JANELLE DE SOUZA
When one door closes, another one opens.
That saying was true for the 2018 Junior Soca Monarch, Desle Julien, who tied for first place with four-time Soca Monarch, Sergio Camejo, on February 5 at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain.
Julien, 18, a student of St Mary’s College, was aiming to win the Junior Calypso Monarch crown this year since it was his last before moving on to the senior competition. However, he did not make it to the finals so he reworked one of his existing songs for the junior soca competition.
“I was really disappointed. It wasn’t in my plans to compete in the soca monarch but because I didn’t make the finals of the calypso I said, ‘I have to do something for the season. I can’t just go out dry so.’ So I decided to compete in the soca and it’s a good thing I did.”
He sang Kryptonite, which was written by him and produced by Fatima College student Isaac Cozier. He said the song was originally about a girl’s wine making him weak but he had to adjust the lyrics, changing his “kryptonite” to “soca”.
Julien started competing in the Junior Calypso Monarch in 2011. He placed second in 2015 and third in 2016 and 2017. He had also been competing in the Junior Soca Monarch arena since 2014. He made it to the finals in 2016 and 2017 but this was his first win in either competition. He said he knew Kryptonite was a good song and he had a good chance of winning but, since the soca crown was not his focus, competing was more about marketing himself as an artiste than winning. Therefore, he was excited for, and appreciative, of the win.
Julien told Sunday Newsday he had been writing his own songs since the age of eight. At the time, the Tunapuna Carnival Calypso finals was being hosted by his school, Tunapuna Boys’ RC. He said the organisers suggested that a student enter the competition to represent the school and he wanted to compete. Therefore, he sat and wrote his own song without even thinking about asking an adult to write one for him.
He has been writing his own songs ever since.
His mother always encouraged him to keep writing even though he did not win competitions for the first few years. The teachers at his primary school also encouraged him by finding ways to give him “a small prize” at the school calypso competitions.
In addition to school shows, he entered the National Joint Action Committee and regional competitions, several of which he won. When he entered the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation national junior competition, he would often win best young songwriter and that too encouraged him to continue writing.
“I was basically getting the knowledge and practice, getting to develop my craft as an artiste. I realised it’s not all about winning but about progressing. You must learn from your failures and if you don’t learn something new from your mistakes then you’re not making sense.”
He said he “got the recipe of writing” in 2015 and that year he placed second at the Junior Calypso Monarch competition with his song The King, which was a tribute to The Mighty Sparrow. This year, he wrote songs for three other junior contestants.
Julien said he noticed a few younger contestants wrote their own songs and felt that, since he struggled with no one to guide him, he would step in and help if they wanted it. “Now that I’m moving along to the seniors next year, I will still be active in the juniors – writing for them and helping them develop their skills as well.”
At the moment, Julien is in Upper Six studying biology, chemistry and physical education. He said he was passionate about sports but he did not believe he was good enough to be a professional athlete. Therefore, he would like to become a physiotherapist.
However, he said, this year many things fell into place for his music career so he recently decided to take a year off from studying to pursue his music. “I always knew I had the talent but recently the encouragement from my friends, teachers, strangers at performances has been overwhelming. One day, I just sat and I realised I should really take this seriously. I am going to give it my all. Whether I fail or succeed, I could say I tried because music is really my passion and what I would like to do for the rest of my life. I told myself that I only have one life to live and I’d rather live my life being happy and making others happy through my music than making tonnes of money and being unhappy.”
For Julien, making music included writing, producing music for himself and other artistes as well as performing. He intends to make this happen with Cozier who works with the music production company, Anson Productions.
He said they realised they had the same drive and goals, and decided to continue to work together to achieve them. He said he often sent Cozier some of his lyrics, Cozier would send him beats, and they would work on songs together. They have already completed one song and were working on several others.
“If you really want something, you have to work for it. If you don’t work hard then you’re not making sense. You can’t just sit back and expect it to come to you.”
Julien does not expect to make a lot of money or become famous in the local music fraternity. To him, success would be getting opportunities to do what he loved – making soca and calypso music.
However, he said the people of TT needed to “get behind” calypso and soca 100 per cent, just as the Jamaicans got behind dance hall. “We belong to a society where we have our own music and we don’t cherish it enough. We listen to all the reggae, we glorify the pop and dance hall but we have our own music here and we just let it slip by. We can’t expect the world to want to listen to and accept soca when we ourselves do not accept it.”
Julien believed that was possible because of his personal experience. Initially he did not share his passion with his friends because he did not think they would like calypso. But when they went to his performances they enjoyed it, and even sang his songs at school. He then realised that other youths were interested in calypso.
However, he said the old formula for calypso, the melody and lyrics, did not appeal to young people and the “experts” were not open to change, so the music is dying. He said youths were more drawn to upbeat or melodious tunes, and songs with messages to which they could relate.
“As time goes by you have to evolve. In order for calypso to stay alive, changes have to be made to the music for the youths to be more accepting... In terms of politics and all of that, I think that is what is killing calypso. It’s an overdone topic and most youths are not interested in politics. There are so many more stories that could be told to bring about more positive, meaningful messages that youths could listen and relate to.”
With regard to soca, Julien said he always wanted to sing songs with positive messages. Unfortunately, he was told by a producer if he wanted to make it in the business, he first had to sing what people wanted to hear to be accepted. But, once he made a name for himself and was accepted, then he could sing the style of music he wanted. “I was really taken aback by that because that limits creativity in the industry. That should change for sure, the mind set of the people.”
For now, he said, he was forced to sing about “the wining and the jamming” to get accepted by the wider public. “It’s all about the credibility of the artiste. People know them and would gravitate to him as an artiste. If I now come on the scene they have to relate to my music first because they don’t know me as an artiste... But jam, wine, stick it – those kinds of songs would only stay here. They wouldn’t go international. Coming from the Caribbean, they have dancehall for that and we can’t compete with dancehall.”
However, Julien believed soca was going in the right direction – “the feel and the positivity” – with artistes such as Erphaan Alves, Aaron “Voice” St Louis, and Kes The Band.