Monthly Archives: April 2017

Ska Music

Ska is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae. Ska combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. It is characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the off-beat. Ska developed in Jamaica in the 1960s when Prince Buster, Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, and Duke Reid formed sound systems to play American rhythm and blues and then began recording their own songs. Some suggest ska dates to earlier times, however. In the early 1960s, ska was the dominant music genre of Jamaica and was popular with British mods. Later it became popular with many skinheads. Music historians typically divide the history of ska into three periods: the original Jamaican scene of the 1960s; the 2 Tone ska revival of the late 1970s in Britain, which fused Jamaican ska rhythms and melodies with the faster tempos and harder edge of punk rock; and the third wave of ska, which involved bands from the UK, other European countries (notably Germany), Australia, Japan, South America and the United States, beginning in the 1980s and peaking in the 1990s.

There are multiple theories about the origins of the word ska. Ernest Ranglin claimed that the term was coined by musicians to refer to the “skat! skat! skat!” scratching guitar strum. Ranglin asserted that the difference between R&B and ska beats is that the former goes “chink-ka” and the latter goes “ka-chink“. Another explanation is that at a recording session in 1959 produced by Coxsone Dodd, double bassist Cluett Johnson instructed guitarist Ranglin to “play like ska, ska, ska”, although Ranglin has denied this, stating “Clue couldn’t tell me what to play!” A further theory is that it derives from Johnson’s word skavoovie, with which he was known to greet his friends. Jackie Mittoo insisted that the musicians called the rhythm Staya Staya, and that it was Byron Lee who introduced the term “ska”. Derrick Morgan said: “Guitar and piano making a ska sound, like ‘ska, ska,”

The first ska recordings were created at facilities such as Studio One and WIRL Records in Kingston, Jamaica with producers such as Dodd, Reid, Prince Buster, and Edward Seaga. The ska sound coincided with the celebratory feelings surrounding Jamaica’s independence from the UK in 1962; an event commemorated by songs such as Derrick Morgan’s “Forward March” and The Skatalites’ “Freedom Sound”.

Until Jamaica ratified the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the country didn’t honor international music copyright protection. This created a large number of cover songs and reinterpretations. One such cover was Millie Small’s version of the R&B/shuffle tune, “My Boy Lollypop” first recorded in New York in 1956 by 14 year old Barbie Gaye. Smalls’ rhythmically similar version, released in 1964, was Jamaica’s first commercially successful international hit. With over seven million copies sold, it remains one of the best selling reggae/ska songs of all time. Many other Jamaican artists would have success recording instrumental ska versions of popular American and British music, such as Beatles songs, Motown and Atlantic soul hits, movie theme songs and surf rock instrumentals. The Wailers covered The Beatles’ “And I Love Her”, and radically reinterpreted Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. They also created their own versions of Latin-influenced music from artists such as Mongo Santamaria.

Orchestra

An orchestra  is a large instrumental ensemble typical of classical music, which mixes instruments from different families, including bowed string instruments such as violin, viola, cello and double bass, as well as brass, woodwinds, and percussion instruments, each grouped in sections. Other instruments such as the piano and celesta may sometimes appear in a fifth keyboard section or may stand alone, as may the concert harp and, for performances of some modern compositions, electronic instruments. A full-size orchestra may sometimes be called a symphony orchestra or philharmonic orchestra. The actual number of musicians employed in a given performance may vary from seventy to over one hundred musicians, depending on the work being played and the size of the venue. The term chamber orchestra (and sometimes concert orchestra) usually refers to smaller-sized ensembles of about fifty musicians or fewer. Orchestras that specialize in the Baroque music of, for example, Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, or Classical repertoire, such as that of Haydn and Mozart, tend to be smaller than orchestras performing a Romantic music repertoire, such as the symphonies of Johannes Brahms. The typical orchestra grew in size throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, reaching a peak with the large orchestras (of as many as 120 players) called for in the works of Richard Wagner, and later, Gustav Mahler.

