Upbeat (May/June 1996)

The latest in Caribbean music


The Ultimate Party — Pump Me Up

Krosfyah

“Bajan posse! Trinbago massive! St Lucia and Grenada! Jamaica and Anti gua! We are all West Indian/United in rhythm! It’s time we feel the vibe of the Ultimate Party!” With that call to the Caribbean, Barbadian band krosfyah opens this brilliant first CD of sweet, honest soca music. From “Oh Garsh! She body in control of me water! (Sweating) to “Wha de gul dem ah want!” (Poom Poom), from “Now crank de motor, crank it!” (Crank It) to “Pump me up with this music, pump me up/Cuz you know I’m addicted” (Pump Me Up), lead vocalist and songwriter Edwin Yearwood is evocative and sexy. He drives home the party lyrics, exhorting Caribbean brotherhood through the rhythm sprung from our soil. Hailed as one of the big releases of 1996, The Ultimate Party will shake you by the waist (as it did thousands in Trinidad for Carnival this year), lift you with a smile (ask anyone who has heard it) and have you come back for more. Get it.

The Message

Baron (JW Productions)

This is one of Baron’s best albums. The eight selections are by Winsford DeVines, one of modern calypso’s most prolific writers, and Selwyn Damming; and the Baron, who has one of soca’s sweetest voices, is on form. The strong melodic structure, and the mix of nostalgic party music, haunting social themes and sensuous love songs, make this an album for dancing or listening. Baron has resisted the temptation to trade melody for speed: he keeps the unhurried, luxurious pace of bygone days. The opening selection is a slow groove reminiscent of party music in the late 70s and early 80s, while the romantic Soca for You has a sensual, sexy feeling. Something in Meh Waist is a faster-paced party tune about a woman who can’t resist dancing during Carnival; it features traditional soca basslines and punchy brass punctuation. In Faces, Baron toys with a Quincy Jones-style arrangement to comment on the frightening faces of crime, poverty and drugs. There’s an “urban mix” of Party Time and a “rhythm mix” of Something in Meh Waist.

Klatye

Burning Flames

“It was a hot night/It was a night for speeding/And we was in de mood!” With that, Antigua’s top soca band sets your waist on fire with one of the hot hits of 1996. With a beat to set the pelvis rocking, Burning Flames singes with Swinging Engine. You’re racing to a good time as De garbage man ah come to clean up town; the clash, clang and voom of this sunny isle’s soca rhythm moves from the high-spirited Klatye to a low, smooth Guantanamera.

Call Dat George

Iwer, Naya and Devon George (JW Productions)

The unofficial king of the fetes, Iwer George leads a family reunion with music to “mash up the party”. This is his best album to date, impossible to sit still and listen to – it commands you to roll your hips and “get on bad.” His six songs are arranged by Pelham Goddard, modern calypso’s most successful Road March arranger; trendy live horns elevate the mood. This is raw, modern party music, unashamedly free and wild. Included are Iwer George’s 1996 party tune Yes, Iwer, and Wining Party, which concentrates on rolling the hips as opposed to raising your hand and waving something. Sound Check is the most interesting song on the album musically speaking: there’s a sizzling soca and R&B mix over jazzy horns, and a scintillating rhythm to underpin potent lyrics. The message is: put down your gun and wine your hips, stop the crime and drugs and come to a party to rediscover your individuality and sensuality. Iwer’s Jump Up Competition, Bom Bom Time and Ah Wine Is Ah Wine are included. Iwer turns serious in The Interview, an unusual profile which mixes his music with excerpts from an interview. Devon George’s two tunes, Nation Dance and Doh Wine On Me So, are party music at a blistering pace.

Wildness

Crazy (JW Productions)

The opening track, This is Madness, could well be the theme song: this is a song to go crazy for. Pumping horns, an old-time lavway style combined with a punchy synthesiser line, bold bass lines and a searing soca guitar, make this a powerful party tune. The mix allows each instrument to be featured. Three selections on this eight-track party album are by popular songwriter Winsford DeVines; the title song, by Shadow, features bold bass lines and a riveting rhythm to make you jump. GetOn is an energetic Crazy party song; in King Crazy, Crazy falls asleep and causes a major disaster — a fete has gone dead without him pumping life into it. It’s a piece of tongue-in-cheek bravado. Trouble in the Party is Crazy’s lament about how judges keep him down; Put Yuh House in Order is a slow-groove social commentary playing with the meaning of the word “order”.

Prophecy

Capleton (Rush Associated Labels 314-529-264)

In this latest album, the natty dread “super” slams down the tracks for which he is so well-known — Tour, Babylon Judgement, Trinity, No Competition, Big Time and Obstacle. So where’s the prophecy? We know about corruption, people selling each other out for rice and peas or money (Big Time), young girls going to extremes to pay their rent or finance their Saturday nights (Tour), gangsterdom and sound clashes wiping out black men (No Competition). Ragga/dancehall to its heart in its drum and bass licks (Sly and Robbie, who else?), Prophecy has some refreshing sounds — trumpets in Babylon Judgement, flute/clarinet in Glorious Morning. Chant is totally new — no drums or bass lines here, just some African drums and those beautiful trumpets (but then Capleton had to “chat” over it in a droning fashionable monotone). Tour is the tune that catapulted Capleton into the headlines, after which he decided it was time to leave his gun-dem-down patter and embrace God and goodwill instead. Good move. The remix is questionable, though there is a “wicked” piece of scratching on it; so too is the remix of Heathen Reign. How Lil John and Paul thought of incorporating a funk beat (in the former song) and Barry White’s I’m Gonna Love You (in the latter) is an enigma. The remix of Wings of the Morning, featuring Method Man, is worth its salt, though. This is a conscious and hard-hitting album even if it contains few new releases (and even though Capleton starts almost all his tracks with “Selassie I liveth every time, Emmanuel liveth every time … ). It seems to be mainly for the benefit of the American market which gobbled up Tour last year and wanted more. It will be interesting to see how he follows it up.

