Music in the Caribbean plays a massive role in the lives, history and cultures of each of these island nations and it is worth familiarising yourself with the various musical genres of the Caribbean before you travel here. Some of the music styles are more well-known internationally than others; these include reggae, calypso, salsa, bachata and merengue, with lots of people heading on dancing holidays in the Caribbean at the moment. However, there are other forms of Caribbean music, such as soca, which are more of a localised phenomenon. While soca may only have a cult following internationally, it is one of the most popular musical genres in the Caribbean, and arguably the most popular music in Trinidad and Tobago.
Soca originated in Trinidad and Tobago and its creation is credited to the musician Garfield Blackman, a.k.a. Lord Shorty. Blackman intentionally invented this new style of music as a reaction to fears among his peers and he that calypso music was fading away in favour of reggae music. Reggae, a music genre which developed in the 60’s, took its influences from ska, mento, older forms of traditional Jamaican and African music, as well as American R&B from Florida and New Orleans. In attempt to counteract the preference for this new form of American-influenced music over the traditional Trinidadian calypso music, Lord Shorty was inspired reinvent calypso music in an attempt to generate fresh interest. He did this by to adding classical Indian musical elements to traditional calypso music and refined the genre over ten years. Fusing classical Indian music and calypso made sense as Indians and Africans form the two largest ethnic groups in Trinidad.
Lord Shorty used Indian traditional instruments such as the dholak, table and dhantal in his new style of calypso. He called this new genre solka, which is said to be a combination of the words soul and calypso, i.e. ‘the soul of calypso’. This led some people to believe that solka was a combination of American soul music and calypso, which is untrue. The story goes that the original spelling of solka, was spelt “soca” by a music journalist, and it was this spelling of the word that stuck. While most sources agree that the word originates from ‘the soul of calypso’, there are also those who argue that the latter part of the word was inspired by the first letter of the Indian alphabet, kah – whose position at the beginning of the alphabet is said to be symbolic of the beginning of a new musical movement. Unfortunately, Lord Shorty has passed away in 2000 and therefore this cannot be verified.
Soca music gained popularity around the Trinidad and Tobago with Lord Shorty’s 1973 hit song, ‘Indrani’. While Lord Shorty was responsible for inventing and introducing soca music, it was Lord Kitchener who upon releasing ‘Sugar Bum Bum’ in 1978 was credited with popularising soca across the Caribbean. Unlike Lord Shorty, Kitchener’s version of soca was racier and more sexually suggestive than his predecessor. Lord Shorty disapproved of this and gradually moved away from soca to work on other musical projects, converting to Rastafarianism and changing his name to Ras Shorty I. He continued to create fusion music, blending gospel and soca music to create a new style called Jamoo.
In 1983, the artist Arrow was credited with popularising soca music internationally with his hit ‘Hot Hot Hot’, which was later released by Buster Poindexter. Other well-known soca hits have included ‘Turn Me On’ by Kevin Lyttle, ‘Follow the Leader’ by Soca Boys, ‘Tempted to Touch’ by Rupee and ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ by Baha Men. If you travel to the Caribbean today you will see that Soca music remains hugely popular but has stemmed off into various sub-genres. These include power soca – a faster version of around 160 beats a minute; groovy soca – slower than power soca with 115 beats a minute; raga soca – a fusion of dancehall and soca; and chutney soca – a fusion of Indian chutney music and soca. Soca in a general sense is characterised by lively, energetic melodies and driving rhythm sections created by steel drums, bass and rhythm guitars, horns, trumpets, trombones, keyboards and synthesizers. The heavy percussion, drum and base sounds of soca music make it impossible not to dance to. Aside from Trinidad and Tobago, other Caribbean islands where you are likely to hear soca include Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and St Lucia.