Life After Death

On March 25, 1997, Christopher Wallace, better known as the Notorious BIG, released his best selling album 15 days after his murder. Ironically named “Life After Death”, the album was considered a landmark and received 3 Grammy nominations. “Life After Death” outsold its equally grimly-named and possibly prophetic precursor (Ready to Die) and was certified diamond in 2000. Biggie Smalls’ album is a prime example of a musician’s financial worth increasing after their death. Furthermore, the rapper, known for his violent lyrics, is today seen as one of the greatest rappers of all time. Sometimes death can seem more profitable than life. In this way Biggie is not alone; musicians making more money and turning more heads after their death is a commonly seen pattern.




Financial Worth

With 6 of Forbes Magazine’s 13 highest paid celebrities of 2016 being musicians it is clear that some top musical acts have tremendous earning potential beyond the grave with “King of Pop” Michael Jackson leading the entire pack. His pop nemesis (Prince), as well as the respective kings of Reggae and Rock and Roll, David Bowie and my favorite Beatle have also been making their mark financially since their deaths.

Make no mistake, these acts all made significant monies during their lifetimes. Elvis made around $5 million US (the equivalent of $40 million US today) in his twenties but he astoundingly made $55 million US in 2012, 35 years after his death. The widely proclaimed “King of Pop” died with $400 million US in debt but has since made enough money to pay off his enormous debt and amass a respectable fortune.

Musical Worth

Nostalgia works wonders when it comes to music and in many cases artistes are more respected as musicians after death.

In some cases, after initial success artistes reach a roadblock. Let’s take Michael Jackson as a case in point. The highlight of Jackson’s career was definitely his Thriller album which is highly acclaimed to this day. Unfortunately, after a string of great successes, his career went into a dangerous downward spiral. Allegations of paedophilia and child molestation did nothing to revive his dying career. Interestingly, after his death, Jackson’s career was revived and he rightfully remains a legend of pop music to this day.

Another group of musicians have had the fortune (or misfortune?) of reaching stardom posthumously. Otis Redding, now hailed as a legend of soul music, tragically died in a place crash only weeks after recording his quintessential hit, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”. Other singers like Selena and Eva Cassidy also became much more famous after passing away.

Musical Immortality

Some legends of music have reached the point of being immortalised but it must be asked whether this is fair for them to be more appreciated after passing on. Certainly Bob Marley embraced the idea of his musical legend outliving him.

Possessions make you rich? I don’t have that type of richness. My richness is life, forever. – Bob Marley

11 bajan music artistes everyone should know

 

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.

10. Krosfyah

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.

9. Rupee

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.  

8. Shontelle

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.

6. Blood

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.

4. Grynner 

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).

3. Gabby

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.

2. Rihanna

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.

Jazz in the Windy City, Chicago

 

Chicago, popularly known as the “Windy City”, is also famous for its rich musical effervescence and the occasional resonant sounds of a saxophone being played in the distance can sometimes be heard. Many famous musicians made this their home and world renowned musical venues are myriad, including the Chicago Theatre and the Chicago House of Blues. In the north side of the city, a bar often associated with Italian-American crime boss Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone has become a popular venue for live jazz in Chicago. A two minute walk away from the Lawrence stop of the “L” train, the Green Mill is easily accessible by public transportation and its bright sign is clearly visible from the train station, even at night. 




Entering the Green Mill felt like stepping into a time capsule. Smaller than I expected for one of the best jazz bars in the world, it was a very quaint, dimly lit bar with wooden counters, a functional old jukebox with an amazing collection of jazz classics and a tiny stage packed with a number of instruments. Depending on where you sat a pole could end up in your field of view but this detracted little from the experience. Pictures of the greats who had graced this joint decorated a table behind the bar; clearly this place was proud of it’s history. The bouncer admitted that the decor hadn’t changed much since the days of Al Capone and showed me the table where the notorious mafia kingpin would sit in order to have a clear view of the entrance.jazz jukebox

 Legend has it that when Al Capone visited the Green Mill he locked the doors and allowed nobody to enter or leave the venue. He also generously paid the tab of everyone who happened to be there at the time. The Green Mill was situated in territory controlled by Capone’s nemesis, Bugs Moran, however one of his hitmen owned a part of the bar. Nobody knows how often Al Capone visited the area.

