WHAT A TIME to be alive in Trinidad and Tobago! Of course merely staying alive in TT is no mean feat, but to be living in this time is something special. As the Carnival season reaches a fever pitch, approaching the anticlimactic, now perfunctory costumed street parade, there has been a discernible shift in the culture. The soca music, which has been on an accelerated evolutionary track over the past few years, has this season achieved what feels very much like the art form’s zenith.
Somewhere along the way, there was a quantum leap in the quality of tunes on offer. Soca artistes really seem to have stepped up their game. This early promise was revealed as far back as last year with entries from the likes of Patrice Roberts (pronounced Pah-treece). Her playfully flirtatious Like It Hot bounces on a spirited “riddim.” When Ms Roberts says she likes it hot, one is prone to take her seriously; not lukewarm, not room temperature, but global warming hot!
Pah-treece isn’t the only woman making heatwaves out there. Nadia Batson is a relative outlier on the soca scene, but she has been steadily building on an already impressive oeuvre. Her most oft-played outing for the 2019 season is So Long. It seems to speak of a chance encounter with an old friend or unrequited love in the streets for Carnival
And who hasn’t been there…in the first flush of youth to bounce up with your undeclared object of desire at Carnival time? It makes you want to take a chip, make some memories and who knows...perhaps share an STD or two at the close of play. Just kidding! Safety first.
Nadia Batson’s So Long exhibits a level of sophistication more akin to the calypso art form of yore. It’s an infectious ditty precisely designed for the purpose about which she sings. Women have claimed their territory in the soca world and audiences are all the better for it.
The men are no slouches either. Perennial favourite and heartthrob among both the young and still-dress-like-they-young female fete goers is Kees Differential. Without a doubt, his most captivating tune for the season is Savannah Grass. This song works as an ode to what is Mecca to the masquerader – the Queen’s Park Savannah. It is where most of our Carnival history has played out and not been preserved in any meaningful way for future generations.
Savannah Grass is more powerful than any anthem and can rouse dormant patriotism in even the most embittered citizen. In some ways, it feels like a distillation of what it means to be a Trinidadian-Tobagonian.
The music video, which is a nod to our mas heritage, is pore-raising in its nostalgic qualities. Deeply rooted in an electronic dance music base, but firmly anchored in Trini-ness, Kees manages to sow his appeal across generations.
Then, of course, there’s Machel Montalban, the reigning Road March titleholder and prolific soca machine. His collaboration with Farmer Nappy titled Day One is definitely morish and continues an if-it-ain’t broke-don’t-fix-it formula onto which Monsegue stumbled a few years ago.
If soca were a weapon of war, Machel Montevideo would be napalm. He radiates fiercely intense heat, burns off all of your clothes and is absolutely inescapable.
To threaten the civilian population with a 20-song album seems like more than anyone would need of soca, which is essentially the Styrofoam cup of music. None of this will matter after Ash Wednesday. There will be expectations of new material for the next round of band launches which should begin on Ash Thursday.
Machel’s legacy would be better served by focusing more on quality than quantity. Still, few out there have the work ethic, professionalism and performance chops to give fete lovers their money’s worth quite like Machel.
This year feels like one of the best in recent memory for soca music. For those of you still pining for the days of calypso, there are always the turbid dirges of Chalkdust and the pro-PNM love ballads of cussbud Cro Cro.
Soca music seems to have finally turned a corner. Our artistes have done us proud by showing a determination to keep pushing for a higher standard. Many of them have twinned a business sensibility with better music production to build a sustainable model. That is the future of the art form.
“Ah like it hot!” Hold on Pah-treece, I hear yuh. I comin’ with Bengay, a curling iron and a tawa. Just hold on.