You don't have to be a musician to play music
One does not have to be a musician to play music anymore. Well, some may say this opening statement is an oxymoron but it's so true and even frightening. I may venture to say that technical ability at maneuvering gadgets on the keyboards, drum machines, sequencers and creating rhythms via the computer fruity loops and other such tools help this phenomenon.
This is why I am a purist as far as authenticity is concerned when I highlighted in my last article that Cadence has to do more with the musical component than an individual singer. Presently, the NCCU are almost doing the opposite even as its payment structure seems to indicate; individuals receive $10,000 to $14,000 for about 5-10 minutes on stage, while an entire band spending 45 minutes to an hour on stage featuring original songs as well as the intricacies and precision involved arranging a test piece, is only paid $8,000 for the top prize.
Don't get me wrong; I am all for some accommodation with various genres and instruments as I support crossover music aimed at reaching wider markets. My fear or concern is that true musicians are becoming obsolete. This is one of the reasons why I lamented the use of the drum machine over the prominence of the 'tok tok' sound of the cowbell as an integral element of Cadence. But more than this we face a greater dilemma; musicians who don't know scales, who are not aware when one is off key, who are unable to do harmonization, chord patterns and formation or when accidentals occur, some can't present or communicate with the audience beyond get something and wave, move left and right or put up a rag. They turn their backs and I have met some who need help to tune their guitars manually and are really helpless without electronic tuners, the same way some bandsmen are helpless and have become slaves to the drum machine.
Yes, I hear you loud and clear- "it's the age of technology and modernization, so Jackson get on with the programme." That may be true and maybe it's a sub-culture but one cannot separate the authentic artiste with the naturalness of his craft. Music is all about a relationship between a person and his instruments, not technology. Yes, probably it's better suited for studios to create the desired sound that the market is looking for. However, too often we are disappointed when live performances do not sound anything near the cosmetic recordings with voice enhancers, auto tune and the dressed-up flawed ability posing as talent.
I admire the vocalist that can stop the band and take his microphone and thrill and serenade audiences with his vocal range, emotion and ability; compared to one whose vocal is enhanced beyond recognition or is covered up by drum machines, sequencers and chants. If a band can't represent on acoustics in a small setting then they need further grooming. Therefore, ironic as it sounds, the best musicians on island are those who have never been exposed on a secular stage. Believe it or not they are found in the churches where most of the world greats started. Why, you may ask? They were schooled formally (not necessarily music theory) in basic rudiments of music and they employ the various disciplines such as harmonization, lyrics and presentation (attire/dress).
How many bands in Dominica hold auditions for a vocalist or guitarist in a band? How do we replace a member? Is he picked because of friendship or popularity? What is the yardstick? Some persons play repetitive patterns or press buttons for an entire night and will tell you that they are musicians or can't even discern when their instrument is un-tuned. Some buy the most expensive instruments such as six stringed bass guitars (although they are not yet competent on the traditional four string) and all sorts of fancy keyboards, hook up three or four on stage and can't get half as much from it as an Armstrong James, Fitzroy Williams, Julie Martin or Cornel Phillip will get from just one on the rack on stage. But it looks good on stage, doesn't it? And we are duped into believing that we are musicians although some press more buttons than play keys or strings.
This article is geared towards some self examination of our quality of musicianship. Have you realized that the sound of Cadence of the 70's & 80's in orchestration, instrumentation, lyrics and vocals far outweigh anything we do now in any genre? The studios had fewer gadgets and facilities than what obtains now but what is striking is the ability of the musicians of that era were really way ahead of what obtains now.
Today it would seem that all you need is a computer, import a beat, press a couple buttons, chant some catchy phrase, a hook, and what do you know, you may just have a hit song even if no notes can be put to it.
Well, if so we have cheapened the real value and a skill once respected because one does not have to be a musician to play music…today. Praise God, Jimmy Hendricks has shown us what mastery of the guitar really means and our National Anthem is already established by one of our authentic musical greats, because I'm afraid of thinking what our anthem might have sounded like if it was composed in this decade.