Soca Music, the Heart and Soul of Trinidad & Tobago's Carnival!

This is a re-post taken from the 'Pages' section of this Blog. I decided to place this in the general blog space to make it more accessible in the webspace. Please share your comments with us!

Soca music is fusion-style dance music that evolved out of the bowels of Calypso Music in Trinidad and Tobago. The core of the new music included Calypso and rhythms from Trinidad and Tobago's East Indian community. Other musical vibes have been added to the core of the music and this continues to this day. American Soul was also added to the mix. When Lord Shorty said that Soca is the 'Soul of Calypso' many concluded that he was talking about American Soul music... they were wrong! He meant the heart and soul/core of Calypso music!

Today, we have Bashment Soca, Jab Soca, Island Soca, Ragga Soca (not to be confused with Saint Vincent's Ragga Soca which we conclude is Groovy Soca), and infiltrations of Zouk and Cadencelypso and European vibes in Soca. . This music style has supplanted Calypso music as the music of choice for all Caribbean style Carnivals.

Originally named "Sokah" by Lord Shorty, the creator of the original Soca rhythms, Soca Music is now the heart & soul and musical engine that drives Carnivals of the Caribbean and North America. On this page, you will find some interesting facts on Trinidad's Soca! Let's be clear about one thing, it was Lord Shorty's idea to improvise using Indian instruments and he was ably assisted in so doing by some very talented musicians. Some of these musicians may say Shorty did not create Soka alone and that may be true... it was a team effort but it was Shorty's ideas and for that reason, he was credited with the creation of the music. He not only improvised but he named the music! All those with a claim to the creation of the music made their claim after the fact... think about it, Lord Shorty was there from the beginning, creating and naming... who else can make that claim?

For those of you visiting this blog/page for the very first time, and for those who are curious about the music called Soca, the following music clip will help you understand how the music is structured. Keep in mind that this was done during the 'early period' of the music genre's creation - it continues to change today to the point that the various music fusions have blurred the lines between what can legitimately be called Soca. However, it is apparent that there is a labeling issue where almost all of the new music today falls under the banner of Soca with the exception of the newly created fusion called 'Island Pop'.

In the audio clip below you will hear the voice of  Garfield Blackman aka Lord Shorty with his band the Vibrations International explaining the structure of the Soca rhythm.

Please be advised that the music is presented here for your listening pleasure and for promotional purposes only ("Fair Use" Musical Content Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976). Lend me your ears... Enjoy!
♫ Please press the play button to listen (small triangle below).
Vibrations Groove - Lord Shorty

The Story of Soca
If you always wanted to know the story, the history of Sokah Music that became known as Soca well here is an excerpt from an article written by Jocelyne Guilbault back in 1997 that tells the Story of the music genre's birth and transition in the formative years (early '70's period).

The complete article is titled, "The Politics of Labelling Popular Music in the English Caribbean" and as mentioned in the first paragraph, was written by Jocelyne Guilbault. I am pleased to publish part of this article today specifically because of the onslaught by many who want to discredit Garfield Blackman as the creator of music. As I have said to many, and in so many different situations, the music has changed but it was Lord Shorty who created the foundation that the music genre was built on. From the early days of Cloak and Dagger to Indrani, Endless Vibrations, and in 1976 Soul of Calypso one can hear the changes taking place in the music even with Lord Shorty. Clearly, there was a fusion of different styles of music but the naming of the genre and the foundation for the music was all a result of the work done by Lord Shorty!

Read the article and take note of how Shorty took the accent of the East Indian music and placed it on the drum set pattern to create the 'New Sound' that was eventually accepted, used throughout the Caribbean, and claimed by many! However, if you are smart enough and follow the music trail you will see all roads initially led to and from Trinidad and the musical genius known as Garfield Blackman!

Take a look at the comments posted to this article and take special note of the points discussed by Socapro (SocaPhD)!

The following is the excerpt taken from the 1997 article written by Joycelyne Guilbault:
From Trinidad, the term "sokah" (later spelled "soca") was coined by Ras Shorty I (Garfield Blackman, formerly called Lord Shorty) around 1973, following his musical experiments in mixing East Indian elements with calypso.3 In an interview reported by Roy Boyke, published in the 1979 Carnival magazine, Ras Shorty I described the circumstances which prompted him to put forward a new music label and a new sound.

