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Soca music (also defined by Lord Shorty, its inventor, as the "Soul Of Calypso") is a genre of music that originated within a marginalized subculture in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1970s, and developed into a range of styles by the 1980s and later. Soca was initially developed by Lord Shorty in the early 1970s in an effort to revive traditional calypso, the popularity of which had been flagging amongst younger generations in Trinidad by the start of the 1970s due to the rise in popularity of reggae from Jamaica and soul and funk from USA. Soca is an offshoot of kaiso/calypso, with influences from chutney, Latin, cadence, funk and soul.
Soca has evolved since the 1980s primarily through musicians from various Anglophone Caribbean countries not only from its birthplace Trinidad and Tobago but also from Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Grenada, Saint Lucia, US and British Virgin Islands, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Guyana and Belize. There have also been significant productions from artists in Venezuela, Canada, Panama, the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan. Some popular Soca Artistes in Trinidad and Tobago today are: Nailah Blackman (Granddaughter of Lord Shorty), Machel Montano, Kes, Destra, Blaxx, Farmer Nappy, Nadia Batson, Bunji and Patrice Roberts just to name a few.
Soca started its development from the early 1970s and grew in popularity through the 1970s. Soca's development as a musical genre included its fusion with calypso, chutney, soul/funk, Latin, cadence, and traditional West African rhythms.
A sound project was started in 1970 at KH Studios, Sea Lots in Trinidad, to find a way to record the complex calypso rhythm in a new multi-track era. Musicians involved in the initiative were Robin Imamshah (guitar, project lead), Angus Nunez (bass), Errol Wise (Drums), Vonrick Maynard (Drums), Clarence James (Percussion), Carl Henderson (Keyboards), David Boothman (strings). Some of the early songs recorded at the KH Studios that benefited from this recording project are "Indrani" by Lord Shorty and "Calypso Zest" by Sensational Roots both recorded in 1972. Later came the soca hits "Endless Vibrations" and "Sweet Music" by Lord Shorty recorded in 1974 and 1975 respectively and "Second Fiddle" by Ella Andall recorded in 1975. In 1976 "Savage" by Maestro and "Trinidad Boogie" by Last Supper (composed by Robin Imamshah) also benefitted from the improving multi-track recording technology at KH Studios.
Soca has grown since its inception to incorporate elements of funk, soul, zouk, and dance music genres, and continues to blend in contemporary music styles and trends. Soca has also been experimented with in Bollywood films, Bhangra, in new Punjabi pop, and in disco music in the United States.
The "father" of soca was a Trinidadian man named Garfield Blackman who rose to fame as "Lord Shorty" with his 1964 hit "Cloak and Dagger" and took on the name "Ras Shorty I" in the early 1980's. He started out writing songs and performing in the calypso genre. A prolific musician, composer and innovator, Shorty experimented with fusing calypso and elements of Indo-Caribbean music for nearly a decade from 1965 before unleashing "the soul of calypso", soca music by the early 1970's.
Shorty was the first to define his music as "soca" during 1975 when his hit song "Endless Vibrations" was causing major musical waves on radio stations and at parties and clubs not just throughout his native T&T but also in far off metropolitan cities like New York, Toronto and London. Soca was originally spelled Sokah which stands for the "Soul of Calypso" with the "kah" part being taken from the first letter in the Sanskrit alphabet and representing the Power of movement as well as the East Indian rhythmic influence that helped to inspire the new soca beat. Shorty stated in a number of interviews that the idea for the new soca beat started with the rhythmic fusion of Calypso rhythms with East Indian rhythms that he used in his hit "Indrani" recorded in 1972. The soca beat was solidified as the popular new beat that most of the T&T Calypso musicians would start adopting by the time Shorty had recorded his big crossover hit "Endless Vibrations" in 1974.
Shorty also recorded a mid-year album in 1975 called "Love In The Caribbean" that contains a number of crossover soca tracks before setting off on an album distribution and promotion tour. During his 1975 "Love In The Caribbean" album promotion and distribution tour Shorty pass thru the isle of Dominica on his way back to Trinidad and saw Dominica's top band Exile One perform at the Fort Young Hotel. Shorty was inspired to compose and record a Soca and Cadence-lypso fusion track called "E Pete" or "Ou Petit" which can be viewed as the first of its kind in that particular Soca style. Shorty sought and got help with the Creole lyrics he used in the chorus of his "E Pete" song by consulting with Dominica's 1969 Calypso King, Lord Tokyo, and two creole lyricists, Chris Seraphine and Pat Aaron while he was in Dominica. The song "E Pete" thus contains genuine Creole lyrics in the chorus like "Ou dee moin ou petit Shorty" (meaning "you told me you are small Shorty"), and is a combination of Soca, Calypso, Cadence-lypso and Creole.
