Festivale de Football Day 29: Trinidad & Tobago

I was originally going to post about the Orange Sky, probably the biggest Trinidadian alt.rock band but I felt that while worthy enough, I shouldn't feel pressured into looking at music which isn't overly commercial. So, I went with the heart and chose soca.

Now, I don't know a lot about soca. I know that the original of Who Let The Dogs Out was a soca track, and I know one other song (by Superblue) from a compilation, and from that I can gather that whatever I'm doing, the people singing the songs are having far more fun than I am. It's a fun sound, redolent of carnival, and it has an interesting background as well.

It's pretty much acknowledged that the genre was started by one of it's enduring stars, Lord Shorty, who experimented with the lilting calypso style that was so popular. He added elements of the Indian music that was already a big hit on the islands in the 6o's, fusing the two into "solka", i.e. the true soul of calypso, aka "soca." This was, in effect, a fusion of a fusion taking in a large influence from chutney music, a mix of calypso and Hindi film music. It seems like T&T was kind of a melting pot at the time, with the Carribean mainstay of carnival acting as a catalyst. Soca took over from the calypso of Harry Belafonte, and remains hugely popular. It's put out several offshoots over the years, continuously influencing and being influenced by chutney music, combining with reggae to create ragga-soca and mixing with Trinidadian patois rap to create rapso. It all comes across like a less banal dancehall reggae, think Sean Paul without the ridiculous posturing, and with a bit more party atmosphere to it.

Harry Belafonte - Jamaica Farewell

Lord Shorty was an interesting character. Born Garfield Blackman in 1922, he pretty much invented soca with the song 'Indrani 'in 1973, and went on to be it's biggest star. In the 80's he became disillusioned with the scene, claiming it was only being used to "celebrate the female bottom, rather than uplift the spirits of the people." He went off into the hills and changed his name to Ras Shorty 1, and worked on a new sound, a fusion of reggae and gospel called jamoo. Sadly, I've not been able to acquire any musics, so you'll just have to guess what it sounds like...

As I mentioned, although Who Let The Dogs out is a very popped-up sort of sound, it's still soca at it's heart, and is as good a reference point as any for beginners (like me). Look out for Kevin Lyttle's Turn Me On, and the Soca Boys' Follow The Leader. But I have to recommend the earlier guys such as Lord Kitchener just from my brief explorations, and the hilarious Mighty Sparrow (this track refers to T&T's historic 1977 beauty pageant winner, Janelle Commissiong) as being the ones who've really been good to listen to. For contemporary soca, the better ones are Maximus Dan and Sugar Daddy (here with the pretty ace, Verve-sampling Sweet Soca Music). Also here is the carnival mix of another utterly ubiquitous soca classic, Arrow's Hot Hot Hot.

Mighty Sparrow - Miss Universe
Baha Men - Who Let The Dogs Out
Arrow - Hot, Hot, Hot (Carnival Short Mix)
Maximus Dan - Royal
Sugar Daddy - Sweet Soca Music

Buy Trinidadian music here
Buy soca/Mighty Sparrow/Baha Men/Maximus Dan/Sugar Daddy/Harry Belafonte

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CIA Factbook: Trinidad & Tobago


kitten said...

What a lovely post. Harry Belafonte brings back some happy childhood memories and a desire to watch beetlejuice :D A welcome blast from the past and possibly a contender for the coolest surname ever? It rolls off the tongue somewhat. It's interesting to read about him actually, so ta muchly. Well done that man.

Oh Simone said...

I was thinking, I'll try and do a more Belafonte-specific post at some stage. It's so soothing, it's good stuff.

Onestar said...

Forgive the correction, but the Harry Belafonte tune was really "Jamaica Farewell".

It's one of his best, and one of my favourites.

Thank you for sharing these!

Oh Simone said...

Edit in progress! Thanks for the correction.