I was trying to find something because the talk was that calypso was dying and reggae was the thing. I thought the musicians in the country had a right to get together and use their minds to renew or improve calypso somewhat. Everybody was putting it down... Calypso was dying a natural death. And to come up with a new name and a new form in calypsoul was what Sparrow was trying to do all along. Sparrow tried to add a lot of things to calypso and it didn't work. I felt it needed something brand new to hit everybody like a thunderbolt... 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.(quoted by Ahyoung, 1981: 98)

If one of Ras Shorty I's goals in creating sokah was indeed to "renew or improve calypso," another was to unite the East Indian and the African.4 Through music, he believed, he could help fight "racialism" among East Indians and Africans. In his view, "the fusion of the music can do that. " (personal interview, 6 February 1997). Another of his goals was to attract young people to listen to Trinidadians' own music. Around that time, he remarked that youth preferred to listen to reggae and, furthermore, had come to believe that, to accomplish anything, one had to go to America. In creating a new sound, his aim was to fight this tendency by leading Trinidadians to believe in themselves and to support their own musicians and music.

The term "sokah," Ras Shorty I explained, comes from the combination of two syllables: "The 'so' comes from calypso. And the 'kah,' to show the East Indian thing in the rhythm, right?... I selected the syllable 'kah ' because it represents the first letter of the Indian alphabet" (personal interview, 6 February 1997). Interestingly, Mungal Patasar, a Trinidadian musician trained in Indian classical music, noted that the selection of the syllable "kah" by Ras Shorty I had been particularly appropriate to symbolize the influence of Indian rhythm since, by being the first letter of the alphabet, it signals the start of a movement and, in addition, "kah" is the first syllable of the name of the beat "Kaherwa". It could be concluded that, even if admittedly unaware of these meanings at the time, Ras Shorty I intuitively chose the right syllable to convey not only the inclusion of the East Indian influence but that of rhythm in particular, in his music fusion.

Even though it was not his first experiment in mixing East Indian and African musical elements,5 Ras Shorty I's song "Indrani" recorded in 1973 represents a key moment in the official launching on the market of the music he chose to call "sokah." The reaction to the song was, however, mixed in both communities. As Ras Shorty I explained, because the lyrics talked about an East Indian woman who, after drinking rum, would lure her man into the bedroom, the East Indians thought that he was desecrating their women and, by extension, their music as well. And because the arrangements of the song featured instruments associated in Trinidad to the East Indians' traditions, including the dholak, the dhantal, and the mandolin, the Africans thought that he was spoiling the music---meaning, calypso.

Despite the complaints, Ras Shorty I produced the year after (1974) an album entitled The Love Man, which continued in the same vein as "Indrani" and, with the exception of one song, featured a dholak on every track. After this album was again rejected for using East Indian instruments, Ras Shorty I decided for his 1975 recording to change the instrumentation. While in his new arrangements he removed the East Indian musical instruments, he nonetheless kept the rhythms they played by distributing them on traditional Western instruments, in particular the drum set and the guitar.6 According to Ras Shorty I, some of the musicians, including the keyboard and the conga players, found it too difficult to play the new rhythms and reverted to those they knew best---the traditional calypso rhythmic patterns. The mixture of the new rhythms combined with the traditional ones on Western musical instruments not only stopped the whole controversy about "Shorty playing Indian," but also proved to be a commercial success for his album named Endless Vibrations.

It is interesting to note that it is precisely at the time when the changes of instrumentation took place that the spelling of "sokah" was changed to "soca" by a journalist who, according to Ras Shorty I, began his story on him with the headline: "Shorty is doing soca." In the process, the interpretation of the term "soca" no longer made reference to the East Indian contribution, and instead proposed to see the term so-ca as the contraction of the musics believed to be at its foundation, namely, the fusion of soul (so) and calypso (ca).

Could it be that this change of spelling was done in the same spirit as the change of instrumentation, to make the new label more acceptable to the core audience of carnival celebrations, that is, the calypsonian aficionados? As Ras Shorty I did not protest, the new spelling stayed.

In Ras Shorty I's account, the new rhythms and arrangements of soca were picked up for the first time in late 1976 by another artist, the reputed Calypsonian Maestro with the song "Savage." Many other artists then followed suit, but it was not until 1978 that soca as a label became firmly established. This key moment came with "Sugar Bum Bum" by Lord Kitchener---the song which, in Kitchener's vast repertoire, has apparently sold more copies than any of his other songs.7 According to Ras Shorty I, from that time on, soca became synonymous with party music and moved back to a less sophisticated rhythm section and lyrics. By then, the chief exponents of the music as originally conceived had disappeared from the scene. Maestro had died the year before at a premature age in a car accident, and Ras Shorty I had decided to withdraw from the musical scene.