Shorty's 1974 Endless Vibrations and Soul of Calypso brought Soca to regional and international attention and fame and helped to solidify the rapidly growing Soca Movement led by Shorty.
Soca simply means the "Soul of Calypso", but the name has nothing to do with the fusion of American soul music and calypso as soca is rhythmically a fusion of African/calypso rhythms and East Indian rhythms. Soca's history is multi-faceted. Regarding its name, Lord Shorty initially spelled his musical hybrid as "sokah" and stated in a 1979 interview with Carnival Magazine that "I came up with the name soca. I invented soca. And I never spelt it s-o-c-a. It was s-o-k-a-h to reflect the East Indian influence." The s-o-c-a spelling quickly became the popular spelling after a journalist called Ivor Ferreira interviewed Shorty for an article on his new style of calypso music he was doing that was published during the 1976 T&T Carnival season. The article was titled "Shorty Is Doing Soca" and so s-o-c-a quickly became the popular spelling that most of the T&T public first saw in the print media for the new modern style of calypso music that was taking over.
Soca music has evolved like most other music genres over the years, with calypsonians, soca artists, musicians and producers also experimenting with fusing Soca with other Caribbean rhythms.
Some examples are the following:
Chutney soca is one of the original soca styles started by Lord Shorty that contains strong East Indian musical influences; It is a soca style that originates in Trinidad & Tobago; many of the songs have both English and "Hindi" lyrics. The term Chutney soca was coined by the Indo-Trini artist called Drupatee in 1987 when she recorded a hit song called "Chatnee Soca". Soon after 1987 the spelling was changed to Chutney Soca. Before 1987 this fusion style was sometimes referred to as Indo Soca or Indian Soca. It should also be noted that the term Chutney that is now being used to refer to Indo-Caribbean music did not come into popular use until after 1987 when many Indo-Trinis started to abbreviate the term "Chutney soca" to "Chutney" in reference to those Chutney soca songs that were sung only in the Hindi language.
Ragga soca is a fusion of soca and the former artistic lyrical delivery of Jamaican artists known as "DJing or Chanting". It is a fusion of dancehall and contemporary calypso/soca, which has an uptempo beat with moderate bass and electronic instruments.
Parang soca or soca parang is a fusion of calypso, soca, Parang and Latin music. It originated in Trinidad & Tobago and is often sung in a mixture of English and Spanish. The first major Parang soca hit was a track called "Parang Soca" by the Calypsonian called Crazy for the 1978 Christmas season that also gave this soca sub-genre its name. Crazy is viewed as the pioneer of the Parang soca sub-genre and is also dubbed the Original Parang Soca King.
Steelband soca also referred to in Trinidad & Tobago as Pan Kaiso is soca composed for or using steel pans which are types of music drums often used in soca and calypso music; it became so popular that it became its own musical genre. This soca style was mostly pioneered by the late Lord Kitchener whose songs have been played by steelbands at T&T's annual Panorama competitions more than the songs of any other composer. The steel pan originated in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago during the late 1930's. Steel pans are handmade, bowl-like metal drums crafted from oil drums so that different drum sections produce different notes when struck. Steelbands are groups of musicians who play songs entirely on steel drums. There are many types of steel pans, each with its own set of pitches.
Though most of the early soca recordings of the 1970's were done at a groovy pace, Groovy soca was made popular as a trend and soca style starting with Robin Imamshah's composition "Frenchman" in 1990. This growing style focuses on melody in soca, partly because of criticism of soca's ubiquitous 'jump and wave'-only lyrical and musical content. It features sensual vocals over slow to mid-tempo soca rhythms, and very often elements of zouk and ragga soca. Today you will find Groovy Soca infused with R&B tones and lyrical style along with melodious African rhythms.
Bouyon soca, sometimes referred to as "jump up soca", is a fusion genre that typically blends old bouyon rhythms from the '90s and soca music. Bouyon soca is a term coined by non-Dominican producers and musicians, mainly from St Lucia, who embrace both Soca from Trinidad and Bouyon music from Dominica and so find it natural to produce blends of both music genres. Bouyon is a music genre that originated in Dominica that is distinguishable from its older "colleague" Soca.
In Dominica while there may have been the occasional fusions, bouyon has always maintained a very clear, recognizable and different style from soca. Outside of Dominica the Bouyon Soca fusion style is popular in islands like Antigua, Saint Lucia, Guadeloupe and Martinique and is a natural evolution from Zouk and Soca fusions that were popular there during the 1980's.
