Two years ago Jesse “College Boy Jesse” Stewart inspired a happiness movement with his hit, Happy Song, earning him the 2020 International Groovy Soca Monarch title, a bevy of new fans and the momentum to further catapult his career.
Then, the covid19 onslaught on the world happened just as he was on the cusp of his ambitious career plans. The soca artiste did not escape unscathed. His revenue stream took a major hit as he had no opportunities to perform, and then there was the crushing loss of his mentor and father, Olympian Lennox Stewart, who died last year due to heart failure.
More than ever, Stewart had to embrace his own “good energy” mantra that is a recurring theme in his music.
“The pandemic gave me the opportunity to grow and it strengthened me in ways that I didn’t even know I had the strength for…developing a strong level of patience. It brought me closer to what God had in store for me,” Stewart told Newsday.
“I had to make a lot of changes in terms of my plan. I’ve been on a programme of development and growth for a couple years. At that point in time after the monarch we had plans but we had to shift things a bit and this is where now, I had to get back into creating the music.”
Leaning on his pulsing passion for all things music, Stewart did just that.
During the pandemic, the singer and songwriter said he has released about 15 songs, ten of which made it to the top ten list on the digital soca platform, Soca Source, with two songs making it to number one – No Lie and Live Your Life, produced by Vincentian Parry Jack and DJ Private Ryan respectively.
With his music being downloaded and streamed by fans all across the world on platforms like Spotify and iTunes, Stewart was awarded the 2021 New Artist of the Year title by Soca Source.
“I had great success with that in 2021. We lost revenue with live performances so I worked on the other opportunity of earning revenue through downloads and streams.”
Stewart secured another international win under his belt when his song, Worryless was featured on the Bravo network TV show, The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip.
The reunion of energies
On February 19, Stewart fulfilled another of his dreams when he hosted Soca Love Story, his soca concert with the theme Reunion of Energies.
“I wanted to not just reunite the fans of soca but I wanted to reunite all the energies that came around me that basically moulded who I am as an artiste. So it’s reuniting all these energies on one stage, every single generation of soca, all aspects of soca, being represented on one stage, one night, and that is what the reunion of energy represents.
“The concept of the show basically explains my love and passion for the artform, but at the same time it’s the story of why culture was created, why soca was created to unite the people of Trinidad and Tobago…Calypso being the mother and then leading into all these different aspects of groovy soca, power soca and also chutney soca.”
The show featured Stewart’s soca friends including Neil "Iwer" George, Terri Lyons, and his mentors Ronnie McIntosh and Dexter "Blaxx" Stewart.
“The cast is people I have worked with and who have played a role as a mentor in my career throughout the years. Things that people didn’t really see and didn’t know behind the scenes and I wanted to highlight that.
“Ronnie McIntosh has been a real uncle for me throughout the years as a mentor. And, another thing a lot of people don’t know is Blaxx is a living legend and he is actually family, my blood, he is my cousin. He also played a major role in guiding me and nurturing my talent in the industry.”
The 33-year-old said he was in support of the government’s Taste of Carnival push, telling Newsday, “A lot of different nations hold on to our culture and they take it as their own and they benefit from it, so I believe that any format at all of showcasing our culture is very important and I appreciate the government for attempting something like this.”
Daddy was a legend
Stewart described his father, Lennox Stewart who died in June last year at age 71, as a “literal legend.”
"In our household, just looking on first hand at someone who had achieved so much and being so humble, that by itself inspired me in terms of you don’t need to be different or treat people differently because of what you have achieved for yourself.”
Stewart’s father represented Trinidad and Tobago in the men’s 800m event at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. The soca star said his dad was a Hall of Famer at the University of North Carolina and Brevard College, showing that you could achieve anything once you are dedicated and work hard.
“Once in my life I wanted to be a professional footballer and when I told daddy that, he told me straight up, ‘you not working hard enough.’ Seeing first-hand his success story and him telling me I had to work harder, it motivated me and showed me that I needed to do more every single day.
“It’s not about what people expect, you actually have to do the extra work. I apply that throughout every different aspect of my life – academics, sports and now music. Dedicating and giving my all and full sacrifice towards the task and that is basically how he influenced me as a person, as an artist.”
The stage is my happiness
Stewart considers himself a patriot of TT culture, something he attributes to his dad and his passion for music which dates back to his time as a first-year student at the Enterprise Government Primary School.
“Soca music, calypso music, our culture, I’ve always been a patriot and I think that came from my father. We always would be proud of who we are as Trinbagonians and locked in to showcase and publicise that to the world.
“Music has been a passion. It’s just that one thing, when I wake up that I want to do everyday for the rest of my life. I really found happiness in music. I found something that I really love – the stage is my happiness.”
Stewart said he wears many industry hats, including his position as a director in the first soca record label, Zigboi.
“We’re responsible for so much artistes throughout the years, managing myself and Mr Killer. We’ve also worked with Terri Lyons and Aaron Duncan.”
In addition, he has written songs on numerous occasions, writing for some of the biggest names in soca locally and regionally, among them Machel Montano, Skinny Fabulous, Lyrikal, Allison Hinds, Terri Lyons, Orlando Octave, Raymond Ramnarine and Rikki Jai to name a few.
Stewart said a song he wrote for Montano and Skinny Fabulous, Go Hard, was featured on ESPN and Fox Sports.
The artiste had this advice for young people with ambitions to enter the soca business.
“It’s about you being truly passionate…Believe in yourself first. Many of us face situations where nobody really believe in us. Trust God. You must have that spiritual foundation and believe that through God all things are possible.”
Stewart said in the next five years he plans to explore the world and get soca music on new platforms.
“College Boy Jesse will be a part of the movement working towards building the artform and culture on greater platforms where the music is more than just a season, it’s more than just a Carnival and it could basically fit for different festivals and be appreciated for other things apart from just Carnival.”