A Soca 2016 Story… aka I hear soca sucks this year.

First disclaimer: I am not a soca fan. Never have been. Not gonna lie. Not gonna front. (I) Will deal with that backlash later, but there are layers upon layers of why I’ve felt that way that we’ll save for comments, Facebook, Twitter or another blog post. It stands to reason then that you’re swimming against the current with me and soca(lled music), but I’ve spent a couple days well listening to radio and I actually have found that there is a ton of good music out this year. Yup I said it. 2016 has some of the best soca I’ve heard in recent time. To me. Subjective. Yes. But I did say best.

Is there bush? Of course. There is bush in every genre that never makes it to mainstream channels for airplay… by the numbers it would be far, far more. Want proof? The self proclaimed #1 rapper on dis planet is not Jay, Weezy or Yeezy. It’s Riak. Ever heard of him? No? Here’s a reminder…

Right. So bush aside, what’s the other complaints about 2016 soca?.. (Sidebar – I hate the seasonal, yearly notion of insert-year-here soca. IT is the WORST). The second most often heard complaint is that ‘the DJs’ playing 20 songs. Right. Then you’re listening to the wrong DJs. Which gets to the crux of the 2016 soca(called music) problem. A major part of the DJ’s role in music is presentation. DJs have their own versions of presentation of music, especially breaking new music, that is a critical part of being a DJ. Drill a little further, being a DJ has taken a serious hit in the digital age (much like everything from being a photographer to being a doctor – ’cause e’erybody an expert), and I truly believe that the effects of the short cuts to fame, marketing first – substance never, networking and hype DJs of the past 5-10 years are coming home to roost. Yup. The downfall of soca this year in my opinion has little to do with soca and more to do with how the consumer is receiving the music – the DJ. Remember before the DJ inserted himself into carnival? The days when soca was presented solely (or mostly) by big bands (like Kalyan) and the DJ respected the band and the musicianship?

This hypothesis needs to be proven somehow, so let’s look at the listener, the artist and the DJ. The listener’s complaints about the 20 song rotation alludes to their reality that they have way more songs on their phones and media devices that they listen to than the selection they hear in fora where music is driven by the DJ. The rab over this is getting louder and louder so it stands to reason that the DJ may want to pay attention and stop with the silly excuses. The artists have widened in numbers and ‘quality’. This years offerings are reasonably diverse with the usual stalwarts (Machel, Kes, Bunji, Destra, Fay Ann, et al) to the new crop (Preedy, Sekon Sta, Flipo, etc) and the lesser knowns/finally famous (Pternsky comes to mind…) all bringing a serious A game to soca.

Song after song I was able to listen to on air (and on Youtube) so I was at a total loss as to why the rab about soca being mess even existed. Until I looked at the DJ. Move past the complaints, most DJs do not take any time to listen to music. I know this is hard to believe and/or hard to admit, but most DJs here in Trinidad *RELY* on radio or what they hear *OTHER DJs* playing to inform self as to what music *exists*. This is crazy outside of the season, but creates deeper musical inbreeding INSIDE THE SEASON. Depending on who DJ X listens to s/he may never once hear a new song until he spies the laptop of DJ Y playing at a gig. DJ X isn’t on a promo pool, s/he’s not in a forum or collective, s/he does not belong to an email blast, doesn’t know any artists (from established to upcoming) and is generally lazy enough that he downloads music from Youtube or worse from Julien’s promotions WITH the drops! CAN I GET A DROP!!! *cue Charlemagne ‘Can I Get A Drop’ video*

Can I get a drop??? Before the contemporary DJ spends time with his music, immerses him/herself in it, finding links and paths to songs and melodies of old and new, they find their ‘mix’ from a process of musical inbreeding that is dictated by a radio DJ (that they’re usually hoping will get them on), who quite frankly may be paid the same sum as them for working on radio – nada… and here comes my second disclaimer. I only listened to one radio station for these past few days. My bias here would be clear as I spent a few years well working with the likes of Shal, Trevlyn and the rest of the 96.1 family but it was obvious and unambiguous to me why I was able to keep listening. Soca needs real (not real as in the colloquialism plenty eh; real as in – palpable, physical, concrete) energy to present to folk. Most soca is not really about deep lyrics. Most soca is not composed by a Rudder who got many a soul moving while telling the story of that infamous man with a hammer… so what is left requires you to be aurally moved into a place and space of enjoyment with song. It is not ironic, nor is it an accident that WEFM stands for With Energy For Music it is less ironic that from the presenter to the DJ the energy was visible in my car with (of all things to me) soca and 2016 soca no less. Third disclaimer: IN NO WAY AM I SAYING THAT YOU CANNOT GET SAME FROM ANOTHER FREQUENCY. I’M SAYING THAT I DON’T LISTEN TO RADIO AND WHEN I DO I LISTEN TO 107.7, Star 94.7 or 96.1WEFM. I’m sure insert-your-friend-who-is-a-DJ-working-on-radio-here brings the energy and immerses self etc…

