Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Soca Junkie - Music of Guyana, Part 1

First, an overdue correction: the ‘amusingly bad grammar’ in the sign in a previous post – ‘water is life, care it’ isn’t bad grammar at all. It’s just Creolese grammar, like ‘I tell she’, ‘me na know’, ‘walk with your things’. Lesson learnt, for the fiftieth time, until I forget again: Don’t be too quick to judge.

And now to the matter at hand. I had to do a music post sooner or later. More will follow.
Music has been one of the defining elements of my experience so far, and the sounds of Guyana will linger in my ears long after I have left the country. And when I get home my friends will wonder what the hell has happened to my music taste.

The title is a bit of a misnomer: most of the music you hear here is not from Guyana. There are a few local bands and singers, but even they apparently tend to record in Trinidad or Suriname. The vast majority of music is imported from elsewhere, mainly Trinidad, Jamaica, the USA or Brazil. And when I say imported, I mean downloaded as a low bitrate MP3 and burnt to a CD. There are either no copyright laws here, or nobody has bothered trying to enforce any, so even the biggest department stores sell nothing but pirated CDs and DVDs. These are ridiculously cheap – you can usually get between five and ten CDs for 1000 Guyanese Dollars (About £2.50), although luxuries like the CDs coming with accurate tracklistings or actually playing all the way through are far from guaranteed.

Music is everywhere here, and it’s loud. Whether it’s reggae blasting out of the minibus, eighties ballads in the taxi, Chutney* blasting out from your neighbour’s house at 6 AM or dirty thumping dancehall played in between overs at a cricket game, there is almost always some kind of music within earshot. There are some noise laws, but the application of these is very hit and miss. Generally 'hit' when i'm in the middle of dancing and the club gets shut down at midnight, and 'miss' when i'm trying to sleep at five in the morning.

The most popular songs are bought by everybody, and played by everybody, repeatedly, for months. For the first few months here, One More Night and Nightshift by Busy Signal would be heard about ten times each a day. It’s just once or twice a day now. I have been through a similar 'three stages of culture shock' experience with these songs as I did with blackouts - enjoying them, then being driven to the edge of Insanity (a village on the way to Georgetown**) by them, and then eventually coming to tolerate and even like them, and freely choosing to listen to them at home from time to time.

As for going out and dancing***, the DJing culture here was a bit of a shock when I arrived, and one of the things I thought it might be hardest to adjust to. DJs usually play the start of the song, till it kicks in, have the MC shout a bit, rewind, sing over it, rewind when it gets to the good bit again, and then skip to the next song. Then they play the start of the song, till it kicks in, the MC shouts a bit, they restart the song, sing over it, rewind when it gets to the good bit again, and then skip on to the next song. Then they . . . well you get the idea. When I first went out this irritated the life out of me. But after a while you begin to see how it works with the music and the way people dance here. Hearing full songs all the way through sounds a bit boring now.

One good thing is the variety you get in each club over the space of a night. Most places will play the full range of Dancehall, Soca, Culture and a bit of RnB and classic dancefloor tunes as a bonus. The bad side is that there’s not much choice between venues – apart from some places that play more sludgy eighties ballads or Chutney, most places have identical playlists. There are probably at least twenty songs you can pretty much guarantee hearing wherever you go.

Next music post: a rundown of popular Guyanese**** musical styles. With examples. Lucky you. It must be nearly Christmas.

Mr Dale - Soca Junkie

* Indian music crossed with soca, we'll deal with this at a later date...
** Not actually true. But it could be. There is one called 'Good Faith'. I plan to go there and do something horribly selfish and short sighted. In good faith. Do you see? But I never got round to going to Glasshouses (near Harrogate) and throwing stones, and I lived near there for five years, so chances are I won't actually get round to it. And it's a bit of a silly idea really.
*** The dancing culture is quite a shock too, but one for another post.
**** Not really Guyanese. See above.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

CSI Georgetown

This is, within the limits of my hazy heat addled memory, the precise conversation me and a couple of friends had with a taxi driver recently.  None of us had met this guy before.

“Good morning”
    “Maarnin.  Where you go?”
    “Sure thing.”
Driver looks in the mirror and clocks my friend.
    “Hey bai, I saw you yesterday.”
“Oh yeah, where did you see me?”
    “Getting off a minibus on Vlissingen”
“That’s right, I was.”
    “It was a no. 63 bus, You musta come from Berbice.”
“That’s right.”
    “You was wearing a red shirt.”
    “And grey three quarters.”
“That’s true.”
    “And slippers”. (ie. Flip flops/thongs)
“Right again.”
    “And you had a big blue bag.”
“Erm, yes, that’s also true.”
    “You get on the corner by the gas station, look around, walk back up the road and cross over the bridge.”
“OK, I’m slightly scared now.  Do you know what I had for lunch yesterday too?”
    “Na bai, na.  But I could find out!  Check when you next go the toilet. All that CSI shit, forensics, you know?”
“CSI Georgetown?”
    “Exactly, CSI Georgetown.  That’s me.  CSI Georgetown.”

Monday, 4 January 2010

Toucan play at that game...

Every morning, at the same time, the parrots flew past the building site into the forest to hunt.  You can easily spot parrots because they always fly together in pairs.  Each afternoon, they flew back home.  Every day at the same time.  The workers started their jobs when the parrots went past on their way into the forest, and stopped when they were seen returning.

One afternoon the parrots were nowhere to be seen. The workers were vexed. They complained it was time to go home, but the boss just said 'Parrots na fly, you na go". They worked and worked until the sun went down.

The next day started as usual, but after half an hour the parrots were spotted on the horizon coming back from the jungle. The boss tried to stop them, but the workers just left. "Parrots fly, we go."

By the following morning, the boss had bought himself a watch.

(Thanks to Leonard for the story, and apologies to the world for the pun)