After "Sugar Bum Bum," in Ras Shorty's view, the new soca has continued to carry the East Indian rhythms through the drum set and, to use his words, "to punch out the bass line on the drum set." At the same time, however, many new elements have contributed to the continual transformation of soca, including "a lot of sampling with zouk, with plenty American influences, plenty funk... A lot of things went on" (personal interview, 6 February 1997). Today, the music called soca in Trinidad enjoys the greatest media exposure through both the written press and radio broadcast and, in financial terms, is seen as the most profitable one. It has also been institutionalized at the national level in Trinidad through the Soca Monarch Competitions held since 1992, and been given an even wider scope since the competition was renamed in 1996 "International Monarch Soca Competitions" in order to welcome candidates from other countries to participate.8

But soca as a music label has not yet been firmly established. Even though the label soca is known throughout the Caribbean region, outside of Trinidad the term is indeed hardly ever used. And even if the musical practice to which the music label refers is most successful in terms of commercial value and circulation, it continues to be severely criticized, for reasons to be discussed below.

The article continues with a discussion of Ringbang but with a genuine focus on the labeling issue and 'controversies over representation'. Please use the link provided below to read the article in its entirety:

Notes from the article #'s 3-8 in red above as quoted in the original article by the author:
3. Ras Shorty I had already used East Indian influences in one of his first calypsoes entitled "Long Mango" in 1966. However, he came up with the term "sokah" in 1973 when he decided to experiment with this musical fusion and make it the basis for his new compositions.

4. The East Indians and the Africans constitute the two most important ethnic groups in Trinidad. The latest statistics on Trinidad and Tobago's demographics evaluated what is referred to as the "ethnic" profile as follows: 40.8% African descent and 40.7% East Indian descent (On October 11, 1995, at the World Wide Webb Site Http: \\\

5. His first composition which mixed the East Indian and African musical elements was called "Long Mango" and was written, according to Ras Shorty I, in 1958 (personal interview, 6 February 1997).

6. For the drummer especially, to play sokah as Ras Shorty I wanted him to play it was at the time revolutionary in at least two ways. The drummer was asked to use another playing technique, namely, to cross his hands for playing, and also to use a greater number of instruments on his drumset not only to feature the various rhythmic lines inspired by the East Indian rhythms, but also to provide more color. In his change of instrumentation, Ras Shorty I replaced the dhantal by the triangle, which after 1978 was eventually dropped to be substituted by the iron from the steel band.

7. It should be noted that carnival songs are usually recorded before the calendar year ends and the carnival season begins. In the case of "Sugar Bum Bum," for instance, the song was recorded in 1977 for the carnival season 1978.

8. I am grateful to Alvin Daniell for providing this information.
Soca Monarch Winners of Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidad/International Soca Monarch
1993 - Superblue - Bacchaanal Time
1994 - SuperBlue - Flag Party
1995 - Ronnie McIntosh - On The Road
1996 - Superblue - Bounce
1997 - Ronnie McIntosh - Ent
            Superblue - Barbara (Tie)
1998 - Super Blue - Ato Party
1999 - Kurt Allen - Stampede (Dus Dem)
2000 - Super Blue - Pump Up
2001 - Shadow - Stranger
2002 - Bunji Garlin - We From de Ghetto
            Iwer George - Gimme Ah Bligh (Tie)
2003 - Iwer George - Ah Home
2004 - Bunji Garlin - Warrior Cry
2005 - Bunji Garlin - Blaze de Fire
2006 - Shurwayne Winchester - Ah Can't Wait
2007 - Iwer George - Fete After Fete
2008 - Bunji Garlin - Fiery
2009 - Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez - Meet Superblue (First female winner)
2010 - JW & Blaze - Palance [2]
2011 - Machel Montano - Advantage
2012 - Machel Montano - Pump Yuh Flag
2013 - Tie Machel Montano - Float | Austin "Super Blue" Lyons - Fantastic Friday
2014 - Machel Montano - Ministry of Road
2015 - Machel Montano aka Monk Monte - Like Ah Boss (this is his last year of competition!)
International Groovy Soca Monarch 
2005 - Michelle Sylvester - Sleeping In Your Bed
2006 - Shurwayne Winchester - Don't Stop
2007 - Biggie Irie - Nah Goin' Home
2008 - Shurwayne Winchester - Carnival Please Stay
2009 - Fay Ann Lyons-Alvarez - Heavy T Bumper
2010 - Shurwayne Winchester - Murdah
2011 - Kes Dieffenthaller- Wotless
2012 - Machel Montano - Mr. Fete
2013 - Machel Monatno - The Fog
2014 - Kerwin Du Bois - Too Real
2015 - Olatunji Yearwood - Ola

From 2016 there will be 'One Soca Monarch Competition' with 'One Soca Monarch' 
Soca Monarch of Trinidad and Tobago (New Rules combining Groovy & Power Monarchs)
2016 - Aaron St. Louis aka Voice - Cheers To Life

bmobile TSTT People's Choice
2006: Bunji Garlin
2007: Shurwayne Winchester
2008: Bunji Garlin
2009: Fay Ann Lyons-Alvarez

There was also the TnT Ragga Soca competition that was first started in 1999 according to Howerver, because of sponsorship issues the competition never took hold. Ragga Soca music with an emphasis on Jamaican style lyrical delivery is still going strong with Bunji Garlin leading the charge.