The contemporary DJ who didn’t listen to the North American albums, is unaware of the Grammy nods, didn’t care to do more than ‘find ah site’ to download dancehall, has no love for reggae, cares less about a string or chord, and is expected to find some way to present to the party goer or the listener a fresh take on soca music, introducing the new and breaking the new hits? Highly unlikely. If you didn’t know, the contemporary DJ cares little about music in any form, only what music can do for him or her: make them famous to their friends and foes – and little else matters. No time to waste if it’s not about that Visa face. So surprise, their non existent ‘love’ of the ‘music’ ends with ‘shellings’ / ‘shell down’ / or ‘forward’ which usually has little to do with who pressed play on the Pioneer CDJ player and more to do with the Machel/Mavado/Kartel that is coming through the speakers…

Bonus round: I don’t know about y’all but there are some songs out there that will be new classics going forward. Let’s take an easy one in the Double R rhythm. From Salty to Bunji, the RR is positioned to become the 2016 Laduma, the new J’Ouvert anthem of the carnival that I expect to carry on outside of the season and through future seasons as a contemporary classic. Salty has unnecessarily taken licks for his contribution on the riddim. His take on what soca is runs close to the toasting of the forefathers of reggae music – the faces of the Coxsone Dodd’s, Jammy’s and Tubby’s: Count Machuki,  U-Roy, I-Roy and Dennis Alcapone to name a few. Toasting is a normal and accepted part of the oral traditions of the diaspora, and a normal part as far as I’m concerned about ‘instructions’ soca … so why you salty on Salty? Really? Outside of the Double R rhythm I’ve never heard the kid. From what I’ve seen in interviews on the web he seems like a cool kid who is trying to forge his place in the wild and wacky music world of T&T. He could be doing many worse things in my books than releasing what is turning out to be the 2016 carnival anthem. It’s not his fault Trini’s love bacchanal and his contribution is the epitome of same. To quote him, “yuh wah de chupidness to start eh?”. So it starts, he starts it and y’all mad. Having listened to his contribution I quite like his channeling Shadow and Brigo and the forefathers of that style of calypso way before him – consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or accidentally.

Salty is getting what Shal got before and what the next guy will get after as many a ‘seasoned’ ‘veteran’ feels the squeeze with everybody and their brother having bars to spit. Hating on a Salty or a Shal is pretty senseless at this point. Let’s spend a moment on Mr. Marshall. From Gyal Farm (a soca classic) to Party of this year (time will tell but it could be another classic) he has put in the work to now claim a real, reasonably solid catalog of hits. Those songs are hits not because of his working on radio, but are hits because they’re good music (I’m sure Yeezy would agree). Y’all soca fiends love a Gyal Farm. Y’all loved Motorbike… so why the fight? Remember this is coming me here, from a self titled non-fan of soca(lled music). The Shals, Akils, TC/Jaigas, Jahmouns and some others have to work 10 times harder and endure 10 times more hate than the ‘traditional soca artist’ – so no surprise they’re churning out more crowd favourites as they spend the more time in the year close to the psyche of their consumer while the ‘traditional’ artists flee for the cheques on the money circuit only cooling down to stamp out some ‘hits’ for the next season to run away and do it all over again.

So let’s leave Salty be. Let’s hope for better for him. Let’s hope to see him rise to higher heights and maybe even get depth in his writing. Or maybe just release next year’s catchy anthem which is cool too.

Now for me? Back to my lab to practice some random faderwork. Oh and start the hastag #bunji4Extempo2017 … Rambling over.

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