What is the difference between Soca and Calypso anyway? Check these 5…

It is carnival season in the Catholic Caribbean.

And in the English-speaking areas,

the music of choice will be soca.

It wasn’t always this way

40 years ago it was all calypso.

In fact, many today still tend to refer to all singers at carnival time as calypsonians whether they do calypso or soca. But the difference between the two genres could not be more distinct.

And just to help out those that are still confused, here are the differences between soca and calypso.

1. Lyrics-no-lyrics

Soca music has and always will be a party music. As a result, it keeps the beats heavy and the words light. Calypso, on the other hand, is the old guy who use to party but spends his time philosophizing about life.

If it says “Jump, wine , wave,bacchanal, carnival, jump” it is Soca.

If it says “existential threats to the diaspora need a panacea,” then chances are you are listening to a calypso. See Chalkdust singing a calypso below.

 

2. Hook line and sinker

If you missed the hook you definitely do not have a soca stream on. Soca repeats itself.

Even though there is repetition in calypso, it does not even come close to soca’s jump and wave stammering. Hear this classic repetition by Barbadian soca star Blood.

 

3. Brass less – drum machine more

Calypso songs generally have different instrumentation to soca, especially post 90s soca. Calypso songs are generally more organic (although not all the time) and usually feature a brass section of some type.

Here is calypso plus brass plus Singing Sandra.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-ZH27vGntg
Soca, on the other hand, is minimalist (not many instruments) with the drum machine, and laptops running Ableton, prominent. They also tend to be more synthesized.

Take “Advantage” of what I mean below ;).

4.  Tempo

Since the 90s, soca has been in two different time zones, mid-tempo and break-your-neck speed. An example of break-your-neck speed is Advantage above.

Calypsos NEVER EVER REACH these tempos.

So if you hear a song over 150 b.p.m. then it is CERTAINLY a SOCA song. Anything under 130 b.p.m, then it at least has a chance of being a calypso.

(Then you have to go from #1-3 to see if it actually is of course.)

5. Beats (Check out my book Caribbean Composers Handbook on Amazon for more)

Soca uses a number of beats and these have changed over the years. However, if you hear the following beats then you are dealing with a soca song.

soca drums

soca-beat-1

Calypso is more than comfortable to maintain the beat like the one below and it has done so for many a year.

calypso

So wherever you are from,  enjoy the carnival in the Catholic Caribbean but whatever you do, don’t call the soca a calypso.

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stefanwalcott

Stefan Walcott is a Barbadian pianist and composer. Throughout his career, Stefan has been privileged to perform with and write for a wide cross-section of artists, both in England where he studied and in his native Barbados. Stefan has arranged for Nicholas Brancker, the Brazilian Sinfonica and created Handel’s Caribbean Messiah, a re-working of the classical work. Stefan currently is director of the 1688 Collective a production company and 1688 Dingolay Inc. a not-for-profit. Stefan currently has a PhD in cultural studies with interest in music of the English-speaking Caribbean.

6 thoughts on “What is the difference between Soca and Calypso anyway? Check these 5…

  1. Well, Soca is a combination of SO(soul) and CA(calypso). Calypso is not as predominant in parties anymore, but it will still mash up a fete. Regardless, they both provide great energy and vibes!

  2. Hi Stefan,

    Good attempt at establishing the differences between Soca and Calypso.

    What most people omit however is that the fundamental difference between the two is the rhythm. The tempos, the lyrics even the instrumentation can be the same but the rhythm is different. Maestro’s “Tempo” and “Fiery are actually Calypsos done at a faster than normal tempo, so is the Original “Cory Iron” by Shorty.

    I’m afraid that your notation on Soca, though in use and popular is not quite correct. I cannot post the notation here but do refer to Shorty’s “Higher World” or Maestro’s “Bionic Man” for the original Soca rhythm. Your notation of Calypso is fine. Additionally both Soca and Calypso can be felt rhythmically in four instead of two. See “Kaiso Gone Dread” by Black Stalin off of his “To The Caribbean Man” album. All the best in your studies.

    1. Helo Rellon,

      First thing, thanks for respondong and showing interest in this blog post, it is one of the most popular ones I have posted. So on specific points, firstly the work of 70s first gen. soca artists while relevant, does not have the same musical influence it once did. The rhythms you outlined here are largely not in practice today. This then poses questions of how to define genre. I point you to the fantastic article by David Brackett on black popular musical forms where he suggests that genre labels only allow music to participate within them, so what is considered soca in the 70s does not necessarily mean it is sonically considered soca today. As my blog post was only a summary for the average user, I covered the general meanings of the terms as in use today in the english speaking Caribbean and did not provide a full musicological review.

      And of course Soca can be felt in 4 but it is written in 2/2 traditionally to get rid of all those small note value symbols.
      Once again, thanks for your interestand I look forward to us continuing this conversation.

      1. Calypso, like Latin music is played with a clave. You notated it correctly. Soca however has moved way past it’s moorings and become something else not because of innovation but because of ignorance and irresponsibility. For years we have been playing Zouk for Calypso in the tents and with the constant borrowing of other rhythms, we have lost the essence of the original idea that was Soca in the 70’s. We cannot expect to play known and similar Afro Caribbean rhythms, calling it Soca and expect astute audiences and consumers and to not notice. Literate musicians need to examine the original idea behind Soca music and build from there. That way, irregardless of what purpose you put Soca to, you will have built adifferentiated rhythmic pattern that is not a poor facsimile of other Cariibean/Latin rhythms like Zouk, Bomba, Cadence,Samba etc, all of which we unceremoniously borrow every year calling it Soca. Other rhythms have distinct rhythmic patterns and ways of performing them with particular instruments or with particular parts of instruments. Calypso and Soca are no different. If we are serious about getting this artform into a consistent stream of world recognition we must retain the core elements of our rhythms like the Reggae and Latin artists have done for years with worldwide success.

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