Month: October 2013

Snapshot in Soca IV – A History of Soca – 1990s – Present

The last snapshot in Soca is taken from the early to mid-nineties and runs right up to the present. This period can be broken down further but is not necessary given the musical similarities of songs called Soca in the last twenty years. In this time, there have been generally two musical styles in Soca composition and performance: Power Soca and Groovy Soca. These terms come from Trinidad, with Barbados referring to the latter as Ragga Soca (a term which Trinidadians generally use to refer to another modern sub-genre of Soca, but that is another blog for another time). It is interesting that Barbadians, and much of the rest of the Caribbean for that matter, have no name for the faster Soca and generally refer to it as just Soca, but that too is another blog for another time.  I want to look now, however, at how these two forms of Soca—Power Soca and Ragga/Groovy Soca—came about. Firstly, here are two examples of both these types.

Power Soca

Ragga/Groovy Soca

 

It is my view that the Power Soca has its foundations in RingBang, at least musically anyway. Ringbang was a musical style and way of life devised by our good friend Eddy Grant in the early 90s, as a sort of concocted style-life culture which was supposed to introduce a new way of ‘cool existence’ to the Caribbean. Ultimately, this Ring Bang entity ended up influencing mostly music and sounded as below.

 

The most striking thing about RingBang was the stripped-down nature of it. The drums and voice were purposely in the foreground and there were no horns or keyboards nor guitar strumming.  This differed considerably from the work of the producers of Classic Soca who were operating the same time as Grant. Listen to another track below, this time by Super Blue from 1994, who was obviously influenced by the Ring Bang vibe as this song is on Grant’s Ice label.

 

What Ring Bang sound did, in my opinion, was to open the door to increased tempo. In music, the more harmonically light a song is, the faster it can be played. Just think of dance trance music, for example, or some traditional Indian music. In addition to the suggestion of quicker tempos, the songs that came after RingBang used a similar drum beat.

Some of the later nineties songs are as follows:

 Machel Montano Xtatik and Big Truck

Square One with Raggamuffin

Eventually Soca songs increased from less than 120 b.p.m, with the classic Soca songs, to over 150 b.p.m.! (See Jumbie above). This was mostly due to the new emphasis on rhythm.

 

The other style to come to the fore in the 90s is the form known as Ragga/Groovy Soca. Ragga Soca owes much of its early development to the work of producer Nicholas Brancker. The first recordings of the style that became known as Ragga Soca are below. These two works are what I consider, even to this day, some of the most important songs in the genre.

 

What these two songs have in common is their tempo. In addition, they both have the same musical influence—both these songs are of medium tempo and are influenced by Jamaican Dancehall. These stylistic properties are in essence the core of the Ragga Soca style (along with other stuff which I do not have time to deal with here).

 

Here are some other examples of Groovy/Ragga Soca.

 

 

Currently, most Soca artists operate within either style, Power and Ragga/Groovy Soca, and there are now established competitions in both sub-genres in most Caribbean carnivals.

 

So here end the Snapshots in Soca’s life. I hope you have enjoyed viewing the album. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel, STEFAN WALCOTT, which has the snapshot songs in playlists as well as my book, Caribbean Composers Handbook for further elaboration.  And stick around for the other blog articles to follow, including the promised blog on other Eastern Caribbean Soca groups and their influential songs.

 

Snapshot in Soca III – A History of Soca – 1982-1990

In snapshot II, we managed to see the creative burst that came about after Lord Shorty’s innovation. In this third snapshot, 1982-1990, what I term the Classic Soca Period, it is my view that a gradual settling down in musical sound occurred, led by the success of “Hot, Hot, Hot.” Before I get to “Hot Hot Hot,” I want to revisit “Sugar Bum Bum.” I briefly mentioned this song in Snapshot II, (where it indeed belongs in terms of time of release) but it needs to be dealt with separately, such is its contribution.

“Sugar Bum Bum” was written by Aldywn ‘Lord Kitchener’ Roberts, who was up to that time, 1978, singing calypso, and very successfully. In fact, Lord Kitchener is generally seen as one of the greatest calypsonians to have ever existed. It is true that before “Sugar Bum Bum,” Kitchener had solemnly pledged never to engage with Soca; however, after the success of “Sugar Bum Bum,” Kitchener never returned completely (if at all) to calypso. The song was produced by Ed Watson and was said to be inspired not by Funk, but by West African highlife, which is in keeping with the experimental period of that time. So here it is again.

The popularity of “Sugar Bum Bum” led, in my opinion, to listeners realising that something new was indeed going on in Trinidad. It opened up the ears of the Caribbean and the world to a ‘fresh’ sound, which featured plenty of repetition, both in lyric and in harmonic structure. This was made all the more apparent because “Sugar Bum Bum” came from Kitchener, a well-known practitioner of the ‘old’ calypso form, which had much less repetition and generally more chords.

The tremendous success of “Sugar Bum Bum” soon led to an Ed Watson Soca ‘sound.’ However, this sound was soon superseded by Leston Paul, the producer of “Hot, Hot Hot,” who, with Arrow (and the other 2 big producers of the 80s), changed the game forever. 

