It’s taken 15 years but, soca artists seem to have finally heeded Ajala’s call to, “Bring down the rhythm” of the music. And what has emerged for Trinidad Carnival 2012 is the most delectable ear candy – a soundtrack that is at once mellow, lushly soulful and oozing with sweetness.
Instead of belting out songs designed to make partygoers ‘jump like a racehorse on a track’, the artists have woken up to the importance of, and delivered, music with strong instrumentation and melody, combined with beautiful vocals that exude passion, sentimentality and an all-round good vibe. It makes for music that’s great to listen to, as well as guaranteed to fill any dance floor. More than that, however, is the fact that soca has, in effect, gone back to its roots.
One of the best exemplars of the trend so far this season is the Precision Productions -produced track, The People’s Champion. The song, recorded with a live band, features an infectious rhythm guitar riff, soaring keyboards and a step-kick drum beat which together make it irresistible. It’s topped with the vocals of Benjai (Rodney Le Blanc), who imprints it with his inimitable chants and scats. The song had barely been released one week, and already fans were predicting Benjai’s first Groovy Soca Monarch title; for that to happen, Benjai would of have had to have seen off stiff competition from gifted singer-songwriter-producer, Kerwin Du Bois, who will be aiming to take the title in his own right after having penned last year’s winning tune.
Du Bois has, rather unassumingly, been pushing a pared-down j’ouvert vibe for a number of years – his signature being tight harmonies and incisive storytelling. Remember the superb Pavement with Farmer Nappy in 2009? In 2011, he flourished in the groovy soca arena with Wotless, a song he co-wrote with its singer Kees Dieffenthaller. The song so defined the year that it was named Soca Song of the Year at the International Soca Awards last November in New York.
For 2012, Du Bois has returned stronger with a mix of duets and solo efforts, all hovering nicely around the mid-tempo range. One of his early hits for the season, whose popularity has endured, is Bacchanalist, on the strings-infused Antilles Riddim. Another of his releases, I Am Soca, on which he pairs perfectly with Patrice Roberts, pulses with sensuality as well as a delightful interplay between saxophone and the rhythm guitar – an instrument that traditionally is synonymous with soca and calypso.
Miss Roberts has a rich pedigree in groovy soca, albeit with a heavy ragga-soca slant. Her expressive, raspy vocals are ideally suited to the genre, and ever since she released Sugar Boy in 2007 she has consistently produced songs in a similar vein. From Always Be, on which she dueted with Zan, to 2010’s Neighbour, an indulgent lavway with Bajan superstar Edwin Yearwood, Roberts’ performances are always intense and full of sincerity. Now she has a brace of strong tunes for 2012, the best of which is Slow Wine, a song in which her voice flows melodiously over a driving bass line.
It would be wrong to write an article about groovy soca without acknowledging the artists who, in the early 2000s, paved the way for the explosion we are witnessing today. Although they are no longer together, Terry Seales and Michelle Sylvester played a pivotal role in embedding mellow soca in carnival, with hits such as Dip Down Low; away from Trinidad, the international success of Kevin Lyttle’s Turn Me On and Rupee’s Tempted To Touch, cemented the place of groovy soca, not only in carnival, but in world music.
I wonder what Ajala must be thinking as he scans the playlists this season, and observes the Caribbean trade winds of change blowing a new chapter of soca history into being. He might, like Kerwin Du Bois, want to declare: “When yuh feel dat the soca done, well is more soca to come...”