Soca music (also defined by Lord Shorty, its inventor, as the "Soul Of Calypso") is a genre of music that originated within a marginalized subculture in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1970s, and developed into a range of styles by the 1980s and later. Soca was initially developed by Lord Shorty around 1972/1973 in an effort to improve traditional calypso which seemed to be on its last legs in Trinidad by the start of the 1970s with the rise in popularity of reggae from Jamaica and soul & funk from USA with the younger generation. A sound project was started in 1970 at KH Studios, Sea Lots in Trinidad, to find a way to record the complex calypso rhythm in a new multi-track era. Musicians involved in the initiative were Robin Imamshah (guitar, project lead), Angus Nunez (bass), Errol Wise (Drums), Vonrick Maynard (Drums), Clarence James (Percussion), Carl Henderson (Keyboards), David Boothman (strings). Some of the early songs recorded at the KH Studios that benefitted from this recording project are “Indrani” by Lord Shorty and "Calypso Zest" by Sensational Roots both recorded in 1972. Later came the soca hits “Endless Vibrations” and “Sweet Music” by Lord Shorty recorded in 1974 and 1975 respectively and “Second Fiddle” by Ella Andall recorded in 1975. In 1976 “Savage” by Maestro and “Trinidad Boogie” by Last Supper (composed by Robin Imamshah) also benefitted from the improving multi-track recording technology at KH Studios. Soca is an offshoot of kaiso/calypso, with influences from chutney, cadence, funk and soul.
Soca has evolved in the last 20 plus years primarily through musicians from various Anglophone Caribbean countries including Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Grenada, and Saint Lucia . There have also been significant productions from artists in Venezuela, Canada, Panama, Guatemala, United States, United Kingdom and Japan.
The "godfather" of soca was a Trinidadian man named Garfield Blackman who rose to fame as "Lord Shorty" with his 1963 hit "Cloak and Dagger" and took on the name "Ras Shorty I". He started out writing songs and performing in the calypso genre. A prolific musician, composer and innovator, Shorty experimented with fusing calypso and elements of Indo-Caribbean music for nearly a decade before unleashing "the soul of calypso", soca music.
Shorty was the first to define his music as "soca" and with "Indrani" in 1973 and "Endless Vibration" (not just the song but the entire album) in 1975, calypso music took off in another direction. Later, in 1975, Shorty visited his friend Maestro in Dominica where he stayed (at Maestro's house) for a month while they visited and worked with local cadence artists. There, Maestro experimented with calypso and cadence ("cadence-lypso"). A year later Maestro died in an accident in Dominica and his loss was felt deeply by Shorty, who penned "Higher World" as a tribute.
In Dominica, Shorty had attended an Exile One performance of cadence-lypso at the Fort Young Hotel, and collaborated with Dominica's 1969 Calypso King, Lord Tokyo, and two calypso lyricists, Chris Seraphine and Pat Aaron in the early 1970s, who wrote him some Creole lyrics. Soon after Shorty released a song, "Ou Petit", with words like "Ou dee moin ou petit Shorty" (meaning "you told me you are small Shorty"), a combination of calypso, cadence and Creole. Shorty's 1974 Endless Vibrations and Soul of Calypso brought soca to its peak of international fame.
Soca developed in the late 1960s and grew in popularity in the early 1970s. Soca's development as a musical genre included its fusion with calypso, cadence, and Indian musical instruments—particularly the dholak, tabla and dhantal—as demonstrated in Lord Shorty's compositions "Ïndrani" and "Shanti Om".
Soca has grown since its inception to incorporate elements of funk, soul, zouk, and dance music genres, and continues to blend in contemporary music styles and trends. Soca has also been experimented with in Bollywood films, Bhangra, in new Punjabi pop, and in disco music in the United States.
Soca simply means the "Soul Of Calypso", but the name has nothing to do with the fusion of American soul music and calypso as Soca is rhythmically a fusion of African/Calypso and East Indian rhythms. Soca's history is multi-faceted. Regarding its name, Lord Shorty initially spelled his musical hybrid as "sokah" and stated in a 1979 interview with Carnival Magazine that "I came up with the name soca. I invented soca. And I never spelt it s-o-c-a. It was s-o-k-a-h to reflect the East Indian influence."
Soca music has evolved like all other music over the years, with calypsonians experimenting with other Caribbean rhythms.
Some examples are the following:
Chutney soca is original soca performed with a more chutney styled form; mainly performed by chutney musicians. It is a style that has dated back to India, most of the songs have "Hindi" lyrics.
Ragga soca is a fusion of soca and the former artistic lyrical delivery of Jamaican artists known as "dubbing". It is dancehall and contemporary calypso, which has an uptempo beat with moderate bass and electronic instruments.
Parang soca or soca parang is a combination of calypso, soca, Venezuelan and Latin music. It originated in Trinidad and is most often sung in Spanish.
Steelband soca is soca using steel pans which are types of drum often used in soca and calypso music; it became so popular that it became its own musical genre. The steel pan originated in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Steel pans are handmade, bowl-like metal drums crafted so that different drum sections produce different notes when struck. Steelbands are groups of musicians who play songs entirely on steel drums. There are many types of steel pans, each with its own set of pitches.