The term power soca was coined in the early 1990s in Trinidad and Tobago as a faster paced version of Soca music which appealed more to the younger generation of partygoers especially at Carnival time. Calypsonian and soca artist Superblue, formerly known as 'Blue Boy' of Trinidad and Tobago pioneered this style with his 1991 hit "Get Something & Wave". Power soca today is known for its high bpm (ranging from 155-163) and its aggressive drums/percussions and dark synths. Today, it has transcended from its original sound of darkness into a more light and playful sound but has kept its foundation of fast-paced rhythms.
Soca music is based on a strong rhythmic section that is often recorded using synthesized drum sounds and then sequenced inside computers; however, for live shows, the live human drummer emulates the recorded version, often using electronic drums to trigger drum samples. The drum and percussion are often loud in this genre of music and are sometimes the only instruments to back up the vocal. Soca is indeed defined by its loud, fast percussion beats. Synthesizers are used often in modern soca and have replaced the once typical horn section at 'smaller' shows. Electric and bass guitars are found very often and are always found in a live soca band. A horn section is found occasionally in live soca bands mostly for the 'bigger' shows. It usually consist of two trumpets and a trombone, with saxophones being part of the section from time to time. Invariably other metal instruments may include cowbell or automobile brake drum.
International Soca Monarch Competition
The International Soca Monarch Competition is a soca music award show that is held annually in Trinidad and Tobago's capital, Port of Spain. This competition is the most well-known event for soca artists and soca lovers all around the world. The International Soca Monarch Competition was originally developed by a cultural benefactor named William Munro who aspired to create a new, unique and exhilarating experience where Soca artists from all the different Caribbean islands could let their talents shine through to billions of people worldwide. A colleague of Munro's, Gregory Fernandez was the first person to invest in The International Soca Monarch Competition by contributing TT$35,000 to get the show where Munro wanted it to be. After much conflict, debate and planning, the first show took place in 1993 at The Spectrum in Port of Spain where the first-place winners were awarded a considerable sum of TT$25,000. This was possible thanks to Trinidad and Tobago's official Government and their undying support of the International Soca Monarch Competition. Renowned Soca artists such as Machel Montano, Kerwin Du Bois, Patrice Roberts, Superblue and Destra Garcia have all performed and won Groovy Soca Monarch and Power Soca Monarch awards in the past. The 2014 International Soca Monarch Competition awarded Machel Montano the first place prize in the Power Soca category after a highly enthusiastic and energetic performance of his huge hit "Ministry of Road". Kerwin Du Bois came in first in the Groovy Soca Monarch category, becoming the first artist in many years to dethrone Machel Montano from his superior reign of first place in that category. Today, the extremely competitive event awards first-place winners with $2 million, provided by various sponsors as well as the Trinidad and Tobago Government. Corporations and organizations such as KFC, Ford, Monsters Energy Drink, Caribbean Airlines and the Hyatt Regency and many more are all sponsors for Soca competition. With the intention to "take culture to a brand new level", the International Soca Monarch Competition gives a chance for many talented Soca artists to display their gifts and showcase the work they have been putting together for the past year. These artists are able to widen their fan-base and achieve extreme amounts of fame by showcasing their songs and talents through such a widespread event that is becoming more and more popular as time goes on. The Soca Monarch Foundation is now starting to be recognized by many people of different cultural backgrounds rather than just Caribbean backgrounds, which gives hope to the idea that Soca music is quickly becoming universal. Even though The International Soca Monarch Competition is located in a place where Soca music was birthed and continues to be most popular, it not only attracts a lot of attention from people who live in Trinidad and Tobago but has expanded to peak the interests in Westernized countries such as Canada and America.
The competition has recently gained so much worldwide attention that the concept of "Soca Tourism" has emerged. This newly developed "Soca Tourism" phenomenon is greatly supported by the Trinidadian government. Every year, the competition is aired on the televisions of those living in Trinidad and Tobago and is streamed live through various websites, making it easier for people all across the world to watch live as the most important moments in Soca history take place. As the Soca Monarch Foundation continues to expand their ideas, the next innovative idea is to develop a Pay-Per-View notion that will allow people to receive good quality live streaming of the show on their televisions and not only on computer screens, tablets and smart phones. Since many individuals do not have the luxury to easily travel to Trinidad and Tobago during the year, the feature of being able to watch the Soca Monarch Competition on televisions at home will be a huge success since Soca music is becoming more prevalent in the lives of a diverse number of people today.