by Arley Gill
There is no doubt that Grenada’s Jab Jab culture – the masquerade and Jab Music – is gaining regional and international recognition and approval.
The victory by Hollice Mapp, aka Mr Killa, at the 2019 International Soca Monarch in Trinidad in some ways has been a crowning moment for the music and the Jab Jab culture. And ably assisting in this regard was “Tombstone” sung by Mandella Linkz.
It is well established that MOSS International’s “Jambalassie Rule” the winning Road March song of 1991, remains the watershed moment for the creation and breakout of Jab Jab Music.
The making of the song is brilliantly captured in the “Jambalassie Rule” documentary, a must-see for every cultural enthusiast. In short, the documentary is the story of Grenadianism; of the consciousness to conventionalise, formalise and promote what is Grenadian. It memorialises the creativity and genius of a group of young Grenadians embarking on a musical adventure. The result of which, was the birth of a unique and distinctive sound, essentially a derivative or branch of Soca music.
“Jambalassie Rule” was not only the creation of a Road March or the first Grenadian song to be nominated for a Caribbean music award in 1992. Essentially, it also was a “lamppost’’ of Grenadian culture; a signature point and a bright light.
So, what happened with Jab Jab Music in the ensuing years following the release of “Jambalassie Rule”? To many commentators Tallpree’s “Ole Woman Alone’’ was the other “big’’ Jab Jab song, and it is “Ole Woman Alone’’ that propelled Tallpree to regional and international recognition and gave the music significant notoriety.
What happened to the music between the release of those two songs – “Jambalassie Rule’’ and “Ole Woman Alone’’? Who or what is the bridge?
I submit that the music did not move from MOSS International to Tallpree; or, should we say from St Mary’s Street, Grand Bras, to Vendome, or from 1991 to 2006. It is this period that I refer to as the “missing link’’.
What is this Jab Music, though? Jab Jab Music, in its origin, is the rhythmic drum beat created by Jab Jab masqueraders. The drumbeat was then re-created using conventional musical instruments or music aids in a music studio. This was explained by Ricky Charles, the MOSS International drummer, in the aforementioned “Jambalassie Rule” documentary. It is this distinctive drum beat which distinguishes Jab Jab Music from other soca sounds.
Traditionally, Jab Jab masqueraders used goatskin drums, biscuit tins, plastic buckets and the like, to provide musical accompaniment to their singing or – as some would describe it – their chants. The challenge was to recreate that beat with more conventional instruments. MOSS, no doubt was the pioneer, in achieving that recreation.
I am of the respectful view that Nordley Frederick – aka “Phat Traxx’’ and Rhythm Mix band – were the essential bridge from MOSS to Tallpree and, as such, constituted the missing link. This is not to say that no one else did Jab rhythms. Dr Trevor Friday, a prominent musical arranger during that period, must be credited for his significant contribution. However, there is no other person or group of persons that was more consistent in creating and playing Jab Jab Music.
I asked Nordley what are the ingredients to this Jab Jab beat. He said, “the drums, especially the percussion. The congas, bongos and iron are what we try to re-create from the traditional Jab bands on the road”. He further argued that, “everybody feeling the music must have shell; I don’t think so.” Dr Friday, in response to the same question, said simply, “the drum”.
The shell was an unbelievable innovation by MOSS, which was followed by WCK that also included the shell in their hit song, “Conch Shell’’. However, I submit that the shell is not a mandatory instrument in the Jab Jab rhythm.
Detailing the link
Rhythm Mix was founded in 1990 in Birchgrove, St Andrew. The founding members were Hilderbrand James (vocals), now deceased; Rowan Alexander (vocals); Mikey Berkeley (bass); Alison Williams (keyboard, then vocals); Rondolf Christopher (keyboards); and Nordley Frederick (guitar, then bass, then keyboards) and musical director. Frederick – the Don Charles of Rhythm Mix, if you please.
The influence of MOSS International on these young pretenders was not just through listening to MOSS music. There was a link from MOSS studio to PHAT TRAXX studio. That link was Hilderbrand James whose father Gellineau James was a trumpet player in MOSS; as well as saxophonist Ulric Simon, who was married to Hilderbrand’s aunt.
Hilderbrand, who was an elder among the Rhythm Mix band, used to be around MOSS during rehearsals and playouts. As such, he was able to bring back intelligence to the Rhythm Mix camp. Nordley confirms, “so he (Hilderbrand) tried incorporating what he learned from them into what we did”.
Nordley, being the musical director, had to now translate the “classified’’ information from Hilderbrand into the music of Rhythm Mix.
In 1995, Rhythm Mix released “Drunk Self’’ and “We Ting’’. In 1996, they came with “Drunk and Crazy’’, “A Jab is always a Jab’’ and “Roast Fowl’’. In 1997 they sang, “Go Down’’. In 1998, they produced “Ride me’’ and in 1999, “Up In Dey’’ and “Wuk Your Body Remix’’. All these musical contributions from Rhythm Mix incorporated the Jab Jab beat.
Dr Friday also produced “Drunk and Bawling Out’’ by Selwin ‘Durity’ Noel.
In those days, after the cooling of “Jambalassie Rule’’, Grenada Soca by and large was mainstreamed with Kingman Ajamu, Black Wizard, Flying Cloud, Mr Dee, Inspector, Peter Humphrey, Squeezy and others giving us sweet music that rivalled anything Trinidadians had to offer. It was the trend back then for many of these top Soca bards to use, in producing their music, Leston Paul, Frankie McIntosh and Pelham Goddard, who were the big arrangers in Soca. It was at PHAT TRAXX, the little studio in Birchgrove, where Jab Jab Music was kept alive for the most part.
Nordley Frederick arguably has been the foremost arranger of the Jab Jab Music after Don Charles and MOSS.
“Ole Woman Alone” was not an accident. Tallpree knew where he had to go to get the best Jab Jab musical arrangement. Nordley was the musical genius behind that song. So there it is – from “Jambalassie Rule’’ to “Ole Woman Alone’’, the latter being the song that opened the floodgates for Jab Jab Music in modern times. “Ole Woman Alone’’ arranged by Nordley Frederick of Rhythm Mix.
I say respectfully that to my mind, up to this day, Nordley is yet to receive the credit and adulation he deserves for the role he played in arranging “Ole Woman Alone’’.
On an aside is an interesting geographical route of Jab Jab Music. From Grand Bras to Birchgrove and then on to Vendome. There is no doubt that St Andrew is the cradle of the Jab Jab Music in Grenada. However, I don’t think that there was a distinctive chant of the “Labaye Jab Jab” compared to that of Jab Jabs from other parts of Grenada. Thus, I think that the notion of a “Labaye sound” for Jab Jab masqueraders may not be entirely accurate.
Now that Jab Jab Music is widely accepted and sung by various Grenadian artistes, and attempted by artistes outside of Grenada, it’s important to show the progression of the music; from its birth in the MOSS International studio to its growth through infancy until now.