A gypsy-jazz band named lePercolateur graced the stage on the night I visited. They consisted of an upright bass, fiddle, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and a female vocalist. The vocalist was capable of complex riffs and seemed very fond of “scat singing”, reminiscent of the late Ella Fitzgerald. The other instrumentalists provided sound accompaniment for the vocalist: the bassist and acoustic guitarist were consistent and the fiddler and electric guitarists were versatile and both able to steal the show at any point with an extended solo. The crowd enjoyed themselves immensely and burst into spontaneous applause at intervals. This is a great band to check out if you’re looking to expand your musical palette.

Instead of being limited by its size, the Green Mill provides the visitor with an intimate musical experience. You are so close that you could actually touch the performers if you stretched a little, thus every word and note is perfectly audible. I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the Chicago area.

3 ways to improve your music listening experience

Three Ways to Improve your Music Listening Experience

Music is ubiquitous and is one of the most powerful means of human expression. Everyone listens to music at some time but how can you optimize your sonic experience?




Listen in a Quiet Environment

Musicians, audio engineers and producers take a lot of time and expend considerable effort to ensure that you will have an enjoyable experience once you press play. I’m particularly guilty of the crime of listening to music in less than ideal circumstances as I’ve been known to motivate myself with a song or two while running on a treadmill (who doesn’t?), blazing energetic, danceable tunes while studying and just about playing music anywhere and at any time.

There’s nothing wrong with playing music during daily activities when appropriate but it must be understood that this isn’t the optimal way to appreciate all that is going on in the track. Many of the nuances in a piece of music will be lost in a noisy environment or if the listener is distracted. Even the apparent width of a stereo track will disappear leaving a less convincing mono sound.

Expand Your Musical “Palette”

Even something as wonderful as music can lose its charm over time if you listen to the same sounds all the time. Isn’t it awesome that there’s such a wide variety of musical genres that you can’t have possibly listened to them all yet?    [Read: Black: The Root of All Music]

I’m not saying you must go out and buy an album of Tibetan throat singing but most of us could do with a slight expansion in our sound repertoire.

Improve Your Music Listening Gear

In case you didn’t know it yet, laptop speakers suck!

I’m sorry to shock you but you had to know. Don’t gloat yet if you don’t have a laptop; the same goes for tablet and smartphone speakers. Not only are some of these speakers so quiet that you can hardly make out anything, most of them represent mid-range frequencies well enough but are extremely poor with bass and high frequencies.

Try listening to your favorite popular single on a pair of these laptop (or tablet or phone) speakers in a quiet environment. Really listen closely. Do the cymbals and hi hats sizzle? Where is that booming bass that hits you squarely in your chest? If this is your primary listening gear you could certainly do with an upgrade my friend and you’re in luck. There are a number of options for boosting you sonic experience without breaking the bank.

High Fidelity (Hi-Fi) Loudspeakers

These may range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars and may be bookshelf or floor-standing but a boost in your audio quality is guaranteed if you are currently stranded with laptop speakers or worse. I have provided a link below although I personally have more experience with studio monitors that are better suited for music production applications. Hi-fi loudspeaker systems pack a punch and are great for listening to music with friends and family but suffer from a lack of portability. These speakers can be moved around a bit but definitely aren’t meant to be lugged all over town.

Click for High Fidelity Speakers

Headphones

This is where I can definitely give my two cents. I’ve used a myriad of headphones and earbuds over the years and two in particular have stood out.

Sony MDR Series

Be prepared to be walloped by pure musical goodness. I don’t remember the exact model number but these headphones turned me into a musical recluse for a short time in university and their over-ear design kept outside disturbances to a minimum. Possibly their next best selling point after audio quality and absolute awesomeness is their comfort. The cushions in these made me feel like I was wearing a pair of Hushpuppies on my ears. I can’t help but look back fondly at these headphones. I loved them enough to buy a second pair when they had done their time. Both pairs eventually succumbed to issues with internal wiring coming loose but nothing that a soldering gun couldn’t probably have fixed.

