Soca Music: Empty or Saying Something?

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Soca: a derivative of Calypso, a genre of music generally known to cover a variety of topics pertinent to Trinbagonian society, and even regional and global issues.
Calypso: always very slow-placed, and filled with superb storytelling.
Side by side, they tell different stories.
Over the years, Calypso has been revered as the more substance-filled genre. Calypsonians spoke of societal problems, ways to uplift the nation, and either praised or lambasted prominent figures in society. In its early days, although it was faster, Soca was still slow enough to facilitate the same objective as its father – which was to be an outlet for social commentary. While many Soca songs spoke of the life of the “fête”, the lyrics themselves were always well put together, and many of the songs still achieved what Calypso set out to.
Then just as the global society evolved into a faster paced one, so did the RPM of Soca (RPM refers to the speed of a song). This new speed allowed for nothing more than mediocre-at-best lyrics and content, and the intention of this new version of the art form was seemingly to only please people in parties or on the road during Carnival Monday and Tuesday.
For many years, I have heard complaints that Soca music is now nothing other than a genre to enjoy during Carnival parties and on the road, which is actually the truth. The irony of this is that the majority of individuals who I hear this from still end up going to the fêtes, and play mas on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, singing the same songs they criticise.
This is a testament to what I call the ‘copycat’ mentality of Trinbagonians where we are willing to accept mediocrity or less, once the majority are doing so. One person I have been sure to exempt from this, however, is my father, Calypso and Soca legend David Rudder. From conversing with him over the years, I’ve come to the understanding that he believes the mentality of Trinbagonians from his era could have taken us to being somewhat of a powerhouse. From our attitude, to our lifestyle and even our clothing – according to his recollection – we were independent, proud individuals trying to make Trinidad and Tobago not just a little island in the Caribbean, but a strong country with a statement to make. Judging from the content and effect Calypso music on that era, I have no choice but to believe his recollection.
Calypsonians would sing about positively rising out of oppression, getting educated and becoming productive members of society together – generally encouraging citizens to make something out of themselves, and ultimately the nation. It would be important to note that, at that point, Calypso music was popular, and constantly heard during the Carnival season, and beyond. That alone was a direct recipe for the hard working and independent mentality of two generations and further back. However, somewhere along the way, the modus operandi changed.
The general mentality of the country is now different; foreign styles of dress, music and lifestyle all somehow became more appealing than our own, almost being adopted as Trinbagonian. Personally, I cannot identify what the causes behind the change are. Could it possibly be emigrating to powerhouse nations, adopting their lifestyles, and returning to Trinidad later on, and/or the emergence of the USA as a world powerhouse, and trying to copy them to achieve this?
The fact of the matter is that currently we are complete copycats – the music heard for the majority of the year is primarily Jamaican and North American, and often the content is far from constructive. All of our clothing is made by foreign designers, save for the few of us who ardently support local designers. In addition, the lifestyle portrayed in the foreign music is seemingly the lifestyle that we as Trinbagonians are now trying to emulate.
Since there is hardly anyone to lead with the lyrics, and the genre is on the back-burner for the majority of the year, Soca artistes now try to facilitate the genre’s sole, modern purpose – to try to become the best party and road song during the Carnival season. Coupled with the now ever-increasing RPM of the Soca instrumentals, this has left little or no room for any lyrical content other than “jump up and wave”. With these points in mind, Soca has become nothing more than an empty art form to most. To me, however, it is definitely saying something.
How can so much of nothing be saying something to me? The answer is simple. If you look at the content of current Soca music and the setting it caters to, it is an inadvertent social commentary on the general mentality of the modern-day Trini. The “jump up and wave” lyrics are a direct embodiment of our mentality. It’s all about paying full attention to having a good time, instead of addressing important, societal issues that need handling.
As a people, we party and expect issues to handle themselves, instead of realising that the initial change should start with us. This is echoed in the fact that the music with meaning is ignored, while the music that promotes having a good time is widely accepted. While the country faces its problems, we would rather sit back and merely depend on what I deem a dysfunctional government to handle it all, and blame them when things do not go to plan. A prime example of this is crime.
The majority of Trinbagonians complain about how bad crime is in the country, yet probably litter or speed, drink, and wear no seatbelt while driving, which are all against the law. Since these crimes are seen as small, and many people are culprits, no one takes the time to realise that they are also committing a crime, and, therefore, they are hypocrites. They also fail to realise that a reform starts with the little things, and that it is often beneficial to lead by example. To us, a good time in the club translates to a good time for the country until the inevitable happens – the shit hits the fan.
So while not intending to relay a pertinent message, modern Soca music does give us the most important message of all. It is a blueprint of exactly how we shouldn’t be, at least if we want to be a progressive people, and ultimately, a progressive nation. We would do well to fill up the “Dimanche Gras” stands, as much as we would pleasurably purchase tickets for the ridiculously over-priced fetes that we love to go to, so that we may learn something. Unfortunately, the lifestyle we enjoy is that which is portrayed in our now seasonal art form, which probably means that the acknowledgement of it being negative has a one in a 1.3 million chance of happening. Welcome, welcome one and all to the land of fête, Trini to the bone.

