For decades, Jamaican dancehall music has been a part of TT’s Carnival celebrations. Why is it a problem now when local dancehall is being played during fetes?
That is the question being asked by several entertainers as the debate continues on whether or not local dancehall music should be played at Carnival events.
Kern Joseph, also known as Trinidad Killa, singer of the popular Gun Man in She Hole, was most passionate about the topic.
“The music come from one soil, which is TT. Trinidadians fighting over their own culture? It all comes from under one umbrella so this fighting shouldn’t be. It’s wrong!”
He said he remembered when he was younger, fetes featured Jamaican dancehall artistes, especially one of the biggest fetes every Carnival season, Machel Monday, which highlighted numerous Jamaican dancehall artistes over the years.
“Why is it now that people want to stand up? Because a ghetto youth getting a play singing dancehall? A ghetto youth getting a bligh. Don’t fight the artiste! No matter what it is this music come from one soil! Just now they will say we need a season to play chutney! Because chutney is not soca.”
He believed the issue was being “blown up” and perpetuated by older people in the music industry.
“The problem is that we local dancehall artistes have found a way to penetrate the industry where it is no longer necessary to depend on radio to build hype around a tune. Since social media these youths are doing things and marketing their music on social media platforms. Right now it blow out of proportion where the radio have no control over it. And the music is on a different level because it playing all outside of TT.”
Social media give artistes a boost
He said now an artiste could release a song that never plays on radio but would have hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, which gave listeners the power. He said dancehall stormed the industry so the older generation had to take a step back. “Now the dancehall artistes starting to get more play than the soca artistes, and they and the producers have a problem.”
Joseph said soca artistes were limiting the music and preventing it from moving beyond Carnival. He said there was a time soca was “sweet” but artistes now were compromising it, making music to make money rather than for the love of the artform. He said it showed this year as, in his view, there were only a few good soca songs and after that, the DJs were forced to play older selections.
He said promoters were seeking their best interest by hiring dancehall artistes to perform at fetes because people were not listening to soca unless it was really good. Instead, dancehall artistes were “mashing up the place.”
According to Joseph, another reason soca artistes had a problem with dancehall was because they did not want upcoming artistes to get “a piece of the pie.” He said popular soca artistes travel to perform at international carnival events and were making a lot of money. Therefore they were trying to block the dancehall artistes from cutting into their profits.
He said during Jamaica carnival both dancehall and soca were played, and he questioned what would happen if Jamaica decided they did not want soca or carnival because it was not their culture.
“It’s plenty soca artiste that will bite the dust the same way so let’s not be selfish with the thing. And when a youth comes from right here and people loving the music, in spite of what kind of music he’s singing, let us give him the forward the same way.”
Iwer: Dancehall is TT culture too
Veteran soca artiste Neil “Iwer” George agreed that the matter should not be an issue.
He said, “I play by the rules, and I make my decisions based on the rules, not the practice. The rules are that TT Carnival is to showcase TT culture – the pan, the food, the costumes, the calypso, the chutney, the soca, and now we have local reggae and dancehall. All is TT brought. This should never even be up for debate.”
He added that Jamaican music had been part of TT Carnival for years. He recalled his first song in 1987, Time Hard Hold Tight, which featured Daddy Percy. He described it as a calypso with a dancehall flavour.
He said he remembered one year Jamaican dancehall artiste Vybz Kartel performed at Licensing Fete, and Machel Montano had Supercat, Beenie Man, and Bounty Killer and other Jamaican artistes.
“I could remember back in the days of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires (a Jamaican band). They used to have (dancehall artiste and DJ) Admiral Bailey! He even sang a song called Soca Bulldog. Nobody ever had a problem in the past so I don’t see why they should have a problem now. Fighting the local men here is like fighting weself (sic).”
George said if Trinis wanted to expand into other music genres, no one had the power to tell them they should not do that. He added that at one time chutney music was not part of Carnival but it was given a space. “The doors opened and now we have more things to send to the world.”
Soca not just for the season
Entertainer Jerome “Rome” Precilla told Sunday Newsday that defining soca as “Carnival music” limited it to only being played during the season when it should be played throughout the year. He said such a definition was why soca struggled to grow outside of the Caribbean because someone outside of the region who never experienced Carnival would not be able to relate to it.
“Carnival is not owned by TT so we need to get ourselves out of that bubble. It may have originated here but it expanded throughout the world. If we want Carnival to thrive you have to allow music to thrive.”
He added that Carnival was about expressing oneself and if youths were expressing themselves through dancehall, it should not be stopped.
He said local dancehall has been increasing in popularity since November and not allowing the music to be played during Carnival would stifle its growth. “They would have to stop, when clearly the youths love and want the music, and start over in March after not being played for two months. I don’t think it’s fair to them.”
He said there were only about ten really popular songs and six may be played in a night. He said it would not kill anyone to listen to six dancehall songs during a six-hour fete. “But it will stifle the dancehall artiste who could have made some money during the season. It will deprive them from getting a booking.”
In addition, Precilla said when he performed at parang events there would usually be soca artistes there, and the DJs also played soca and dancehall. He asked why no one had a problem with soca or dancehall during Christmas.
“TT is a diverse society with many different aspects to our culture, so don’t come and play hero for Carnival. If you’re standing up for our culture then you have to stand up throughout the year.”
Add a touch of dancehall to the mix
Local dancehall artiste, Akel “Trinidad Ghost” McLean, said he respected DJs’ choices if they did not want to play dancehall in fetes because he loved soca and could listen to it all night without a problem.
He agreed that the Carnival season is usually for soca, but that was when the local dancehall music was not as “strong” as it was now. He said DJs and promoters could “squeeze in a lil thing” at fetes for the enjoyment of everyone.
“We are young artistes that have songs playing all in the US and up the Caribbean. TT dancehall is getting real big so they could mix in a small session, 90 per cent soca and 10 per cent dancehall. They don’t have to overdo it.”
He said he had been to fetes last Carnival and the DJs played his song, More Zessing, mixing it into the soca seamlessly, and people enjoyed it. He stressed that soca should still be front and centre and that people should keep “pushing” it as soca was still not recognised on music streaming sites as an official genre.
Keron Wright, a DJ for 16 years, said DJs had to be aware of the events and the patrons before playing dancehall in fetes.
He said there were some events that were soca-based so dancehall should not be allowed, as well as parties that could have a little of everything, including Jamaican dance hall.
“The job of the DJ is to satisfy the patrons. If they were happy that dance hall played in their event, to me it’s okay. If they leave saying they didn’t like that and they wanted to pelt the DJ with eggs, then we know that wasn’t the time and place for that.”
However, not everyone agreed.
Keep it out of Carnival
Jelan Cumberbatch, managing director of JC Management, a manager and booking agent for a number of local and regional artistes, models and dancers is completely against it.
He said TT culture was calypso, soca, steelpan, and chutney. He said in other countries people appreciated and supported their culture and history and did not mix it with other things.
“It get commercialised now but Carnival started with the slaves expressing themselves. I am a firm believer in soca and calypso all the time in parties during Carnival time. Of course, people are free to sing and do different genres of music but it’s not indigenous to TT and it’s not part of our culture.”
He added that he represented many soca artistes and Carnival was the time they got the attention of the people of TT. He said when other music genres are involved at this time it hindered his clients.
“I think we should preserve some things. That’s my opinion. I think we should focus on pan, calypso, soca, and chutney. That should be at the forefront of all events, especially during Carnival time, and it should continue to be promoted during the year.”