“Hot Hot Hot” is one of the most successful singles created within the Caribbean. According to Arrow, in his interview for the Unesco/Banyan show in 1991, it had sold (up to that time) 3-5 million copies!!! Here he is.

With success comes replication, and the rhythm of “Hot Hot Hot,” the tempo, the general relationship the instruments had with each other, influenced many Soca songs to follow. This influence was further multiplied by the fact that several of the already popular artists  were now seeking out Leston Paul to produce songs for them; this meant that Paul eventually became one of the biggest and most influential producers of the 3rd Soca snapshot period, and indeed of ALL time.  So here they are: “Hot Hot Hot,” followed by “Soucouyant,”  Crazy’s 1985 winning Road March song, arranged by Emmanuel Ector and we should be able to hear the definite similarities.

The other big producers of that period were Pelham Goddard and Frankie McIntosh, with the former producing many hits. These three producers (along with Leston Paul of course), defined the sound of Soca in the 80s. Here are two selections from Goddard— Tambu’s 1988 song, “This Party Is It,” (Road March Winner) and “De Hammer,” by David Rudder from 1986.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t67lXPPtww0

Here also is the Mighty Sparrow, another calypso legend who too vowed never to sing Soca, doing the Soca, “Doh Back Back” arranged by McIntosh.

Incidentally, “De Hammer” won Rudder the CALYPSO competition in 1986; Soca music had infiltrated into the realm of the Calypso in a big way. This showed that what was new and different in the late 70s, was now absorbed into the Calypso by the end of the 80s, at least with the musical rhythms. The difference however, generally remains (and I say this gingerly, as it requires a blog in itself) in the lyrics and the amount of repetition found in each form. Calypso = plenty lyrics + more chords + less repetition; Soca = little/less lyrics + plenty repetition + less chords…sort of. I promise to come back to this.

What I did not mention is that Arrow was from the small island of Montserrat and McIntosh from St. Vincent. In Snapshot IV, I return the regionalisation of Soca, as it becomes the soundtrack to the street element of Caribbean carnivals.

In conclusion, snapshot III, the Classic Soca Period, contains many of my early childhood memories of Caribbean music. The songs from this time, people generally call ‘sweet’ (another blog), and herald them as not only classic songs, but ‘golden’ songs. There are many artists from this time who I have not mentioned, but Baron, Stalin, Duke, Explainer, are but some of the who made this 80s/early 90s time memorable.

 In Snapshot IV, I revisit good old Eddy Grant and the work of his Ice Record label. It was this label that initiated the next movement in Soca, as the Classic Soca Period was shot “Bang Bang” in the chest.  The noise “Ring/rung” out for years!

 

 

 

 

Snapshot in Soca II – A History of Soca Late – 1970s to early 1980s

The next stage in the life of Soca, is in my view, one of the most interesting periods in its history. To recap, in Snapshot 1, Trinidadian Lord Shorty had  introduced “Endless Vibrations” to the musical world as an example of his Sokah; it, however, did not end up sounding like what Shorty had intended. In the period of Snapshot II, we have a situation where producers and other artists sought to go through the musical door Shorty had opened. However, and this is why I call this period interesting, even though “Endless Vibrations” was commercially successful, these artists and producers did not attempt to exactly replicate the textures, rhythms and harmonies within it. In other words, the songs that came after “Endless Vibrations” were, in my view, influenced more by the philosophy of it rather than a thorough Xeroxing of all its musical qualities. So here are some of the songs from the period  so you can see/hear what I mean.

Firstly we have Maestro, who had Shorty as his band leader doing “Soulful Calypso.”

On hearing this, we can hear that it does not sound exactly like “Endless Vibrations.”  Maestro was introducing the bass lines and drum beats of the popular Afro-American styles at the time to Calypso, similar to what Shorty did in “Endless Vibrations,” but not sounding EXACTLY like “Endless Vibrations.”

Shorty also did other songs in this period, similar to Maestro,here is  “Sweet Music,” from 1976.

A few years later, and using the same philosophy of experimentation, was the artist Super Blue, formerly known as Blue Boy.

 Merchant was also involved “Dr. Soca” 1979

 Then of course we have the incredibly popular “Sugar Bum Bum,” from 1978.

I purposely put these songs from these artists, Boy Blue, Merchant, Kitchener and Maestro, because I want to show how different songs were from each other that were considered Soca (late 70s -early 80s).

So where does the one that was not meant to be taken for Granted come in?

Well, the one I was referring to in Snapshot 1 is Eddy Grant, the international pop star of the 1980s who wrote the monster hit “Electric Avenue” and who proclaimed himself to be the father of Soca. This statement was controversial at the time and Trinidadians were up in arms (not arms in the air, that is later in the life of Soca) as it was made. “How dare this non-Trinidadian lay claims on our indigenous creation!” they screamed. Well, Grant’s point was/is this: since the essential contribution of “Endless Vibrations” was a mixture of Soul/Funk and calypso, then I, Eddy Grant, had done that same mixture four years earlier with “Black Skin Blue Eye Boys.”

