Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Soca and the Soca-man

In our present day, Soca is seen as mainstream in Trinidad and Tobago, to the extent of locally produced music, while other genres of music are sidelined and not supported at the same level. Be it on the radio airwaves or within our cultural sector, Soca music (and its derivatives) are given prominence.

Having sat and listened to the contribution made by Mr. Machel Mantano in tonight's Open Lecture Series, hosted by UWI STA Guild - 'Soca State of Mind', I wondered whether or not, Machel's inference of hard work and strategy for the Soca Monarch 2011 win, was a true reflection of hard work or an instance of entitlement?

Two million dollars was spent on Advantageous or was it Scandalous and White Oak and water? How did that money positively impact the Soca industry and its development, and could one say that this stimulated creative expression or conscious awareness or was it a rat race for the gold? In Ralph Henry's study of the Music Industry of Trinidad and Tobago he stated that, "...things cultural often have a demand component that emanates from the promoter or producer directly. Thus, there is the element of inspiration and the need for self-expression that lead the originator to create a work of art."  One may state that the demand for the music was the main factor. To contend, was the demand made by the public or was the demand created or enforced by the Djs/radio stations to increase popularity and plays?

Mention was made of the Kiskadee Karavan and how it paved the way for the development of local music in Trinidad and Tobago, however those efforts seem futile and unrealised owing to the control of the Soca Mafia on national radio stations daily (media control what is broadcast) and during the Carnival Season. The ‘Kiskadee Karavan’ "was led by millionaire Robert Amar who invested his money in the unleashing of the... music of Trinidad and Tobago. The Karavan revolutionised Trinidad’s music by taking ‘traditional’ forms like [the] Rapso and giving it modern production and promotional methods to take the music to stadiums in the native Trinidad and Tobago. This opportunity uncovered many talents on the ground, and was able to create a series of anthemic musical singles." Source: Wikipedia

The Karavan led to the creation of the internationally acclaimed recording studio, Caribbean Sound Basin. 

Although many benefitted from this in the 90s, today's investment is not as high as before. The value placed on locally produced music of other genres are not significant and can/has caused disenchantment of local producers of music. Yes, Machel has indeed contributed to Soca (has this been a positive or an extensive impact on the industry?), however, it was the late Mr. Garfield Blackman, commonly known as Ras Shorty I  (and in earlier times Lord Shorty I) who invented Soca (defined as a fusion of calypso with Indian rhythms). He (Shorty I) stated that "calypso was dying, and reggae was the new thing - this prompted Lord Shorty to experiment with the calypso rhythm for nearly a decade. He combined Indian rhythm instruments (particularly the dholak, tabla and dhantal) with traditional calypso music. The result was a new energetic musical hybrid called soca. In 1973, Lord Shorty introduced soca to the world with his hit song √Źndrani. The release of his 1974 album Endless Vibrations prompted dozens of musicians to adopt the new soca style." Source: Artdrum, History of Soca Music

In later years, Ras Shorty I spoke about the lack of airplay and its effect on the music industry. In 2001, one of his sons, Sheldon Blackman, Rubadiri Victor and other members of the Recording Industry Association of Trinidad and Tobago (RIATT - currently run by Fabian Alphonso, President) would take to the streets of POS (in front the Red House) and protest for their music to be played on the radio. To date, that struggle continues for many artistes - what are Machel Montano's views on the state of affairs that exist? Does he play a role in curbing the stereotype and discrimination or is he and others a part of the problem?

There is much talk with regards to creating a platform for Soca in International Markets - to what extent has this been achieved? If not, what is prohibitting its growth?

According to Lisa Wickham, CEO of E-Zone Entertainment, “the absence of vital infrastructure means there actually is no music and entertainment industry in Trinidad and Tobago. Because our industry lacks this support, there is neither the financial framework nor are there financial pools from which upcoming artistes can tap into to help build their careers... There’s a dire need for standardisation and regularisation in the industry to create products of the highest calibre and to offset the difficulty associated with attracting local investors.” 

If we are to assess the content or rather the consensus of Soca music, can we say that the music is of a standard/quality that can be packaged and sold on a large scale/mass produced to get the recognition it needs to cross over? Unlike Soca, Calypso has achieved such recognition, yet one may ask why is it considered to be a 'dying artform'? What variables contributed to its demise? How then can we talk about 'popular culture through public education initiatives', if we have not preserved what came before - if we do not know of our history? What then can we draw from? 

On the flip side, should emphasis be placed on Soca music as the main representation/reflection of Trinbago music?

As consumers, what do we want?

Rachael N. Collymore
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