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).

 

2 comments

  1. Just learned of this site! I thoroughly appreciated your Snapshots. I remember hearing Maestro’s “Bionic Man” and feeling a surge of electric energy and excitement. Your “shots” are thoughtful, both informative and educational (definitely not the same thing!), and written in a style that is easy to read. Your links are well organized. Just a question. What role do you think “Burning Flames” and its distinctive style and at the time, novel approach played in the evolution of Soca? I remember the first year they slammed Antigua with their drum-machine fuelled music with a hitherto unknown frenetic pace. There were howls of the destruction of Western Civilization and the return to barbarism when the purists were confronted with this “crazy noise”! “Left to Right / Stylee Tight!” was the battlecry of Wadadli Carnival 1985. To me, Soca was never the same again. The leader, Oungkou, was Arrow’s bass-man for a time prior to the conflagration, “Burning Flames”. I’d love to get your take on the phenomenon (?) of Burning Flames.

    I look forward to reading much more from you and becoming more educated in this realm. Thank you for your work and contribution. And all the best in your studies.

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