Sennheiser HD 280 Pro

The Germans may not have one the war but they sure won me over with these beauties. German engineering and design are legendary and the HD 280 Pro is no different. The comfort level may not be quite as phenomenal as the Sony MDR models but the sound quality is similar and the durability is exceptional. So far with 6 years of almost continuous use these show little sign of deterioration and they are still my choice for personal listening and supplementary monitoring.

Play On!

An ideal environment and the the right equipment can be  the difference between a stellar and a lacklustre musical experience. Nevertheless, whether you own a humble pair of earbuds or the fanciest new stereo system I must admit that most are good enough for casual listening purposes. Happy listening!

 icon-quote-right If music be the food of love, play on

— William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

black the root of all music

 

 

The tremendous influence of black people on modern music is obvious, superstars like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley have stood out over the years, but is the black influence even more widespread than commonly thought? [Read: Is Rihanna To Barbados What Bob Marley Is To Jamaica?]




My analysis of the most prevalent music genres on the Billboard Hot 100 this week showed that the chart was dominated by pop, hip hop and related genres such as pop rock, country pop and trap. The continued presence of dancehall music on the charts following its incorporation into hits like Rihanna's Work is notable. My analysis of the most prevalent music genres on the Billboard Hot 100 this week showed that the chart was dominated by pop, hip hop and related genres such as pop rock, country pop and trap. The continued presence of dancehall music on the charts following its incorporation into hits like Rihanna’s Work is notable.

A Genealogy of Popular Music

Many genres of popular music that are considered “white music” actually have black roots. Let’s look at some of the genres that matter and their origins.

Rock Music

Rock and its derivatives remain very popular today but it owes its existence to early black pioneers of rock and roll such as Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard and the influential Sister Rosetta Tharpe. These pioneers were heavily influenced by another “black” genre, rhythm and blues. In those days of racial segregation, white musicians like the “King of Rock and Roll”, Elvis Presley, adopted this musical style and people have been playing it in every garage in the world since then. Elvis’ recognition of his gratitude to African-American musicians is clear.

“The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin’ now, man, for more years than I know. They played it like that in their shanties and in their juke joints and nobody paid it no mind ‘til I goosed it up. I got it from them. Down in Tupelo, Mississippi, I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now and I said if I ever got to a place I could feel all old Arthur felt, I’d be a music man like nobody ever saw.”

— Elvis Presley

 

Pop music as we know it today has undergone continuous evolution but its roots in rock and roll, and rhythm and blues are still apparent.

Reggae, Dancehall, Hip Hop and Rap Music

It shouldn’t take much to convince you that reggae, dancehall, hip hop and rap music are of black origin. These genres generally are associated with black people and all can be linked to Jamaica. Reggae came out of earlier Jamaican genres of ska and rocksteady; dancehall evolved from reggae. Hip hop was developed in the Bronx, New York but owes its initiation to Jamaican-born Clive “DJ Kool Herc” Campbell. Elements of rap music were derived from Jamaican practices such as toasting (lyrical chanting over a “riddim”). 

Electronic Dance Music (EDM)

The modern rapper with his boastful improvisation arose from the Jamaican deejay, and the Jamaican sound system selector was the precursor to the flashy modern EDM DJ. “Rave-headlining dance DJs are the latest pop music phenomenon whose lineage is directly traceable to the earliest days of the Jamaican sound system,” says Billboardand I’m not one to argue. Yes, my friends, this one also can be linked to Jamaica (as well as the remix which owes its invention to the late King Tubby). 

Country Music

Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, approximately 12.5 million West Africans were forcibly shipped to the Americas and with them came their unique cultures including food, musical rhythms and the banjo, an instrument integral to country music. Country music is ostensibly white but as the Guardian puts it “since the first ‘hillbilly’ records from the early decades of the 20th century there has always been a black presence in country”. Despite incomplete record-keeping and segregation it is evident that Black people have been involved in the development of country music from its inception. I’ll only mention Ray Charles, Huddie Ledbetter, DeFord Bailey and Charley Pride but there are numerous other black people involved in the evolution of country music, many whose names have been lost to history.

A Case for Truth

It is difficult to find music on the charts today that doesn’t in some way have a connection to black pioneers. In many cases, these musicians haven’t been given credit for their contributions but the widespread African influence on music often speaks for itself.

