OLATUNJI YEARWOOD’S music has always reminded us of soca’s global reach. His 2015 hit Ola featured an Afrosoca beat, deploying African elements in an infectious melange of sounds and textures. So it’s little wonder he’s done something like this again at an international forum with a song that blends soca with another traditional musical form, ragtime.
Ola’s appearance on Sunday on UK reality talent show The X Factor electrified audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. The judges described him as “a natural-born entertainer,” “a superstar,” and “amazing.” Even hard-to-impress Simon Cowell remarked, “we’ve got a goodie,” They responded to a seasoned soca star batting down nerves and bringing his all to the huge Wembley stage as he performed his 2018 hit Bodyline.
Particularly notable was Ola’s intention to represent not only Trinidad and Tobago specifically, but also the Caribbean as a whole. He told the show’s producers of his intention “to represent calypso music and soca music” and to “to get soca music worldwide and global and to get it out there.” In the end, his performance was the finest form of this kind of activism.
“It was very nerve-wracking,” Ola told Newsday of his performance which was prerecorded. “It still is very nerve-wracking even from watching it on the television and all. And the actual process being backstage with the production team and the constant filming. And all of these contestants who are really, really good, vocally as well too. The nerves are really real.”
We take this opportunity to congratulate Ola on his feat. In many respects, he has already achieved his stated goals. In one fell swoop, he has put both soca and Trinidad and Tobago on the map. He follows in the footsteps of many from this region who have shone a positive light on our area at reality shows, including Anya Ayoung-Chee of Project Runway fame and Tessane Chin from The Voice.
Ola’s chosen song harked to the calypso greats. In a Newsday report on January 1, he revealed Bodyline was inspired by jazz and stride’s precursor, ragtime, as well as the songs and style of Lord Kitchener.
We wish Ola best of luck for the rest of the show. His advance to the second stage of the contest is not only of a vote of faith in him and his talent but a powerful demonstration of the international appreciation for soca, one of our most vibrant, indigenous music forms. As for the rest of the contest, time will tell how Ola will fare. But one thing is guaranteed: all will be singing Ola Ola Ola Ola for some time to come.