If music be the food of love, play on!
(William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night)
Today’s post is going to talk about a cultural expression that’s been around for millennia. Music. It’s everywhere, it’s infectious, and it is, I think, one of the most rudimentary means of expressing who we are.
I don’t know about you guys, but music is so important to me. I mean, I use it to cheer me up when I’m under the weather and to express how I feel in general. By extension, I think the type of music I enjoy listening to is some reflection of my reality.
When I was about 16 I wrote this poem called Lyrical Frustration while I was sitting down in my math class. Honestly, I wasn’t doing it just to avoid paying attention or anything – we had finished the syllabus and my teacher told us to ‘do something productive’. So naturally, I took my MP3 out of my pocket and flipped through my local radio stations so I could have some background noise to shut out the rest of the world and focus on my studying.
I flipped through all the available radio stations and all I heard was calypso. You might be thinking “what’s wrong with that?”, and of course the answer for some might be “absolutely nothing”, but I was frustrated…lyrically frustrated.
See what I did there?
I wrote the poem because I was so fed up with that being all there was to Caribbean music – pelt waist, wukk-up and hard wine (all really fun Caribbean euphemisms for a very specific class of gyration).
Recently, a new sub-genre of music has emerged in my country – Bashment Soca. My mother and I actually had a whole discussion about this recently. We were talking about music and identity and how the music we subscribe says stuff about who we are.
It’s deeper than my 16-year old self could put into a poem, but it’s definitely something I probably always knew. Today’s bashment soca and yesteryear’s calypso shared something in common for me. They might be considered parts of Caribbean identity – and rightly so – but I can’t say they’re part of my identity.
Does that make me less Caribbean? Not by a long shot. As we Bajans say: “my navel string bury right here”.
The content of the music has changed in most instances from being expressions of our history to being expressions of people’s freedom. And that’s absolutely fine. There are just some things I became aware of, and I’ll share them with you.
Our Culture Is Not Our Identity…
Perhaps that sounds weird, but if we really think about it we do not internalise every aspect of our culture into this thing we call our individual identities. I do not identify with bashment soca nor calypso to any large extent, but that doesn’t mean that other aspects of the Caribbean culture are not parts of my identity. Even though those things are Caribbean and I do subscribe to them, I’m still Caribbean.
Culture Is A Tricky Thing…
One thing we’ve learnt is that culture is dynamic, and if music is to be considered a representation of a culture, then music must be dynamic by extension. To me, that doesn’t only explain why music changes, it explains why people’s tastes in music change too.
Maybe, people like newer musical expressions because they’re not ‘stuck in the past’ or maybe it’s because the world is changing and people want music that expresses who they are and the freedoms they have.
I hope you guys don’t think I’m going too deep with this.
I’m just saying that as culture changes and expressions of that culture like music adapt to suit, we get different outcomes and shape our identities differently.
Be Wary Of The Image You Present…
The root of my mum and I’s conversation was that we didn’t feel like bashment soca represented us very well. There’s been a lot of debate about its legitimacy as a genre in Barbados because it kind of borders on the risque.
We’re not trying to rock the boat and say that it shouldn’t be a genre, especially since freedom of expression is such a big thing. Our concern was more the image of Barbadians that it presents.
If you take a look at this video, you’ll see that it is a very…out-there…image. I don’t have any better way to say it honestly. My mum and I are proof that not all Barbadians are like that. Granted, there are some who are, and it is very difficult if not impossible to put a culture in a box, but what happens when that is the image the world sees more often than it sees people like my mother and I?
Does that become incorporated into the schema of what the rest of the world calls Barbadian culture? Is that a good or a bad thing? In a world where music is taken as an expression of a culture and representations are easily affected, how do we make sure people get the right ideas about who we are?
Cyndi, the Bajan Alt-Rock Enthusiast
A Pondering Mind