Stefan music for a better place
Name: H. Stefan Walcott.
Education: Harrison College; Leeds University, Britain; University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.
Qualifications: BA (music), MA (music), PhD (cultural studies).
Occupation: Educator and musician.
Who is Stefan Walcott?
Stefan Walcott is a musician, educator, academic and family man.
Do you have a philosophy you live by, and what do you see as your purpose in life?
Two actually: do unto others as you would have them do unto you; and, whatever must is, must is.
Why are culture and the arts so important to you?
The music culture I promote is all about community and awareness of others. These things are essential for societies.
When did your music journey begin?
I started playing at six, but I started seeing music as more than a hobby when I was 15. It has been 20 years now.
There was an advertisement on television with you playing in a band at Harrison College. Tell us about that.
Well the original unit came out of the school band, which was started four years before that ad. The band was called Untitled, and the other guys Neil and David who were in it went on
to become professional musicians like me. The three of us made up the original unit.
Was pursuing undergraduate studies in music an obvious progression after school, and did you receive support to pursue this area?
After the band started, I felt at home doing music. At the time, there were some good examples of people making a living from music. My parents were supportive throughout and they believed in further education. So in a way the degree in music was the next step.
Talk to us about C4 and some of the achievements the band has made.
C4 was started quite by accident in 2005, soon after I came back to Barbados. A keyboardist was supposed to be doing a gig and he never turned up. I went to see the gig and ended up playing. And out of that came C4.
So far, the group has released an album and gone on tour a couple of times. During that time we have done quite a few gigs and some Naniki Jazz Festivals.
If you had to be a musical instrument, which one would you be, and why?
I would be a piano, because to play me properly you would have to have your musical kung fu down. But even a child could get a sound from a piano; so in a way you are still approachable.
I know the keyboardists who are reading are eager to hear your answer to this question. Which do you prefer, Roland or Yamaha?
Doesn’t matter to me really. Neither of them sponsors me. Each brand has its strengths; but if you are willing to shell out for expansion boards, they end up the same. Doesn’t Yamaha own everyone?
You returned to Britain to complete a Master’s in music. Share with us you experiences living and studying there, and what your dissertation was on.
Well, I stayed on in Britain. I did the Master’s right after undergrad. Living in Britain puts you in perspective. All of a sudden, you get questions about your culture; and your identity is tested –– in the larger national sense and on a personal level.
When you are exposed to so much new knowledge –– and in knowledge I mean from people to books –– you need to identify who you are and what you want very quickly. It was also my first time living as an ethnic minority and that in itself is a whole other mindset, as you always tend to look at motives behind actions, as opposed to accepting the actions in and of themselves.
You lectured in the University of Delaware overseas programme. What was that experience like?
I have been doing this every other year since 2005. That class is quite a challenge, because the students are not music or culture students. Neither do they know much about the Caribbean. So to lecture them on Caribbean music, so they can understand requires creative thinking.
It is a challenge I generally enjoy though; and teaching Americans is a very different from teaching Caribbean people. The students are demanding; and I am questioned, as well as pestered. Honestly, I think that is exactly how it should be here in the Caribbean as well.
We understand you were a co-designer in the minor in music at UWI and currently lecture at the university.
I have been there part-time since 2006. I enjoy teaching at UWI. The students there are mostly enthusiastic about music. However, at the moment, the minor in music is caught in the middle of the resources crunch, I am afraid. However, here is hoping that the university recognizes the enormous earning potential of Caribbean music and expands the programme eventually.
In university, I don’t only mean the Cave Hill Campus; but the entire university. Caribbean music is one of the region’s true global exports; yet we are not capturing the training and academic potential of it.
How long have you been a tutor for the Associate degree in music at the Barbados Community College, and what does your role entail?
I have been there since 2004 and I teach music history, Caribbean music; run the Caribbean ensemble; and tutor jazz piano. I am part-time there, as there is only one full-time post. Actually, there is only one full-time tertiary music post in the whole island!
The programme has helped produce practically all of the musicians under 30 in Barbados. It is a job I enjoy as well, although there has been little improvement of the facilities and investment in the programme in general from the administration there.
Roger Gittens keeps it all together though, and many, including me, are loyal to him, whom I consider the best boss in Barbados.
On your website surprisingly you mentioned Vybz Kartel as one of your favourite Caribbean artistes. We, like those those reading, would surely love
to know why.
Vybz Kartel happens to be one of my favourite Caribbean artistes of all time.
Some might be shocked by this; but by growing up with the pounding modality of dancehall, I was brainwashed into appreciating rhythm and a good hook.
What really gets me about Vybz is his creativity.
One must remember that dancehall artists do not have the same musical vocabulary to rely on as other composers and improvisers in other types of genres. So one does not learn “dancehall licks”, as in jazz where improvisers learn phrases they know will work.
Dancehall is naked –– pun intended. A dancehall performer has a “riddim” –– a beat with some chords at times –– and creates entire songs using just that. The imagination and skills required to do this are therefore quite different than in other types of music –– rap, of course, being the exception. Some performers are rather good at creating songs from beats; others not so much. Vybz is a rhythmic boss.
You have a love for spouge. Do you think this genre can be revived and have relevance in the global arena? And, if yes, how so?
I presented on this topic in Puerto Rico in 2011 actually. One of the points I made was that revival of popular types of music are hardly ever engineered through legislation. There has to be a genuine community following. If spouge returns, it might not be in the same sonic form. The spouge period itself, however, should be celebrated without the need to see it as a failure.
You recently graduated with a PhD in cultural studies. What influenced you to do your PhD and why this area?
I wanted options to continue teaching at tertiary level; and the work I want to do relies on your having the highest academic qualification.
Each time you perform; you wear some form of African print or a beanie or sock hat on your head. There is a reason?
Actually, I have started wearing the Kangol –– for the same reason I wore the West African clothes. My musical expressions are part of a wider cultural whole, and I like to represent that whole on stage.
Tell us about Hats Music and 1688.
Hats Music is a social business, and, like other social businesses, it sets out to solve a particular social problem. In my case, the problem I am trying to solve is the lack of live community music in the Caribbean.
The 1688 Collective is part of Hats Music, and is a group of musicians who organize themselves in two: a big band and nonet for performances. The collective through Hats also runs a choir programme at St Ambrose, which is self-funded, and a drum programme at Ann Hill, which we had to put on hold because we lacked an available tutor.
Many may not know, but you have written a book. Tell us about it.
This is because I have not yet marketed it. Hee hoh, hee hoh! Yeah it is on Amazon. It is called the Caribbean Composers’ Handbook and it is a profile breakdown of some Caribbean genres, including bass and other rhythm part transcriptions.
This material I have used since 2007 at the Barbados Community College; and a form of the book is being used at Foundation School, probably since 2009/2010.
With your knowledge and talent, you could have been touring the world with a band or orchestra. Why choose to commit to the development of music and culture in Barbados?
Touring the world is cool; but I never wanted to be a performing musician solely. I would say not at all; but people might stop calling me altogether for gigs. To me music is a tool to make communities better and make this world a better place. That is one of my goals in life.
Final question. Do you think all children should play an instrument, and why?
All children should play an instrument and jam with others. The discipline and the reward is unmatched when learning; and when doing it with others, the pleasure is maximized.
All those skills are important to functioning in societies; to discipline; and, more importantly, to empathy, which is what is required to make ensembles and countries work.
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