Different things send people along different paths in life. For Imani “Imani Ray” Patterson, it took the loss of her father to turn her on to a career in soca.
The US-based singer used the indigenous music to help her heal.
But soca has always been a part of her life. Whether it was from the influence of her Cuban/American father Michael Patterson, her Trini mother Roxanne James, or DJ uncles, Imani Ray grew up around music. Her great grandfather Stephen “Mighty Pye” Solomon would compose music, write songs and compete in calypso competitions.
Music has always been a big part of Imani Ray’s household especially during cleaning.
Although she began expressing her creativity through dance when she was five, Imani Ray found, especially after her father’s death, that dancing did not bring her “the joy it used to.”
So she turned to music as an outlet to find her happiness again. Soca gave her a feeling she could not find in anything else.
So at 18 she began singing, and has been doing it for the past seven years.
Imani Ray’s first song was called Break Away, which she defined as her “trial and error” song. It was her first time ever recording a song and “it was a learning experience with everything, from recording to writing to finding melodies and learning about little things like mixing and mastering.”
While Imani Ray could have decided to pursue a career in any genre, she chose soca, since “with soca I feel like you can really feel the music...The music really drives you, compared to other genres.”
An integral part of her upbringing was regular visits to TT. Through interacting with her grandfather, Joseph Solomon and other people here, she would learn a lot about the country.
Since she came to TT this year, Imani Ray has been to prisons, volunteering her time and talent for inmates. She has performed at the Women’s Prison, Youth Training Centre, Carrera Island Prison, the Maximum Security Prison and the Port of Spain Prison.
She first performed at the 2016 Great Fete weekend in Tobago, “a frightening experience, but also good at the same time.” It was frightening because she felt she only had one chance to please the public but it turned out to be completely different from what she was expecting.
Since then she has done songs such as Can’t Hold Me and How You Lie and Body.
For 2019, she has two offerings, Don’t Stick and Vibes Overload.
Doh Stick, which tells people "don’t stick, if you want to wine you can wine," was produced by Black Carpet Movement (BCM) out of Siparia. The song sits on the Orange Peel Riddim and Leon Caldero is the riddim’s executive producer.
Although her mother was a “bit concerned” when Imani Ray expressed an interest in soca, she supported her. She was concerned, “knowing what I know in regards to the statistics and the numbers and music itself,” because she felt it would not help Imani Ray get to where she was trying to reach in the entertainment industry.
“However, her happiness at that time was more important and her having an outlet, a way to consider there was life beyond the passing of her dad, was more important to me,” James said.
James said soca helped Imani Ray “get away from the darkness.” At one point, James was concerned that her daughter was using it more as a "band-aid," but soon realised it was more than that. James manages Imani Ray full-time.
When Imani Ray heard Destra Garcia’s I Dare You, it “sealed the deal for her.” She said after that, she was schooling all of her family members, telling them, "This is the new soca, you need to play this.”
Imani Ray has performed at several carnivals in the US such as Atlanta, San Diego, Miami, Brooklyn's Labor Day and recently, in New Orleans for its Caribbean festival.
One day she hopes to work with Nadia Batson, whom she has looked up to for a long time, “even before So Long came around.” She also wants to work with Machel Montano one day. Ultimately, she wants to be the “Beyonce of soca,” incorporating her dance background into her performances.
She is yet to reach out to Batson or Montano, saying while she still has some way to go, even though she is getting there. She intends to enter the Play Whe International Soca Monarch next year. While she is in TT, she is working along with her management at getting any performance opportunities she can, but her true focus is on familiarising TT with Imani Ray.