Ragga Soca
1999 - Iwer George - Iwer And Ah Half
2000 - Bunji Garlin - Chant Down Babylon
2001 - Bunji Garlin - Licks

The Top 25 Soca Hits of the Century

01. Sugar Bum Bum - Lord Kitchener 1978
02. Meh Lover - Lord Nelson 1983
03. Tiny Winey - Byron Lee 1985
04. Hot Hot Hot - Arrow 1983/4
05. Soca Man - Baron 1990
06. Get Something and Wave - Superblue 1991
07. Na Na Na - Second Imij
08. Dollar Wine - Colin Lucas 1991
09. Teaser - Becket 1990/1
10. Moving - Nigel Lewis 1996
11. Soca Baptist - Blueboy 1980
12. Judit - Scrunter 1985
13. Shaking it - Shandileer 1989
14. Gimme the Ting - Lord Kitchener 1984
15. Dingolay - Shadow 1994
16. I Don't Mind - Winston So So 1986
17. Paul - Crazy 1993
18. Golo - Second Imij
19. Parkway Rock - Rootsman 1986
20. Maimi Vibes - Rootsman 1987
21. Subway Jam - Swallow 1981/2
22. Jump (On the Count of Four) - Second Imij 1992
23. If Ah Rude Ah Rude - Devon George
24. Black Man Come to Party - Black Stalin 1991
25. Nani Wine - Crazy 1989


Your comments can also become a Post!

Dave Downer said…
Nice article, you might want to include a few sentence on the contribution of Calypso artists from Grenada, St Vincent, Barbados, Jamaica (Byron Lee, Fab 5, mento artists), Antigua, St Lucia, etc that have made enormous contribution especially Arrow and Kevin Little, it is not a look by only showcasing T&T given the vast talent throughout the Caribbean that have contributed.
Sokah2Soca said…
Hello Mr. Dave Downer,
Since you introduced the idea, why don't you write an article.... articulate your thoughts and I will publish it here on the blog... all credits to you. Thank you for visiting the blog and sharing your thoughts with us.
sokah2soca | Zagada
Socapro said…
There is some misinformation in your article that needs correcting. When your article quoted stuff written by Joycelyne Guilbault it gave the wrong year for when Shorty came up with the term sokah.

Shorty did not name his new invention until after he had released "Endless Vibrations" and was in the process of recording "Sweet Music" in 1975 for release ahead of the 1976 Carnival season.
Pelham Goddard confirmed in an interview (which is uploaded to YouTube: that he was present in the KH Studios in Sealots in 1975 when Shorty came up with the name soca and that Shorty spelt it "sokah".
Shorty himself also confirmed in all of his interviews that when he first did Soca with "Indrani" in 1973 that he did not yet have a name for the new style of music he was creating. Shorty himself also confirms in his interviews that he came up with the name soca spelt "sokah" after he had recorded "Endless Vibrations" and had already changed the instrumentation by removing the East Indian instruments following his initial experiments with "Indrani" and most of the tracks featured on his "Love Man" album recorded in 1973 for the 1974 Carnival season.

So this speculation quoted below from the Joycelyne Guilbault is incorrect:

The word sokah was coined after Shorty had changed the instrumentation of the music and not before as Joycelyne Guilbault wrongly assumes in her article.
So the spelling Soca by the journalist Ivor Ferreira in his 1976 Carnival season article entitled "Shorty is doing soca" was not done to reflect the change of instrumentation but was only done because Ivor wrongly assumed that Shorty spelt his new music name as "soca" rather than "sokah" as Shorty initially spelt it.
So in reality most folks in T&T first saw the word Soca spelt by the media as "Soca" rather than "Sokah" which is why the "Soca" spelling became more popular and stuck.

Other than that the article gives us a lot of useful info on the history of soca.

And btw Shorty's first Calypso and East Indian fusion recording in 1966 was a track called "Indian Singers" and not "Long Mango" as is stated in your article. Shorty composed "Long Mango" in 1958 but it was never recorded on vinyl like "Indian Singers" was later on after Shorty started his career as a music recording artist from 1963 onwards. See this link for confirmation on "Indian Singers":