Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



A Trinidadian genre, claimed by its opponents to be a decadent form of calypso, by supporters to be just another dimension of it, by outsiders as a fusion of soul and calypso; Lord Shorty said 'It's the nucleus of calypso, the soul' (Trinidad Carnival magazine, '79). Originators were Shorty (see entry for Ras Shorty I), calypsonians Maestro (Cecil Hume, b 1945, d 1978 in a car crash) and Shadow, arrangers Ed Watson and Pelham Goddard. Shadow acknowledged Shorty, while Maestro did not record soca until 'Savage' '76 on the Kalinda label (arranged by Goddard, the keyboardist with backing band Charlie's Roots); this was three years after Shorty, who made his first soca song 'Soul Calypso Music' '73 (in Toronto, Canada), included in Endless Vibrations '74 on his own Shorty label, co-arranged by Watson.

In general soca is faster and has more bass than calypso, the singer accompanied by trumpets, trombones, tenor and alto saxes, bass, guitar, keyboards including synthesizers, drums, congas, chorus and percussion. Soca lyrics initially treated the same sort of topics as calypso, but there is a tendency towards blandness aimed at crossover success. Soca exponents also include Superblue (formerly Blue Boy), Kitchener, Sparrow, Black Stalin, David Rudder, Tambu, Crazy, Baron, Duke, Scrunter, Bally, Preacher, Nigel Lewis, De Fosto, Denyse Plummer, and Arrow (b Alphonsus Cassell; d 15 September 2010 of cancer on the island of Montserrat aged 60: his big hit was 'Hot Hot Hot' '83).

A flexible beast, soca has been fused with other forms almost since its inception to create a variety of hybrids. Parang soca is a fusion with Trinidad's Christmas season Latin music parang; Crazy's '78 hit 'Parang Soca' (from LP Super Album) was the first example, followed by his magnificent 'Muchacha' '79 (included in Madness Is Gladness); other notable parang soca hits included 'Hurray Hurrah' '79 and 'Parang, Parang' '80 by Singing Francine, 'Anita' '90 and 'Homemade Wine' '91 by Scrunter (Calypso Monarch '82; crowned first ever National Parang Soca Monarch, Christmas season '94), 'Take Ah Drink' by Poser ('79 Road March winner). Indian or chutney soca mixes soca and East Indian influences like tassa drumming; African-descended calypsonians had experimented with East Indian rhythms and themes since the 1940s, i.e. Mighty Killer's 'Grinding Massala' '47, Shorty's 'Indian Singers' '66 and 'Shanti Om' '79, Sparrow's 'Marajhin' '82 and 'Marajhin Sister' '83; Drupatee Ramgoonai, the first Indo-Trinidadian woman to sing in a calypso tent '87, paved the way in soca mainstream for East Indian artists performing chutney soca with her major hit 'Mr Bissessar' '88; Sonny Mann won the first annual Soca Chutney Monarch Competition '96 with 'Lootola'. Ragga or dance-hall soca, an early '90s blend with the popular Jamaican style, was presaged by soca/dub/reggae fusion hits such as Lord Laro's 'Ire Tempo' '81, Bally's 'Maxi Dub' '89 and Sound Revolution's 'Dance Hall Style' '89; the first significant ragga soca hit, 'Dancehall Soca' '93 by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires (sung and co-written by '94 Road March winner Preacher), unleashed a tidal wave of clones in following years. Rapso: chanting/rhythmic talkover to a calypso/soca-derived musical accompaniment; an early hit was 'Dancin' Shoes' '81 by Network Riddem Band featuring tenacious rapso proselyte Brother Resistance (b 1954, East Dry River, Trinidad), then 'Ring De Bell' '87 (included on Resistance's LP Rapso Take Over); a marginal but apparently insidious movement during '80s and early '90s, because a major outcrop of rapso-influenced songs by established and new artists occurred during '94 and '95 Trinidad Carnival seasons, including Shadow's 'Poverty Is Hell' '94, Homefront's 'Jump Start' '94 (aka 'Rollin' ' from collection Ragga Binghi on Kesskidee). Rapso '94 on Moonshine compiled a new generation of rapso artists; Rudder mixed rapso and chutney soca on his 'The Ballad Of Hulsie X' '95. As the traditionalist National Calypso Monarch contest (annually organized by the Trinidad and Tobago government-run National Carnival Commission [NCC] during Carnival season) had grown an increasingly inappropriate forum for party-oriented soca, the National Soca Monarch competition was independently inaugurated '93 (won by Superblue); it received NCC sponsorship '94 and eligibility to enter was extended '96 with the launch of the International Soca Monarch competition (won by Superblue).