Today the world dances, pulses and undulates to the same drum… And it’s African

 

Is Rihanna to Barbados what Bob Marley is to Jamaica

 

The mere suggestion incited war in the usually quiet operating theatre and the verbal battle raged on for half an hour after the initial query. A lone “small islander” defended his point valiantly whilst his Jamaican colleagues threw blow after blow. One even suggested that Deon Burton might be the Jamaican equivalent of Argentina’s Messi. All this after the simple question…

“Is Rihanna to Barbados what Bob Marley is to Jamaica?”




Comparing Bob Marley and Rihanna may seem like the proverbial comparison of chalk and cheese even though they both originated within the English speaking Caribbean and are each arguably the most popular musical artistes from their respective countries. The influence of the Honourable Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley is phenomenal and his music is wide-reaching but Rihanna is definitely well renowned. Let us objectively examine both artistes.

Popularity

Bob Marley introduced reggae music to a worldwide audience. The audacious rhythm hit them, they felt no pain and they loved it. Furthermore, after his death, Marley’s popularity hasn’t stopped climbing. One Love was named BBC’s song of the millennium in 1999. His posthumous Legend album, which is also his most successful, finally entered Billboard’s Top 10 in 2014, 30 years after its release. His global following remains immense.

[Read: Black: The Root of All Music]

In the popularity department Miss Fenty is no slouch either. I didn’t realise how massive she was until I looked at the stats. They painted an impressive picture. She’s not only the best-selling black female artist of all time but the best-selling digital artist of all time. She also has the 3rd most number ones on the Billboard Hot 100 and has won 8 Grammy awards

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

— Bob Marley

 

Ambassadorial Role

Is it unfair to compare ambassadors when one is dead and one is alive? Maybe, but we’ll do it anyways.

Bob Marley single-handedly placed Jamaica on the map for many people and his name continues to be synonymous with Jamaica even now, 35 years after his passing. His unique grooves were infused with elements of Jamaica and Rastafarianism. Through the rugged, talented Rastafarian, Jamaican culture reached the forefront of global consciousness and few have even come close to being as significant an ambassador for the island though Marcus Garvey and, more recently, the powerhouse that is Usain Bolt come to mind.

On the other hand, Rihanna’s music often sounds like the usual undistinctive, overproduced American pop music with some notable exceptions being Pon de Replay and Man Down which dive into Jamaican dancehall and reggae genres. Work, which has been hailed as the start of a Dancehall Revolution by Esquire also features dancehall and has traces of Riri’s native Bajan accent. Other Barbadian styles of music like calypso, soca and spouge are conspicuously absent from her influences even though she is known to frequent Crop Over.

Rihanna has also been made an ambassador of Barbados more than once, an Ambassador for Youth and Culture in 2008 and by the Barbados Tourist Board in 2011. The latter saw her featured in advertising campaigns for Barbados’ tourism including this one which shows her dancing, playing dominoes and horse-riding by the Bajan seaside, riding a bicycle through picturesque Barbadian scenery and genuinely enjoying herself while her song Diamonds plays in the background.  

Message and Impact

This is where Bob Marley shines in particular. Bob inspired the liberation movement in Zimbabwe, attempted to quell political violence in Jamaica and in general encouraged oppressed people. His revolutionary, inspirational lyrical content transcended boundaries and is what allows anthems like One Love, Get Up, Stand Up and Redemption Song to remain in demand amongst a younger generation. Bob Marley’s message of unity and love is universal and resonates with people of every gender, race and country.

The possible message of empowerment for young women in Rihanna’s music becomes diluted by her emphasized sex appeal, if there’s even a message there at all. While searching Rihanna’s music it is difficult to find a theme but this isn’t particularly surprising. Rihanna is a practitioner of modern pop music which is notorious for being superficial apart from the occasional uplifting song. Outside of music, her Believe Foundation and other charitable efforts assist those in need.

Legacy

Bob Marley is undoubtedly a legend in my mind and the minds of countless others. His music is timeless and his fan base continues to grow. Will Rihanna’s music also withstand the test of time?

Please comment below. Do you think Rihanna is to Barbados what Bob Marley is to Jamaica?