socaSoca: a derivative of Calypso, a genre of music generally known to cover a variety of topics pertinent to Trinbagonian society, and even regional and global issues. 

Calypso: always very slow-placed, and filled with superb storytelling. 

Side by side, they tell different stories.

Over the years, Calypso has been revered as the more substance-filled genre. Calypsonians spoke of societal problems, ways to uplift the nation, and either praised or lambasted prominent figures in society. In its early days, although it was faster, Soca was still slow enough to facilitate the same objective as its father – which was to be an outlet for social commentary. While many Soca songs spoke of the life of the “fête”, the lyrics themselves were always well put together, and many of the songs still achieved what Calypso set out to.


Then, just as the global society evolved into a faster paced one, so did the RPM of Soca (RPM refers to the speed of a song). This new speed allowed for nothing more than mediocre-at-best lyrics and content, and the intention of this new version of the art form was seemingly to only please people in parties or on the road during Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

For many years, I have heard complaints that Soca music is now nothing other than a genre to enjoy during Carnival parties and on the road, which is actually the truth. The irony of this is that the majority of individuals who I hear this from still end up going to the fêtes, and play mas on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, singing the same songs they criticise. 

This is a testament to what I call the ‘copycat’ mentality of Trinbagonians where we are willing to accept mediocrity or less, once the majority is doing so. One person I have been sure to exempt from this, however, is my father, Calypso and Soca legend David Rudder. From conversing with him over the years, I’ve come to the understanding that he believes the mentality of Trinbagonians from his era could have taken us to being somewhat of a powerhouse. From our attitude, to our lifestyle and even our clothing – according to his recollection – we were independent, proud individuals trying to make Trinidad and Tobago not just a little island in the Caribbean, but a strong country with a statement to make. Judging from the content and effect Calypso music on that era, I have no choice but to believe his recollection. 

 

“The mentality of Trinbagonians from his era could have taken us to being somewhat of a powerhouse.”

Calypsonians would sing about positively rising out of oppression, getting educated and becoming productive members of society together – generally encouraging citizens to make something out of themselves, and ultimately the nation. It would be important to note that, at that point, Calypso music was popular, and constantly heard during the Carnival season, and beyond. That alone was a direct recipe for the hard working and independent mentality of two generations and further back. However, somewhere along the way, the modus operandi changed.

The general mentality of the country is now different; foreign styles of dress, music and lifestyle all somehow became more appealing than our own, almost being adopted as Trinbagonian. Personally, I cannot identify what the causes behind the change are. Could it possibly be emigrating to powerhouse nations, adopting their lifestyles, and returning to Trinidad later on, and/or the emergence of the USA as a world powerhouse, and trying to copy them to achieve this? 

