Since Imani Ray started visiting TT at the age of four, feel good moments like bathing by the standpipe near her family’s countryside home in Tabaquite are the ones she most fondly recalls.
For her, the experiences were not only different from her life in the US where she was born and raised but are her earliest recollections of connecting to her Trini roots. Ray was born in New York to Trinidadian mother Roxanne James and Cuban/American father Michael Patterson. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
“My roots helped set me apart from kids in America and I just felt I had this thing that made me unique.
“That was my culture and I embraced it because I felt like it was the best thing in the world,” Ray, 25, told Sunday Newsday.
Today, her TT roots is bringing new joy to her life through soca which she started singing in 2013. Previously a dancer, she no longer felt joy in dancing after the death of her father in 2011.
“With soca music I felt a joy again. Soca music is about positivity and happiness.
“It’s the obvious reason of how it makes me feel and it’s just about transferring that energy to other people.”
Soca is also in her DNA. Her great-grandfather performed in calypso tents frequently under the stage name The Mighty Pie, which has been a motivation for her to continue his legacy.
“When I decided to sing and start doing music my grandfather informed me that it really made him happy. I was continuing what his father did.”
Since 2013 she has released eight songs and says the focus has not been on quantity but rather the quality of music and building her name. To her, music is a language with the ability to give hope and she is now in a better space thanks to soca.
This year she was able to speak that language on one of the most recognised stages in soca, the International Soca Monarch (ISM) competition. A newcomer to the ISM, she was one of only six women to perform in this year’s semi-final round.
On performing her 2020 release Take Jam in the Power Soca Monarch semis she said: “I just had the mindset of going on there and just showing them Imani Ray.
“It was not as bad as I thought. I thought they were not going to like me and then I got on the stage and it was a totally different feeling.”
Take Jam was written with assistance by Darryl Gervais and produced by Precision Productions. It is one of three songs on the Yuh Bad Riddim, which also features Akeem “Preedy” Chance and Kerwin Du Bois.
When she was approached by Kasey Phillips of Precision Productions with the possibility of doing a song on the riddim, she knew she wanted a song with “attitude that made a statement” and showed her versatility.
“When people meet me, they think ‘she’s so sweet’, but I’m usually like ‘wait you see my other side’. I wanted that for Take Jam.”
While she gave her best efforts at the semis she failed to qualify for the finals on Fantastic Friday (February 21). Notably, no women qualified for the finals.
“Females really need their year when it comes to the soca industry.
“I want to see more women getting respect and recognition. They are really making a mark on the soca industry,” she said.
She notes that artistes like Patrice Roberts, Nessa Preppy, Nailah Blackman, Nadia Batson, Destra Garcia and Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez – the only woman to win both power and groovy soca monarch titles in the same year, 2009 – continue to make invaluable contributions to soca and she is inspired by them. She believes the collaboration and support will continue elevating the profile of women in the soca. Her dream collaboration is with Batson, and although the two have never met, she is deeply admirable of Batson’s song writing skills and stage presence.
While Ray’s qualification to the overall semis was a dream come true, she feels a technicality in the ISM rules may have placed her in the wrong category.
The rules state that songs with beats 134 beats per minute (bpm) and below must enter the groovy category. Songs with a bpm of 135 and above must enter the power category.
Ray’s song had a bpm of exactly 135, which was the same as fellow riddim artiste Preddy, who qualified for the semis of the groovy category and eventually made it through to the finals.
Following the semis, she tweeted, “People want to know why I entered into the power category with Take Jam. The rules clearly state that if the song bpm is 135 and up its a power song. Had I known I could have entered into groovy with it I would have.”
On the technicality she said, “With me being new to this, I didn’t know any better. Despite that I’m just more thankful that I was on the stage.
“It’s like honestly you just have to make the best of the situation.”
She is looking forward to Carnival 2021 and has only dropped one song this year to focus on interviews and build her name. Seeing the reaction to Take Jam, she wants to maximise on the song’s energy and take it to another level. She wants her music to have attitude.
Long term, she’s inspired by Beyonce’s hard work to take her music to another level.
“What Beyonce does to prepare and put on show, that’s where I want to go with my music.
“I don’t want to just perform any and every year for the rest of my life. I really want to be able to put on full-on televised productions and things like that.”
In the end, she connects it all to her dad who was the reason she turned to music. She believes he would have been supportive of her music career. She recalled at the age of 14 when she had told him she wanted to sing and he proposed to connect her to someone in Los Angeles for voice lessons. She said she knew she would have received his support.