Orchestras are usually led by a conductor who directs the performance with movements of the hands and arms, often made easier for the musicians to see by use of a conductor’s baton. The conductor unifies the orchestra, sets the tempo and shapes the sound of the ensemble. The conductor also prepares the orchestra by leading rehearsals before the public concert, in which the conductor provides instructions to the musicians on their interpretation of the music being performed. Amateur orchestras include those made up of students from an elementary school or a high school, youth orchestras, and community orchestras; the latter two typically being made up of amateur musicians from a particular city or region. The typical symphony orchestra consists of four groups of related musical instruments called the woodwinds, brass, percussion, and strings (violin, viola, cello and double bass). Other instruments such as the piano and celesta may sometimes be grouped into a fifth section such as a keyboard section or may stand alone, as may the concert harp and electric and electronic instruments. The orchestra, depending on the size, contains almost all of the standard instruments in each group.

In the history of the orchestra, its instrumentation has been expanded over time, often agreed to have been standardized by the classical period and Ludwig van Beethoven’s influence on the classical model. In the 20th century, new repertory demands expanded the instrumentation of the orchestra, resulting in a flexible use of the classical-model instruments and newly developed electric and electronic instruments in various combinations.

Rapping

Rapping is a musical form of vocal delivery that incorporates “rhyme, rhythmic speech, and street vernacular”, which is performed or chanted in a variety of ways, usually over a backbeat or musical accompaniment. The components of rap include “content” (what is being said), “flow” (rhythm, rhyme), and “delivery” (cadence, tone). Rap differs from spoken-word poetry in that rap is usually performed in time to an instrumental track. Rap is often associated with, and is a primary ingredient of hip-hop music, but the origins of the phenomenon predate hip-hop culture. The earliest precursor to modern rap is the West African griot tradition, in which “oral historians”, or “praise-singers”, would disseminate oral traditions and genealogies, or use their formidable rhetorical techniques for gossip or to “praise or critique individuals.” Griot traditions connect to rap along a lineage of Black verbal reverence that goes back to ancient Egyptian practices, through James Brown interacting with the crowd and the band between songs, to Muhammad Ali’s quick-witted verbal taunts and the palpitating poems of the Last Poets. Therefore, rap lyrics and music are part of the “Black rhetorical continuum”, and aim to reuse elements of past traditions while expanding upon them through “creative use of language and rhetorical styles and strategies. The person credited with originating the style of “delivering rhymes over extensive music”, that would become known as rap, was Harlem, New York native, Anthony “DJ Hollywood” Holloway. Rap is usually delivered over a beat, typically provided by a DJ, turntablist, Beatboxer, or performed A capella without accompaniment. Stylistically, rap occupies a gray area between speech, prose, poetry, and singing. The word, which predates the musical form, originally meant “to lightly strike”, and is now used to describe quick speech or repartee. The word had been used in British English since the 16th century. It was part of the African American dialect of English in the 1960s meaning “to converse”, and very soon after that in its present usage as a term denoting the musical style. Today, the term rap is so closely associated with hip-hop music that many writers use the terms interchangeably.

There are two kinds of freestyle rap: one is scripted (recitation), but having no particular overriding subject matter, the second typically referred to as “freestyling” or “spitting”, is the improvisation of rapped lyrics. When freestyling, some rappers inadvertently reuse old lines, or even “cheat” by preparing segments or entire verses in advance. Therefore, freestyles with proven spontaneity are valued above generic, always usable lines. Rappers will often reference places or objects in their immediate setting, or specific (usually demeaning) characteristics of opponents, to prove their authenticity and originality.

Battle rapping, which can be freestyled, is the competition between two or more rappers in front of an audience. The tradition of insulting one’s friends or acquaintances in rhyme goes back to the dozens, and was portrayed famously by Muhammad Ali in his boxing matches. The winner of a battle is decided by the crowd and/or preselected judges. According to Kool Moe Dee, a successful battle rap focuses on an opponent’s weaknesses, rather than one’s own strengths. Television shows such as MTV’s DFX and BET’s 106 and Parkhost weekly freestyle battles live on the air. Battle rapping gained widespread public recognition outside of the African-American community with rapper Eminem’s movie 8 Mile. The strongest battle rappers will generally perform their rap fully freestyled. This is the most effective form in a battle as the rapper can comment on the other person, whether it be what they look like, or how they talk, or what they wear. It also allows the rapper to reverse a line used to “diss” him or her if they are the second rapper to battle. This is known as a “flip”. Jin The Emcee was considered “World Champion” battle rapper in the mid-2000s.