The fact of the matter is that currently we are complete copycats – the music heard for the majority of the year is primarily Jamaican and North American, and often the content is far from constructive. All of our clothing is made by foreign designers, save for the few of us who ardently support local designers. In addition, the lifestyle portrayed in the foreign music is seemingly the lifestyle that we as Trinbagonians are now trying to emulate. 

Since there is hardly anyone to lead with the lyrics, and the genre is on the back-burner for the majority of the year, Soca artistes now try to facilitate its sole, modern purpose – to produce the best party and road song during the Carnival season. Coupled with the now ever-increasing RPM of the Soca instrumentals, this has left little or no room for any lyrical content other than “jump up and wave”. With these points in mind, Soca has become nothing more than an empty art form to most. To me, however, it is definitely saying something.

 

Soca has become nothing more than an empty art form to most.

How can so much of nothing be saying something to me? The answer is simple. If you look at the content of current Soca music and the setting it caters to, it is an inadvertent social commentary on the general mentality of the modern-day Trini. The “jump up and wave” lyrics are a direct embodiment of our mentality. It’s all about paying full attention to having a good time, instead of addressing important, societal issues that need handling. 

As a people, we party and expect issues to handle themselves, instead of realising that the initial change should start with us. This is echoed in the fact that the music with meaning is ignored, while the music that promotes having a good time is widely accepted. While the country faces its problems, we would rather sit back and merely depend on what I deem a dysfunctional government to handle it all, and blame them when things do not go to plan. A prime example of this is crime. 

The majority of Trinbagonians complain about how bad crime is in the country, yet probably litter or speed, drink, and wear no seatbelt while driving, which are all against the law. Since these crimes are seen as small, and many people are culprits, no one takes the time to realise that they are also committing a crime, and, therefore, they are hypocrites. They also fail to realise that a reform starts with the little things, and that it is often beneficial to lead by example. To us, a good time in the club translates to a good time for the country until the inevitable happens – the sh*t hits the fan.

So while not intending to relay a pertinent message, modern Soca music does give us the most important message of all. It is a blueprint of exactly how we shouldn’t be, at least if we want to be a progressive people, and ultimately, a progressive nation. We would do well to fill up the “Dimanche Gras” stands, as much as we would pleasurably purchase tickets for the ridiculously over-priced fetes that we love to go to, so that we may learn something. Unfortunately, the lifestyle we enjoy is that which is portrayed in our now seasonal art form, which probably means that the acknowledgement of it being negative has a one in a 1.3 million chance of happening. Welcome, welcome one and all to the land of fête, Trini to the bone.

 

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Isaac Foderingham-Rudder

Isaac Foderingham-Rudder is a local singer, songwriter, poet and writer from Petit Valley. The son of Soca legend David Rudder, he is proving with his own work that the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

4 Comments

  1. RichE

    January 10, 2011 at 1:57 am

    Well thought out, anyone with a huge understanding of the music from back then to present day know the truth in most things that were written in your article. Thanks for voice you’ve given to this.

  2. Trini_Mitz

    January 10, 2011 at 4:29 am

    Interesting article, if a little revisionist in the historical view of calypso’s past and generalist in the assessment of the state of Soca and its potential today.

  3. wwilliams

    January 10, 2011 at 7:57 am

    One comment. BPM – Beats Per Minute is for music. RPM – Revolutions Per Minute is usually for engines etc

  4. TS

    January 10, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Isaac, for the most part I agree with you that calypso has more lyrical content than soca. What is your take of the old soca music of Might Sparrow (eg Congo Man, Salt fish, de both ah dem), Kitchener (Sugar Bum Bumm, My Pussy, Gimme the ting), Crazy (cold sweat, she want me for card, nani wine) etc?
    The “older” folk of the day would have deemed their lyrics too crude and complained that calypsonians are not singing “about positively rising out of oppression, getting educated and becoming productive members of society”

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