Ala Pikin Nengre from Big Jones is the soundtrack of the 1960s documentary ‘Faja Lobbi’ by Dutch filmmaker Herman van der Horst. The award winning documentary shows the different population groups of Suriname: from the Indians, Maroons, Creoles, Hindustani, Javanese, Lebanese to the Chinese.
With Ala Pikin Nengre, Big Jones sings of the city of Paramaribo and the Market Square of Paramaribo. The music that Big Jones and his band made popular is called ‘Kawina’ and can be considered as the first real Surinamese ‘Folk’. The music was played during ‘dansi dansi’s’ (festivals) and ‘verjari’s’ (birthdays). In terms of instruments, the composition of the bands changed over time. The texts varied from improvisation to old stories, such as that of the spider ‘Anansi’. Big Jones was one of the first Surinamese artists whose music was recorded on an LP.
Take a blaring fanfare from New Orleans parading during a funeral. Blend it with a snappy calypso. Then add swinging Latin rhythms from South America. Add a hint of African rhumba and combine all this with the question and answer patterns from West African music …. and what is cooking in today’s post? Kaseko! A real melting pot of styles that represents the roots of Africa and Holland in South America perfectly, and without any doubt the most danceable music from the former Dutch colony across the Atlantic Ocean.
Kaseko is a corruption of the French “casser les corps”, which means as much as ‘break their arms/body’. And even after all those years it is still the most popular Surinamese dance music, derived from traditional Surinamese Creole kawina music, as played by Creole street musicians in Paramaribo since the early 1900s. That is clearly the link to New Orleans street fanfares….but Kaseko is not defined that easily at all. Read on….
from Kawina to Kaseko
Kaseko is based on two important elements of traditional kawina music: the patterns of question and answer singing and the use of percussion instruments. The most important percussion instrument is the skratjie, consisting of a large drum / pauk with a cymbal on it. This indicates the basic rhythm. The name literally means trestle and indicates that this drum is usually placed on a wooden rack. In the 1920s and 1940s, under the influence of the New Orleans Jazz, Surinamese folk melodies simultaneously improvised on brass wind instruments. The typical roll pattern on the snare was contrasted by loose, varying beats on the bass drum. This ‘bigi poku’ was also played at folk dance parties by members of the Military Chapel out of service. After the Second World War this form of music was strongly influenced by Latin American music and calypso, which resulted in a new Surinamese type of music that was called kaseko and quickly became popular. The influence of rock and pop music complemented the percussion instruments with western pop music instruments, such as an electric guitar, a bass guitar and a drum set. The use of the electric organ also increased.
No fewer than twenty languages are spoken in Suriname. Most Surinamese are multilingual. Sranantongo is the lingua franca, besides the Sarnami Hindustani (Surinamese Hindustani), the Javanese different Maroon languages (especially Saramaccan and Aukan) Chinese (Hakka, Standard Mandarin and Standard Cantonese)
Here are 10 favorites from my personal collection
The first two recordings are pure Kawina, drums and chant. The following tracks are typical styles of Kaseko, most are sung in Sranantongo, and the track ‘Jimmy’s lazerus’ being sung in Dutch!
listen to the podcast Soul Safari’s Caribbean Suriname Summer 2019 episode 2 – Kaseko MIX
total time 52:32
1) Sopiang Kawina -Kolibrie
2) Sopiang Kawina -Opete Kwasi
3) Orchestra Tropical -Tata Vodoe
4) The King Stars -A Sina Maro
5) The Mighty Botai -Boesi Gado
6) The Mighty Botai -Boesi Jepi
7) The Action Stars -Fyamang
8) J. Jones & The Action Stars -Jong Boy Boyo
9) Sonora Paramarera con Lord Bamboo -El Yo Yo
10) Kaseko Masters -Aisa Vodoe
11) Ricky -Poeirie
12) Sonora Paramarera con Lord Bamboo -Jimmy’s Lazerus
13) Kaseko Masters -Veanti
14) The King Stars -Boto e Lolo
summer 2019 is here! A perfect moment to highlight the rich music culture of Suriname in weekly episodes. After all, the South American country is a melting pot of many peoples including Creoles, the descendants of enslaved Africans.
First, some history….
Suriname has a little more than half a million inhabitants. In addition to the original Native Paleo Indian population, the country’s largest population groups are Hindustani, of Indian descent, often Hindu but also Muslim, Creoles, Marrons, descendants of liberated and escaped slaves and Javanese from Indonesia. There are also many Chinese, Lebanese, Jews and Boeroes, descendants of Dutch settlers.
The first successful European colonization took place from 1650 by the Englishman Francis Willoughby. Freedom of religion was arranged to attract planters. The English started planting plantations in Suriname, using slaves as workers. Initially, the colonizers tried to use the indigenous population as slaves. This failed due to high mortality and resistance. Then planters decided to import slaves from Africa and partly from other colonies. During the Second Anglo-Dutch War, in 1667, the Dutch conquered Suriname from the English. The Dutch handed over the then newly discovered colony called New Netherlands to the English in 1674, who call it New York. In exchange for this, the Netherlands received Suriname from the English. Slavery in the Dutch colony Suriname was only abolished on July 1, 1863. The country became independent in 1975, known as the Republic of Suriname.
Funk and soul music are hugely popular styles in Surinam, widely known as Suri-Funk. The most famous and beloved band is undoubtedly The Twinkle Stars, also working under the name The Stars. This soul-pop group was formed in the 2nd half of the Sixties, made up of eight musicians plus soloist singer Oscar Harris. The group became very famous and appreciated in the Netherlands. Members were Alfred Ommen, band leader, Edmond Oosthuizen, rhythm guitarist & singer, Ricardo Wouden, drums and singer Oscar Harris as frontman. In the 70’s vocalists Billy Jones, Humphrey Campbell, Ruud Seedorf became members. Their music is a mix of Funk, Rhythm & Blues and Kaseko. The latter is a fusion of African, European and American styles, strongly influenced by Dixieland, Calypso, Rock & Roll and other styles, whose instruments include the use of drums, saxophone , trumpet and, sometimes, a trombone. The Twinkle Stars disbanded officially in 1973 but regrouped few times for live-shows and recording sessions until 1980.
Although The Twinkle Stars had many hits I would like to focus on a rather curious, even bizarre single that came out in 1971, Mr. Astronout. This song is loosely based on Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, with plenty of spacey weirdness and Oscar Harris singing ‘if Mr. Astronout had seen my baby on the moon?’. Surely a cash-in on the Apollo 11 space travels from a few years earlier….
One of the best recordings by The Twinkle Stars is with Billy Jones, an American singer. His real name is William Oran Willie Bill Jones and he was born in Denison, Texas USA on November 20,1945. Billy Jones started his career singing gospel in church. He also toured the USA as a member of the Army Air Defense Command Choral Group.
In late 1968 he settled in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He soon became a vocalist with Oscar Harris And The Twinkle Stars, where he stayed off and on until 1980.
Billy Jones & The Stars- Love Is Gonna Rain On You (Imperial LP, Album, RE (1977)
Featuring some superb funk cuts like “Funky monkey”, “Thank you” (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) (Sly & Family Stone track), “All my brothers are clean” and “Message from a black man” !!!
Another rarity is this single ‘We Want Peace’ a Suri-funk gem that was released in Barbados on the obscure Merry DIsc label in 1973. Backed by ‘Jerusalem’, a typical example of that other most popular Surinamese dance style; Kaseko. More on that in the next episode of Soul Safari’s Caribbean Surinam Summer 2019….