CARNIVAL FRIDAY and Trinidad going mad. Madder. And part of me would give anything to be in the middle of it, but most of me is far more relieved to be completely away from it all.
Maybe I might find modern soca less distasteful if it were played at half the decibel level; but I don’t think so.
My first Carnival, 1974, when I wasn’t 16 yet, was overrun by Shadow’s almighty Bassman: how could someone raised on that go wild for Pump Yuh Flag? (Though I reckon I could have lost myself, and found the Carnival joy, in Full Extreme last year.)
It’s not that the modern tunes are so bad or so empty — though of course there is that — it’s that the old ones were so much better.
Now, no one wants to be the miserable old firetruck in the stingy-brim hat muttering in a corner of Renegades’ panyard, wishing the 60s could come back again — but there were days, not long ago, when Carnival music was something more than a rhythm that did not involve a human being and a series of “hooks” on which you could only catch your a--.
My top ten list of Carnival songs, I suggest, is better than anything you’ve heard in ten years — with apologies to and special mention of MX Prime and the Ultimate Rejects and a non-Carnival tune, but one of the greatest pieces of music this St Ann’s boy has ever heard, Liam Teague’s performance of Bach’s Concerto for Steelpan and Orchestra.
If you don’t love these songs, it’s because you don’t know them.
10. The Road — If the Ultimate Rejects remixed Lord Kitchener’s 1963 ode to the road itself, it could take the Road March next year; hear that iron on YouTube and you’ll never accept a computer-generated rhythm again.
9. Bahia Girl — David Rudder mashed up the place, and the music, by slowing it down and reconnecting it to Africa via Brazil; no other song (except possibly Explainer’s Ras Mas or Lorraine) precipitates the togetherness that this one, sung en masse, does.
8. (Ah Doh Want to Sink) Dat Soca Boat — the third time Shadow changed Trinidadian music entirely and all by himself remains undeniable: try not to firetrucking dance!
7. Jean and Dinah/Rainorama — Impossible to pronounce whether Sparrow’s dissertation on the role of sex workers in independence could trump Kitchener’s ode to the spirit of a people who jam still in the pouring rain, so cheat and name them both.
6. Shift Yuh Carcass — The second time Shadow changed our music completely could be the most overlooked song in the world — despite the line: “I might take a big stone/ And lick ’way your jaw bone.”
5. Madness — David Rudder’s song that can send an exhausted fete crowd running from their chairs to the dance floor every time it’s played is also an epic poem of modern Trinidad that could be studied at university. Mahal makes a cameo, to prove that the same song that makes you chook your waist can provoke your thought.
4. Get Something and Wave — In 1991, when Trinidad needed release from 1990, I dismissed SuperBlue’s song as a passing fad. I was wrong: it dictated the form of soca since. But it has never been bettered — except by the unequivocal superstar of soca in an amazing, jaw-dropping song:
3. Big Truck — Machel Montano understands better than most — certainly better than me — that the music is only a part of the modern Carnival experience but only two songs have ever been bigger than Big Truck, whose double horn blast at its start is our equivalent of Keith Richards’ stunning opening chords of the Rolling Stones’ greatest song, Satisfaction.
2. Bassman — The first time Shadow changed Trinidad music for ever, I was 15 years old and Farell, Shadow’s bassman from Hell, freed my mind and my waist at the same time, and for all time; only one song could top it — and that wasn’t a Road March!
1. Calypso Music — David Rudder’s magnum opus that should be the national anthem of every Caribbean territory and the Road March of every Trinidad-style carnival in the world. Every time I hear it, my hair stands on end, my arms go up in the air and my head is thrown back. Whoa-yeah-
BC Pires is dragging the music down from up in the St Ann’s hills. Read a longer version of this column and more of his writing at www.BCPires.com