Debbie Jacob writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
The anthropologist in me has noted the fervour surrounding Soca Kingdom. My first reaction to the Machel Montano/SuperBlue collaboration was, “Ugh. That’s a hot mess. It’s not my favourite Machel or SuperBlue soca.
Of course, like all Machel and SuperBlue songs, Soca Kingdom slowly but surely grew on me. I note the energy of the song every time I listen to it. Much of that energy comes from the frantic tempo, but some stems from the rhythm that conjures up images of bygone days when SuperBlue ruled the road. As the music grows on me, I note the messages.
SuperBlue has always been a master at conveying social messages. Remember how he rallied a downtrodden nation after the 1990 coup in Get Something and Wave? He turned a vague statement into a commanding mantra and proved that the imagination has no bounds.
Get something — anything — and wave it. To create a flag or some emblem of resistance from anything you can grab shows the ingenuity of a people desperate to escape a dramatic event to celebrate Carnival once again.
Soca Kingdom seems no less potent than Get Something and Wave. Together Machel and SuperBlue have created an army of masqueraders, who are marching on town. People wine in front of business places and even people’s gates. Claiming their territory, masqueraders protest everywhere.
And what happens if you fail to take this opportunity to assert your identity and protest through song? What happens if you are too timid to stand up for your rights or even claim the right to a season of happiness in this crime-ridden nation? The duo tells you that “somebody going to take your place.”
They demand, “Give me that attitude.” This too is a reference to the past as much as a command for the present. Once, there was a time when we were not afraid to give some attitude. We felt secure in expressing ourselves. Now, fear prevails, and that scares and frustrates us.
“If you’re fed up of frustration…” Machel and SuperBlue sing. We can fill in the blanks. The soca duo succeeds in creating an army of celebrating people. Their anger and frustration, suppressed during this Carnival season, lies dormant, just below the surface where a frantic beat pounds it into the ground.
There are many empowering lines in Soca Kingdom. “Wine and wine and free it up,” SuperBlue sings. Of course, wining has a long history of expressing rebellion. And what exactly does SuperBlue mean when he says “…free it up?” Free up what? Once again, SuperBlue places the power of interpretation in masqueraders. What are we freeing up? Our bodies? Our souls? Our worries?
SuperBlue has always possessed the power of understatement. Few singers or writers can master that power of understatement. There is always a tendency to want to say too much; to control, to define, to lead listeners in a certain direction. SuperBlue knows less is more.
In a subtle way, many SuperBlue songs address the socio-economic divides in this country. He has reminded us in the past of our national anthem, “…every creed and race” — that “al o’ we is one” philosophy that we used to adhere to before we became such a fractious place.
His command “hands in the air” allays our fears for a moment. Robbery is not the only reason we raise our hands in the air — at least not in this moment; not in this song; not in this Carnival season.
Equally telling is “Party like a VIP.” This is one of the more interesting lines in the song because it crosses social boundaries. Poor people cannot pay for expensive Carnival costumes or VIP fetes, but they can imagine for a moment, through this song, that they can afford such luxuries. So SuperBlue and Machel slice through the socio-economic boundaries that divide us outside of Carnival.
We need to find more ways to empower people and create equality in this country, and that is what the line “stamp your name on the stage” represents. In Carnival, everyone holds the power to make their creative mark.
Sometimes, I want to hate Carnival. I want to be upset with those who turn their backs on the problems of this country to take a respite from all of our woes and enjoy themselves for Carnival. But I can’t fault those who use tradition to celebrate themselves and this culture. I can’t fault songs like Soca Kingdom which celebrate our creativity and give us a sense of hope.