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 However, this sound was soon superseded by Leston Paul, the producer of “Hot, Hot Hot,” who, with Arrow (and the other 2 big producers of the 80s), changed the game forever.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!

 

 

 

 

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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.