a full brass section impressed me the most. This two-time Calypso King of Barbados goes into hiding from time to time but when he pokes his head out it’s totally worth it.
I didn’t know Grynner was still around until I visited Barbados this summer and heard a new song from him. The man has still got it! Years of winning the Crop Over Road March competition a whopping 7 times haven’t stopped him from making music. I dare you to sing the chorus of “Leggo I Hand” (Ok, maybe it’s not that difficult after all) or make out a word he’s saying if you’re not Bajan (gotcha!). I had a blast with “Turn on De Speaker” this year but “We Want More Grynner” (wink).
The fact that lyrics from the Mighty Gabby’s “Jack” were able to land on one of my examinations during high school is testament to their quality. That song is a part of the reason premises all along the Barbadian shore are mandated to provide passage for Barbadians to use the beach. Gabby has always been controversial and hard-hitting with his protest songs and social commentaries. I didn’t particularly appreciate him calling both my first and middle name in “The List” when he was noting “the fellas that got the AIDS”. Of course, I smiled and thought “I know that” when my exam paper read “Tourism vital I can’t deny but can’t mean more than I an’ I”. A salute to another veteran of Barbadian music.
Let this be a reminder to the world that Rihanna is in fact Barbadian and fully deserves her place on this list. Ri Ri has taken the world by storm and shows no signs of slowing down. Her hits are too many to list but they include “Umbrella”, “Diamonds”, “Take a Bow” and more recently “Work”. Rihanna is undoubtedly the best-selling and most decorated artiste on this list with 8 Grammy Awards, 12 Billboard Awards and 9 American Music Awards. Her songs are played on every corner of the globe but she clearly hasn’t forgotten where she came from (Barbados for those of you not paying attention).
1. Red Plastic Bag
Hold your fire folks. I didn’t claim that this list would be fair! Visiting Barbados as a child Red Plastic Bag stood out to me so much that it became a yearly tradition to buy whichever CD he put out that year. Those CDs let me dance, think and learn more about Bajan culture than I learnt anywhere else. I must confess that I am a huge fan of Mr Stedson “RPB” Wiltshire but I can defend giving him this top spot.
“The Bag” holds a special place in the hearts of Barbadians and can easily fill a stadium with red-clad, waving supporters. Known across the island as the “Lyrical Master”, Red Plastic Bag might be the worst dancer Barbados has ever seen but his song writing talent is exceptional. The youngest calypsonian to win the Barbados Calypso Competition at age 21 back in 1982, he has been performing for over 30 years and has won the coveted crown a record 10 times.
On the party side of things “Volcano” may be his best and “Rollercoaster” is also very catchy but social commentary is where he really shines. He may be best known for “Ragga Ragga” which became an international hit but I’ll take one of his calypso social commentaries over it every day. His use of double entendre is fascinating and he continues to churn out song after song even when he isn’t competing. “Can’t Find Me Brother”, “Middle Passage”, “Issues of the Day”, “Material” and “Notes” are some of my recommendations but I’ll admit that choosing from his vast repertoire was as difficult as creating this entire list so just listen to everything.