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.
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.
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 ;).
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.
Calypso is more than comfortable to maintain the beat like the one below and it has done so for many a year.
So wherever you are from, enjoy the carnival in the Catholic Caribbean but whatever you do, don’t call the soca a calypso.