This November 2nd, make your way to the Cushman & Wakefield Theater at the Barclay’s Center for a much needed autumnal dose of dancehall, reggae, soca and classic hip hop! Artists from Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad will make their foray into the new complex armed with all the right island vibes. Artists range from Slick Rick and the Ruler to Baby Cham and Mr. Vegas, also including the ever fresh Doug E. Fresh and the elegant Alison Hinds. Machel Montano will perform one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most historically significant forms in grand style: soca. BUT- Before getting ready to get down in the new arena, let’s take a moment to reflect on this small piece of Caribbean history.
Less than one hundred years before the emergence of the form we now call soca (as-in ‘soul’ and ‘calypso’), the British imperialist powers banned the use of hide drums in Trinidad. It was believed that they incited behavior which was too difficult to control…The community’s effort to affirm its own reality was symbolized in the steel drum. As a result, the criminalization of playing the drum carried a powerful cultural charge. In the face of this, it would not be long before ingenuous and passionate Trinidadians forged new ways of speaking through new musical mediums. The drums ultimately symbolized the “will to freedom and independence that is alive and growing stronger in the folk heart of the island community.” (Paquet in The Novels of George Lamming)
Steelpan was popularized in Trinidad throughout the 1930s, and was gradually incorporated into calypso, a form rooted in creole and West African traditions of commentary, praise, ridicule, and criticism. Calypso grew throughout the 1950s, popularized by heavy-hitting artists such as Lords Kitchener, Melody, Intruder, Invader, Radio, Shorty (later renamed Ras Shorty I), Roaring Lion and Atilla the Hun. Calypso is heavy on lords.
Atilla the Hun
Groovy! Later Maestro takes a turn towards the soca (1975)
As the 1970’s rolled around, artists began mixing the sounds of american soul with traditional calypso, and Soca emerged from this combination. The music became increasingly electric, incorporating synthesizers and guitars, while also broadening its sound with horn sections, congas and bass. Many of the earliest developments in soca are attributed to Lord Shorty (who later moved on to create a new style of gospel and soca called ‘jamoo’). Lord Kitchener, already an accomplished calypsonian, is also among the artists credited with advancing soca into the genre it is today. The popularity of soca has continued unabated in Trinidad and Tobago, and through out the Caribbean islands, ever since.
Endless vibrations, right on! Lord Shorty (1974)
So, when you’re getting down to Machel Montano, recall the historical legacy of the rhythms booming through the house.