History of Soca Music,
a Child of Calypso
What is Soca?
Soca is a modern form of
calypso with an up-tempo beat. There is a popular misconception that
Soca is a fusion of American soul music and traditional calypso. Hence the
name "so-ca," soul/calypso. Though this sounds plausible, it is simply not
true. Soca music originated as a fusion of calypso with Indian rhythms, thus
combining the musical traditions to the two major ethnic groups of Trinidad
The Father of Soca
Born October 6, 1941
in Lengua, Trinidad, Garfield Blackman would become the creator of soca.
Blackman began singing calypso at the tender age of seven. Performing under
the name Lord Shorty, he rose to fame in 1963 with his recording of
Clock and Dagger. The name
Lord Shorty is a paradoxical reference to his imposing height of 6-ft 4-in.
Talk that calypso
was dying, and reggae was the new thing, 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
Ïndrani. The release of his
1974 album Endless Vibrations
prompted dozens of musicians to adopt the new soca style.
Lord Shoty initially
referred to his musical hybrid as "solka", representing the true "soul of
calypso." The "Indianization" of calypso brought together the musical
traditions of Trinidad and Tobago's two major ethnic groups, the descendants
of African slaves and of indentured laborers from India. The name was later
changed to "soca" by a music journalist.
Vibrations, the first soca
album, contained the popular
Om Shanti, a song that
sparked controversy because of its use of a Hindu chant in the chorus line.
Lord Shorty was no stranger to controversy in the ensuing years performing
songs such as The PM Sex Probe,
which poked fun at the Prime Minister. He was equally adept at performing
songs dealing with social and political issues as in his hit
Money Eh No Problem.
By the turn of the
1980s, "the father of soca" had become disenchanted with music he had
created, saying that soca was being used to "celebrate the female bottom,
rather than uplift the spirits of the people." Lord Kitchener's classic hit
Sugar Bum Bum
is a prime example of what he meant.
Around 1981, Lord Shorty
converted to Rastafarianism, changed his name to Ras Shorty I, and moved
into the Piparo forest in southern Trinidad, 50 miles from Port of Spain.
There the prolific musician, composer and innovator continued to explore new
musical frontiers while devoting himself to writing songs about spiritual
matters and the dangers of hedonism. He formed the group Love Circle with
his wife Claudette and several of their children. (He is said to have
fathered anywhere from 14 to 20 children.) In the late 1980's he introduced
a new style of music, jamoo, (Jah Music) which combined elements of reggae
In 1997, he released
the anti-drug song Watch Out
My Children which went to the
number one spot in the Caribbean. The song became an international hit and
has been translated into ten languages.
On July 12, 2000 at the
age of 58 Ras Shorty I died after a battle with multiple myeloma, a cancer
of the bone marrow. His greatest legacy is the soca rhythm he created,
bringing calypso into the modern era. The infectious soca rhythm has made
calypso assessable to the young and the young at heart everywhere.
The Evolution of Soca
Montserrat singer Arrow did much to popularize soca internationally with his
1983 number one soca classic
Hot Hot Hot. Arrow has also
recorded a string of CDs including
Knock Dem Dead (1988),
O'La Soca (1989) and
Soca Dance Party (1990) which
have become timeless examples of the best of the genre.
Some of the most
popular soca recordings include
Sugar Bum Bum - Lord
Soca Baptist - Super Blue
(1980), Meh Lover
- Lord Nelson (1983), Hot,
Hot, Hot - Arrow (1983),
Tiny Winey - Byron Lee & The
Dragonaires (1985), Nani Wine
- Crazy (1989),
Teaser - Becket (1990),
Dollar Wine - Collin Lucas
- Rupee (2000).
Soca has continued to grow
and evolve giving rise to offshoots such
as ragga soca and the
increasingly popular chutney soca. Today soca
is the definitive
indigenous musical form associated with the Eastern
Caribbean. Thanks, Lord
The Rythmic Cosmos