Rap music has become associated with the social stigma surrounding mental illness, as the rap culture has heavily criticized mental illness. However, there has been an increase in rappers who are publicly speaking out about their mental health.

R&B Music

Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated as R&B or RnB, is a genre of popular African-American music that originated in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record companies to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban African Americans, at a time when “urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a heavy, insistent beat” was becoming more popular. In the commercial rhythm and blues music typical of the 1950s through the 1970s, the bands usually consisted of piano, one or two guitars, bass, drums, saxophone, and sometimes background vocalists. R&B lyrical themes often encapsulate the African-American experience of pain and the quest for freedom and joy. The lyrics in this genre of music focus heavily on the themes of triumphs and failures in terms of relationships, freedom, economics, aspirations, and sex.

The term rhythm and blues has undergone a number of shifts in meaning. In the early 1950s it was frequently applied to bluesrecords. Starting in the mid-1950s, after this style of music contributed to the development of rock and roll, the term “R&B” became used to refer to music styles that developed from and incorporated electric blues, as well as gospel and soul music. In the 1960s, several British rock bands such as the Rolling Stones, The Who and The Animals were referred to and promoted as being RnB bands; posters for The Who’s residency at the Marquee Club in 1964 contained the slogan, “Maximum R&B”. This tangent of RnB is now known as “British rhythm and blues”. By the 1970s, the term rhythm and blues changed again and was used as a blanket term for soul and funk. In the 1980s, a newer style of R&B developed, becoming known as “Contemporary R&B”. It combines elements of rhythm and blues, soul, funk, pop, hip hop and dance. Popular R&B vocalists at the end of the 20th century included Prince, Michael Jackson, R. Kelly, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey.

Although Jerry Wexler of Billboard magazine is credited with coining the term “rhythm and blues” as a musical term in the United States in 1948,[11] the term was used in Billboard as early as 1943. It replaced the term “race music”, which originally came from within the black community, but was deemed offensive in the postwar world. The term “rhythm and blues” was used by Billboard in its chart listings from June 1949 until August 1969, when its “Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles” chart was renamed as “Best Selling Soul Singles”. Before the “Rhythm and Blues” name was instated, various record companies had already begun replacing the term “race music” with “sepia series”. In 2010 LaMont Robinson founded the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame Museum.

Writer and producer Robert Palmer defined rhythm & blues as “a catchall term referring to any music that was made by and for black Americans”. He has used the term “R&B” as a synonym for jump blues. However, AllMusic separates it from jump blues because of its stronger, gospel-esque backbeat. Lawrence Cohn, author of Nothing but the Blues, writes that “rhythm and blues” was an umbrella term invented for industry convenience. According to him, the term embraced all black music except classical music and religious music, unless a gospel song sold enough to break into the charts.[14] Well into the 21st century, the term R&B continues in use (in some contexts) to categorize music made by black musicians, as distinct from styles of music made by other musicians.

In the commercial rhythm and blues music typical of the 1950s through the 1970s, the bands usually consisted of piano, one or two guitars, bass, drums, and saxophone. Arrangements were rehearsed to the point of effortlessness and were sometimes accompanied by background vocalists. Simple repetitive parts mesh, creating momentum and rhythmic interplay producing mellow, lilting, and often hypnotic textures while calling attention to no individual sound. While singers are emotionally engaged with the lyrics, often intensely so, they remain cool, relaxed, and in control. The bands dressed in suits, and even uniforms, a practice associated with the modern popular music that rhythm and blues performers aspired to dominate. Lyrics often seemed fatalistic, and the music typically followed predictable patterns of chords and structure.