We need to re-invent our Cadence and Bouyon music
Does it disturb you as a Dominican that we have created a beat that is now well over 25 years old and only citizens of our country engage and identify with it? Does it concern you that Cadence music, one of the region's most popular sounds of the 70's and up to the mid- 80's, particularly the French West Indies, is now on NCCU life support as sole family members Ophelia, Chubby and to a lesser extent Michele, are left to grieve?
Well, as an artiste it does disturb me as it should every true artiste in this country. First, let us begin with Cadence music. It was created in 1972 and rose to fame rapidly as it imported some of the French rhythms merged with the region's Calypso and Compa to form something unique with lyrics that was previously unheard, touching social issues of the day via the voices of Gordon Henderson, Jeff Joseph, Ophelia and Chubby as the main architects. Let's examine what worked for Cadence; the rich lyrical content which spoke of slavery, racial and other forms of discrimination, love of self, people God and country while inspiring hope.
Secondly, the language of creole helped greatly in communicating those sentiments.
Thirdly, there was the integration of the popular beguine rhythm in the French islands, our close proximity to the Martinique and Guadeloupe markets where most recordings were done and distributed as far as France, the fact that anyone could dance to the bounce, as the bass, and the Hyatt's driven by the cowbell made it easy for the feet in any culture to relate; there was something sensual about the dance where both sexes could participate affectionately on the dance floor.
Finally, there was distinctiveness about the music; from a distance, one could easily discern the sound of Belles Combo, Exile One, Grovers or Grammax. All these bands had very good vocalists; Mike Morrow and Harley, Gordon Henderson, Phillip Chubby Mark and of course Jeff Joseph. The musicianship was excellent from the arrangements, breaks and orchestration of a Frere Soul driven Grammax to the mellow sounds of Belles, the fast paced hard-hitting roots Cadence of Henry Bellot on drum and unique guitar licks of 'Coe' on Groovers guitar with the brass of Exile, keyboard riffs of Fitzroy and the signature voice of Mr. Henderson.
It is important to have benchmarks in any spectrum of life, note the best practices, and correct the areas where one is falling short. So having laid the foundation for what worked for Cadence then we can look objectively at where we are failing. Here are a few:
(a) There is a lack of distinctiveness in sound and quality musicianship in Dominica's current music. If one is honest, most times one would have to come in close proximity to a band and sometimes have to see the players to know whether it's the Triple K, WCK or another band. Most of the music is dependent on the drum machine, hence the human element re arrangement, guitar and keyboard solos (void of repetitious sequencing) is lacking.
(b) Poor vocal and composition quality. Let's face it, this is a real problem today. What's even more pathetic is that we glorify front men more for their ability to chant and energize patrons and not for their ability to sing. Hence we have no comparable Gordon Henderson's, Phillip Horsford's, Greg Breaker's or Super L's.
Additionally little time is spent on harmonization. To further compound matters because literacy is a problem in the schools, it has been transposed to our bands and so chants and one-liners are accepted as full-fledged compositions.
(c) In a marketing survey I conducted five years ago at three music venues among visitors to our shores, the respondents stated overwhelmingly, that (i) they could not understand what the lead vocalist was singing (ii) the music was too fast, hence they could not dance to it (no wonder they dance off- and time) and (iii) the music was too loud (mixing quality).
There is a lot more we could discuss but a word to the wise is sufficient. In closing I would propose that while it's commendable what the NCCU is doing to help revitalize Cadence, the revival of the music it can't and won't happen if it's just a seasonal show akin to Quadrille, Conte or Bele. It must be supported at schools, by radio stations and DJ's, the ministries of culture and tourism etc. For instance, my survey that I alluded to earlier revealed that not one of the 13 sites that cruise tourist visit, employ musicians to provide entertainment. Most guest houses and hotels (with the exception of Fort Young) still use hi- fi as opposed to live music to entertain guests. Where is the support and linkage with culture and entertainment and the slogan "Tourism is Everybody's Business?
I also propose for both Cadence and Bouyon the sound needs to be reinvented. For this collaborations are of utmost importance, not just locally from persons like Benji or Rah or Daddy Chess or Nayee but with other more established artistes particularly in the hip hop genre which has literally taken over the universe. The Jamaicans are very good at this.
Make no mistake guys, the music has to slow down, the lyrical and vocal content improved and the NCCU Cadence Festival must provide an avenue for innovativeness and move beyond the Liquid-Ice days of Cadence with two chords and a tok-tok intermingled with a few creole phrases. English and Spanish with R&B must be explored also, with solid compositions to appeal to a wider market. No way must Cadence or Bouyon of 2016 and beyond be less innovative than music of 40 (Cadence) or 20 (Bouyon) years ago.