IN a “normal” year, the countdown to Carnival Monday and Tuesday would have already started. But this is no normal year. There are no regular preparations for Carnival 2021. The physical Carnival events, including the Parade of the Bands, have altogether been cancelled due to the covid19 pandemic.
Industries usually dependent on the months before Carnival to turn a profit, are now left with the task of innovating to thrive and remain profitable. TT’s soca industry is no different.
To whet the appetites of soca lovers, some soca artistes would have already begun feeding teasers to their fans, most keeping their heavy-hitting songs for a month or two before Monday and Tuesday
But what happens now with no Carnival to look forward to? How are stakeholders in the soca industry expecting to generate revenue in the absence of performances at local, regional and international events? Soca artistes must now go back to the drawing board.
One such artiste Mical Teja is still working on a survival strategy:
“Live performances do bring the largest revenue for soca artistes. Most of us are still trying to figure out how to make money at this time. We are in uncharted waters so most of us are learning by trial and error,” said the 23-year-old producer and songwriter.
Teja is one of four emerging soca artistes who spoke to Newsday about their drive to innovate their artistry to meet covid19 challenges. While Teja is a relatively new artiste, he is not new to the soca industry. He has written and produced music for the likes of Machel Montano, Destra Garcia, Nailah Blackman and Patrice Roberts.
His 2020 soca releases include Bumper Murder which was a collaboration with Kerwin Du Bois, and Birthday which was featured on the popular Knock About Riddim.
“Many soca artistes are using streaming platforms to generate income. For example, I’ve done shows via Zoom and Instagram but the income from streaming isn’t as much as (it would be) from actual live shows.” For now, it is difficult to generate revenue from local audiences on music streaming platforms. But Teja has had more luck with international audiences. Either way, he notes soca artistes must provide more ways for audiences to connect with and consume their music. He continues to write and produce both for himself and other artistes. He recently released Banana Clip and the Red Carpet Riddim featuring a variety of artistes.
“I’ve been using this time to really experiment as an artiste. The stakeholders of soca music should use this time, as an opportunity, to show the public and the world that soca is year-round. It should not be seasonal,” he said.
Like Teja, newcomer Kayla Wilson, 26, thinks the absence of a traditional Carnival season will be helpful in shifting the pattern of soca releases.
“This is definitely a good time to start pushing soca year-round and not just for a few months of the year. In my opinion, it will definitely give us a chance to be more known and may also be easier for a small artist, like myself, in terms of promoting,” Wilson said.
Known to fans simply as “Kayla”, Wilson also thinks soca artistes should experiment musically and lyrically. She is experimenting with dancehall music.
“We have the chance, now more than ever, to experiment with our music and bring a different sound.”
Making her soca debut this year with the single Bumper on the Loose, Wilson did not foresee the challenges ahead due to covid19. Now, using YouTube and SoundCloud, she is finding new ways to connect with fans and hopefully generate revenue.
“Having soca streaming on all major streaming platforms gives us a chance to be known internationally. Soca artistes can definitely use streaming as a way to mainstream soca and possibly earn an income from it.”
Wilson is using the time to write new songs and work on her song-writing skills. She hopes to release music throughout 2021.
“I have been able to record so much music. I have a lot to release and will be releasing very soon. I’ve found different sounds and melodies within myself,” she said.
Aisha Noel’s music can be found on music streaming platforms like Apple Music, Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon. Noel thinks these platforms provide soca artistes with the chance to connect to global audiences. And it has worked. She has gained fans in parts of Asia and the US.
“Covid19 took away to the ability to travel as well as perform in big events, fetes and parties. For many artistes, the focus now has to switch to online platforms where income can be generated. It has no doubt become more important now. I’ve been putting greater focus on promoting (my music on) them through social media.”
Noel, 26, entered the soca arena in 2019 with her debut single Soca Fever. Like Wilson, she thinks soca artistes need to focus on being musically, lyrically, and aesthetically innovative with their music.
“My personal style as an artist and songwriter hasn’t been to stick to a traditional vibe when it comes to soca. To a large degree, I enjoy bringing a freshness in my writing and vocals. I do this by fusing soca with other genres and elements."
In past songs, Noel has experimented with Afropop and dancehall songs. Commending soca artistes like Aaron “Voice” St Louis, whose music explores different themes, Noel is optimistic about the future of soca. She thinks TT’s soca industry will innovate and adapt to the uncertain times ahead.
“New soca releases are still being heard on the nation’s airwaves. That’s as a result not only of artists, songwriters and producers feeling the need to create but because the people want more soca,” said Noel who recently released a song called More.
Newcomer Omari “Sco” Wright, 29, hopes soca artistes use this opportunity to ensure that year-round soca releases become a norm. But he does not see a change in terms of the overall composition of soca music.
With carnivals in North America, Europe and the Caribbean often using TT’s soca music, Wright explained that some essence of traditional power soca must be maintained even if efforts are made to make soca more appealing to wider audiences.
“Our Carnival kick-starts carnival celebrations for the year. We (local artistes) should be prepared with the same high-tempo songs we're accustomed to in the event that Carnival is not cancelled in the other countries (in 2021),” said Wright.
Originally a hip-hop and R&B singer, Wright made his soca debut this year with Numbers. While Carnival 2021 is cancelled, Wright’s enthusiasm to make music is not. He has been working on new music which he hopes to release soon.
“With the announcement of no Carnival 2021, I could safely say I feel the same as at least 90 per cent of Trinis…heartbroken. Everyone in the soca industry should be using this time to find a way to remove the seasonal aspect and mentality that comes with soca.”
With uncertainty as to when live performances may be possible again, Wright said soca artistes must now work towards monetising their online platforms. Especially music streaming platforms like YouTube and social media platforms like Instagram. Though it may take some time, artistes must make the push as music streaming is the future.
“Artistes should definitely use this time to mainstream the streaming of soca on platforms, especially the virtual platforms. It’s the future regardless of covid19.
“I've been using streaming platforms. Yes, it has its challenges but, for the most part, it has been successful and quite an experience,” said Wright.
Keep up to date with the new music releases by these artistes by following them on Instagram at the following usernames: @micalteja (Mical Teja), @sheiskaylawilson (Kayla Wilson), @aishanoelmusic (Aisha Noel) and @life_of_sco (Omari “Sco” Wright).