Groovy soca was pioneered by Robin Imamshah with his composition "Frenchman". This growing style focuses on melody in soca, partly because of criticism of soca's ubiquitous 'jump and wave'-only lyrical and musical content. It features sensual vocals over mid-tempo soca rhythms, and very often elements of zouk and ragga soca. Today you will find Groovy Soca infused with R&B tones and lyrical style along with melodious African rhythms.
Bouyon soca, sometimes referred to as "jump up soca", is a fusion genre that typically blends old bouyon rhythms from the '90s and soca music. Bouyon soca is a term coined by non-Dominican producers and musicians who wish to attribute the current success of bouyon music to other islands. In its native Dominica, the concept of bouyon soca is unheard of. Bouyon is a very specific and original genre and is very much distinguishable from its "colleague" soca.
While there may have been the occasional fusion, bouyon has always maintained a very clear, recognizable and obviously different style from soca. This style of bouyon music originated in Dominica, but is also very popular in Antigua, Saint Lucia, Guadeloupe and Martinique.
The term power soca was coined in the early 1990s in Trinidad and Tobago as a faster paced version of calypso music which appealed to the younger partygoers at the time. Calypsonian and soca artist Superblue, formerly known as Blue Boy of Trinidad. Power soca today is known for its high bpm (ranging from 155–163) and its aggressive drums/percussions and dark synths. Today, it has transcended from its original sound of darkness into a more light and playful sound but has kept its foundation of fast-paced rhythms.
Soca music is based on a strong rhythmic section that is often recorded using synthesized drum sounds and then sequenced inside computers; however, for live shows, the live human drummer emulates the recorded version, often using electronic drums to trigger drum samples. The drum and percussion are often loud in this genre of music and are sometimes the only instruments to back up the vocal. Soca is indeed defined by its loud, fast percussion beats. Synthesizers are used often in modern soca and have replaced the once typical horn section at 'smaller' shows. Electric and bass guitars are found very often and are always found in a live soca band. A horn section is found occasionally in live soca bands mostly for the 'bigger' shows. It usually consist of two trumpets and a trombone, with saxophones being part of the section from time to time. Invariably other metal instruments may include cowbell or automobile brake drum.
International Soca Monarch Competition
The International Soca Monarch Competition is a soca music award show that is held annually in Trinidad and Tobago's capital, Port of Spain. This competition is the most well-known event for soca artists and soca lovers all around the world. The International Soca Monarch Competition was originally developed by a cultural benefactor named William Munro who aspired to create a new, unique and exhilarating experience where Soca artists from all the different Caribbean islands could let their talents shine through to billions of people worldwide. A colleague of Munro's, Gregory Fernandez was the first person to invest in The International Soca Monarch Competition by contributing TT$35,000 to get the show where Munro wanted it to be. After much conflict, debate and planning, the first show took place in 1993 at The Spectrum in Port of Spain where the first-place winners were awarded a considerable sum of TT$25,000. This was possible thanks to Trinidad and Tobago's official Government and their undying support of the International Soca Monarch Competition. Renowned Soca artists such as Machel Montano, Kerwin Du Bois, Patrice Roberts, Superblue and Destra Garcia have all performed and won Groovy Soca Monarch and Power Soca Monarch awards in the past. The 2014 International Soca Monarch Competition awarded Machel Montano the first place prize in the Power Soca category after a highly enthusiastic and energetic performance of his huge hit "Ministry of Road". Kerwin Du Bois came in first in the Groovy Soca Monarch category, becoming the first artist in many years to dethrone Machel Montano from his superior reign of first place in that category. Today, the extremely competitive event awards first-place winners with $2 million, provided by various sponsors as well as the Trinidad and Tobago Government. Corporations and organizations such as KFC, Ford, Monsters Energy Drink, Caribbean Airlines and the Hyatt Regency and many more are all sponsors for Soca competition. With the intention to "take culture to a brand new level", the International Soca Monarch Competition gives a chance for many talented Soca artists to display their gifts and showcase the work they have been putting together for the past year. These artists are able to widen their fan-base and achieve extreme amounts of fame by showcasing their songs and talents through such a widespread event that is becoming more and more popular as time goes on. The Soca Monarch Foundation is now starting to be recognized by many people of different cultural backgrounds rather than just Caribbean backgrounds, which gives hope to the idea that Soca music is quickly becoming universal. Even though The International Soca Monarch Competition is located in a place where Soca music was birthed and continues to be most popular, it not only attracts a lot of attention from people who live in Trinidad and Tobago but has expanded to peak the interests in Westernized countries such as Canada and America.
The competition has recently gained so much worldwide attention that the concept of "Soca Tourism" has emerged. This newly developed "Soca Tourism" phenomenon is greatly supported by the Trinidadian government. Every year, the competition is aired on the televisions of those living in Trinidad and Tobago and is streamed live through various websites, making it easier for people all across the world to watch live as the most important moments in Soca history take place. As the Soca Monarch Foundation continues to expand their ideas, the next innovative idea is to develop a Pay-Per-View notion that will allow people to receive good quality live streaming of the show on their televisions and not only on computer screens, tablets and smart phones. Since many individuals do not have the luxury to easily travel to Trinidad and Tobago during the year, the feature of being able to watch the Soca Monarch Competition on televisions at home will be a huge success since Soca music is becoming more prevalent in the lives of a diverse number of people today.