The Struggle Continues

Supercat (Columbia 64197)

Suave, sophisticated Supercat makes no apologies while he strokes you with a mellow, laidback style. This is easy-listening ghetto music for those who want to understand a black man — in an armchair, sipping red wine. The don is dapper as he rolls into Girlstown where My Girl Josephine is getting to Dance. For years a ladies’ man, Supercat gets serious and asks Forgive Me Jah. Based in New York, he’s feeling the influence of America’s black music – R&B and hip-hop — with a sound that’s totally his.

Blessed

Beenie Man (Island Records 162-539 950-2)

He sprang from the ghetto of Waterhouse, Kingston, and has never looked down on it. From the age of nine, dancehall was his. Now, Jamaica’s newly-crowned prince — for whom thousands waited anxiously at Reggae Sunsplash 1995 — glories in his birthright. “Great warrior that I am. . . Blessed be unto thee the Holy Trinity. . . Blessed be thy name . . . Babylon ah work in vain … Oh God! He is my father …” Juxtaposed with stark ghetto reality (Slam) is Rastafarian idealism; Beenie’s just as passionate when the ghetto girl Tear Off Mi Garment as when he’s bawling for Freedom in Selassie’s name. His sceptre raised over the dance floor, Beenie ruled Jamaica’s premiere reggae shows – Sting, Sunsplash and Sunfest — for years with Modelling. Finally, he’s taking the soul of Kingston to dancehall fans everywhere with his World Dance.

Strictly the Best 15

Various artists (VP Records)

This is ghetto Kingston at its most rahtid excellence: Buju, Beenie, Snow and Terror working up a wicked Anything For You with the sexy-smooth Nadine Sutherland on one of the best dancehall tunes of 1995. Beenie Man returns to Big Up & Trust ‘im ghetto lady, while one of Jamaica’s up-and-coming DJs is Merciless with Mavis; Fabby Dolly tears the top off the “box juice” as Peanut Punch gets promotion with a mean bass, and Mad Cobra stings with his driving jam on the sexy Dun Wife. Lady Saw’s looking for a strong, black stallion. “Good wuk for mi honey,” the Lady pleads. Simpleton gives you more than the time of day with 1/4 to Twelve. Dancehall’s stars make it known they are strictly the best.

Wonderful

Shades of Black (Columbia/Sony 14-474452-10)

In the evening cool, on a verandah somewhere in the Caribbean, sun fades and Shades of Black come. It’s you that I love, they whisper. My heart’s for you, since morning light, Until the stars are turning black … They carry the soul of the Caribbean in their voices, these stars of the zouk sound, the back-up singers for ace band Kassav. On the lull of a sexy sax and rippling drums, you and they relax, and they tell about returning to a wonderful island, childhood tales of zombies, about dreaming of “a man as sweet as Siwo”. These three artists — Natalie Yorke, Karla Gonzales and Juslyn Jones are real women of the West Indies: strong, black and creative. Listening to them, you understand why Zouk Is The Only Medicine We Got, as it heals and frees your mind.

Dife, Soupape

Kassav

Here are the many moods of zouk’s famed voice. Don’t worry about a literal translation: Kassav’s patois Martiniquan or Guadeloupean according to the singer — is understood by the open heart, if not by the ear. This is an album which captures the stark despair of a young heart without hope: Dans la nuit, les gosses brûlent leur vie/Se perdent dans la fumée/Ils voudraient espérer mais l’avenir est mutilé (In the night the children burn their lives/they are lost in the smoke/they want to hope but the future is ruined). Bound in zouk’s striking chords, the music speaks for today’s children. Pa ni pwoblem is no contradiction: Kassav sings tongue-in-cheek of that familiar Caribbean shrug. Our country is small . . . in difficulty . . . on fire . . . But no problem. Slow and seemingly relaxed, Kassav’s rhythm can soothe you even while the words shake your conscience.

Voyager

André Woodvine Group (Vine 002)

André Woodvine, a graduate of Berklee College of Music, works in Barbados, and won the 1992 Heineken Caribbean Song Contest with Hold You In A Song. He has played at jazz festivals in Montreal, Paris, Martinique, Trinidad and Barbados, and has toured with Spice and the West Indies Jazz Band. His first solo album features 11 tracks, 10 of them Woodvine’s own compositions; much of the music lies between jazz and easy-listening, with an intermittent strong Caribbean flavour, as in a lively piece called The Paling Song. Woodvine, on saxophones and flute, is quite a player, assured and sometimes adventurous; his accompanying trio — Roger Gittens  (keyboards), Alex Bernard (bass) and Errol Bradshaw (drums) — play it safe.