To me, from “Black Skin Blue Eye Boys,” the Funk presence is prevalent; the normal musical codes of what is known as Calypso, maybe not so much. However, it is difficult to disprove an artist’s intentions due to how subjective music/art actually is. For example, Eddy Grant might tell me, “I was inspired by Kitchener (Trinidadian calypsonian) and wrote “Black Skin, Blue Eyed Boys” while wearing one of Kitchy’s hats and eating rice with a Bajan who took my meat (joke spoiler: reference to one “Tek Yuh Meat Out Muh Rice” by Lord Kitchener).” All I would be able to say to this is, “well Eddy I don’t hear it.” So while it may be hard to musically disprove Grant’s claims of invention, in mixing Funk/Soul with Calypso (“Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys”), it is even harder for him to prove that “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” STARTED Soca, because most producers identify “Endless Vibrations” and not “”Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys,” as their inspiration. In other words, as I said in Snapshot 1, it is the ones that come after who write the history, who construct the genre and ultimately create the ‘origins’ of it, and for them, Lord Shorty, through “Endless Vibrations,” was the ‘inventor’ of Soca. * 

*Check my academic article to be released next year for an expansion on this.

It must be noted, that AFTER “Endless Vibrations,” Eddy had this song that was largely similar to the others being produced in that period. However, “Neighbour Neighbour,” from 1977, does not sound very much like “Black Skin Blued Eyed Boys” either.

 

In summary, the late 70s- early 80s, was one of the most restless periods in Soca’s life. It was in fact similar to a human’s development, where after birth a period of relentless experimentation goes on. In Snapshot III – The Massive Hits, I will revisit this period again, as I consider Kitchener going back on his word and looking like a sugared bum bum,(pronounced boom boom, for my non-English-speaking Caribbean readers) and examine how “Hot, Hot, Hot” things began to get.

Snapshot in Soca I – A History of Soca Beginnings

Despite the general agreement that Soca has been around since the seventies, few attempts have been made in looking at Soca through the years. This is not really an earth-shattering observation, as the English -speaking Caribbean tends to always overlook its cultural knowledge, but given the fact that Soca is so old, one would have thought that differences in performance and compositional styles would have been compiled. To me, it is like having a 30 year old child and assuming this how he/she always looked and always was. This blog (these posts of this blog at least) intends to rectify this in Webspace and the ideas here come from my research and can be found in my Caribbean Composers Handbook, which I use in teaching Caribbean music on the Associate Degree programme in music at the Barbados Community College. I am doing this because whether I like it or not, I am kind of an expert here, and also because the Wikipedia article is so damn lousy –  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soca_music. I must say now that this blog is not a complete directory, but it contains some prominent Soca stops and addresses. I will be doing this mostly through YouTube uploads as well, as musicians and people in general have little time for text these days. And  besides, I need to put this stuff in some ultra dry academic article first.

Beginnings- The muddying by Sokah

The origin of Soca, which is presented as a clean coherent starting point (Machel – What is Soca on YouTube as but one example), is anything but.

I am going to get into trouble with my Trinidadian friends here, but to state that Ras Shorty/Lord Shorty/Garfield Blackman is the sole innovator of the genre is misleading. I say this because I believe that musical genre NEVER starts at the point of innovation. So, while you might start your style of Bangrasocakaiso Funk on your Akai MPC, it only becomes a genre if your fellow MPCers take it up and use generally the same musical approaches as you. Until that point, your song “Something New,” the Bangrasocakaiso Funk ORIGINAL, will continue to be a novelty at best or a testimony of madness aka “artistic expression” at worst ;). To make it utterly clear, A GENRE ONLY STARTS WHEN OTHER PEOPLE START DOING IT!!

I will return to this later, but back to Soca. Specifically, Shorty claims that Soca was a mixture of Calypso and Indian traditional music forms found in Trinidad. This definition more than any causes confusion because despite heavy repetition, not many people can locate where exactly the Indian influence was in what became known as Soca! Shannon Dudley, an academic and a musician threw in the towel (Judging by The Beat 287), noting that the early Indian influence is not discussed much these days. However, I believe though that Shorty VERY MUCH intended Soca to be Sokah, the original name he had for the genre, as can be heard in “Indrani.” Here the Indian and Calypso fusion can be argued for.

 

“Indrani” doesn’t sound much like what most people know as Soca and is not looked at as the starting point of Soca, at least not in any academic or Facebook argument I have heard. So where does Shorty as the father of Soca come in to play then? The track that is seen as the beginning of Soca, (in the backward-looking origins story)  is Shorty’s “Endless Vibrations.”  In this track, Shorty takes out the heavily identifiable or coded Indian instruments and places the rhythms on “Western Instruments.” The end result? It ends up sounding like American Funk/Soul (Guibault Politics of Labelling).

And there, my friends, we have the muddied beginnings explained–simple?…..Not quite. Check this space for Part II when the genre actually becomes a genre and a guy turns up who people definitely did not take for Grant(ed).