Classy Jab Jab songs but more creativity needed

Arley Gill

by Arley Gill

Several years ago, I was of the considered view that we, as Grenadians, should take ownership of the ‘Jab Jab’ masquerade. I came to that conclusion because, although there are pockets in the region where that masquerade still survives, Grenada, in my view, represents the island where it is most prominently practised.

Jab Jab is a portrayal where masqueraders essentially mock the devil. Traditionally, in Grenada, these masqueraders applied charcoal to cover their skins in black, from head to foot. In those days, they would use red colouring dripping from their mouths that really made the mas’ scary. These Jab Jabs used to have serpents and snakes as part of their portrayal. Nowadays, the use of these reptiles is no longer included as part of the portrayal, and “used’’ motor oil is the main agent applied to attain the black colour of the Jab Jab.

Importantly, accompanying the masquerade, were the songs or chants of the Jab Jabs; today, it’s hi-fi music. Like the chant-well of the Shortknee, Jab jabs sang on a variety of themes that were topical at the time; those chants could not be aired on radio and could easily satisfy the criminal law requirement as obscene and insulting language. The chants had musical accompaniment of goat-skin drums, buckets, biscuit tins and any old item that could be pound into a musical beat.

These chants and songs were seized on by the local calypsonians and were first made prominent by Moss International, at the time Grenada’s leading jam band. Their monster international hit which included the chant, “run fast your mother coming”, with conch shell being used generously throughout the song, created a unique and distinctive Grenadian sound.

In more recent years, the band Rhythm Mix of Birchgrove and Tallpree from Vendome – two communities separated by the Grand Etang mountains – gave us some wonderful Jab Jab music. Tallpree must get a lot of credit for getting that brand of music into the consciousness of the youthful generation in Grenada and throughout the region.

In the past few years we have had a steady and consistent production of ‘Jab Jab’ songs. There is no doubting, Grenada is now firmly established as the ‘Jab Jab’ capital of the world and Spicemas is the carnival with the best J’ouvert. That, I believe, is the consensus in all respected discussions about Trinidad-style carnivals.

Now, my concern after listening to the early music releases for this year’s carnival, is whether or not we are becoming a bit monotonous with the Jab Jab rhythm. Speaking to Colin Dowe, former Spicemas Chairman, he noted that “there is no real attempt at arrangements or varying the melodic lines within the song”. That was his observation, and I agree with him wholeheartedly.

We need to be a little bit more creative or inventive with the Jab Jab music or else it would all sound alike or very monotonous. If that happens it will lose its attractiveness and appeal. I am aware of another Caribbean musical form that is suffering the same fate. When that happens, it becomes a local music and lacks appeal outside one’s national boundary. Having said that, there are some commendable songs which I expect to do well outside of Grenada; but, the point is, we must be mindful of the direction of the music.

I was listening to an interview with Stedson Wiltshire, better known as Red Plastic Bag, the ten-time Pic o’ de Crop calypso champion in Barbados, and he was making the point that there can be an improvement in the themes used by calypsonians. The same point can be made for the Jab Jab songs, in particular, and in the music here in Grenada in general. There is some very descriptive and vivid imagery created by the lyrics in some of the Jab Jab songs; but, here again, if the writers of these songs compose on the same themes, we’ll likely suffer the same fate as if the melodies were identical or similar. So, we ought to be mindful of being innovative and creative in the themes and the treatment that we give to those themes.

In concluding, it is heartening to hear all the wonderful Jab Jab songs, some of which are really classy compositions; but, we must be warned that there is tremendous room for improvements.

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