Contribution from Orin Gordon, Media Consultant – Guyana born, GT and London bred, T&T resident. @ him on twitter, @oringordon.
The quality of the songs this carnival season was the highest it’s been for some time. I’m not instinctively a Soca lover – I usually say that the classic reggae of Beres and Barrington is my preference, or ‘soft’ dancehall if I want to bring it into the now. Traditionally it has not taken much for me to feel Soca overload. So my choices are coloured by that. I’m not a connoisseur – I just like what I like. Benjai’s Trini, Machel and Benjai’s Buss Head, Patrice Roberts’ Sweet Fuh Days, Ultimate Rejects’ Full Extreme and Omardath’s Ramsingh Sharma are a random collection of Soca tunes that punched through to me over recent years. But this season many more have, and I may be ready to come over to the dark side. Here’s my Five, countdown style. Feel free to diss, disagree, discuss.
Party We Love – Shal Marshall
Shal, Ding Dong and the guys at 96.1 are a guilty pleasure – YouTube videos I found myself watching a little too much this carnival season. Radio will always remain my first love, and theirs is great radio, even if I mainly consumed what they served up on YouTube. They bring great energy, and have a knack for letting the artistes let their hair down. Shal’s radio background shines through, because he has one of the better voices in Soca, in my opinion. Party We Love is both a gym and fete favourite. Trending is also jumpuppable. My annual summer visitors from Canada and the UK took to Splinters last year, even if the only line they consistently reproduced was “bartender hurry up wid meh order.” Shal has found a safe formula with slickly shot music videos, but I’d like to see him try something different.
Day One – Machel Montano and Farmer Nappy
Let us appreciate the remarkable and consistent Machel Montano while we have him, because there’s no one like him in Caribbean music at the moment. His sheer creative productivity is astonishing. What I love most about him is that he takes his Soca ambassador role seriously, and consistently throws out the net to the wider Caribbean, to mentor, nurture, encourage and to help big up and progress his brothers and sisters down the islands. Skinny, Alison, Motto. He is creatively bold, experimenting with Zouk, Kassav, Chutney, and whatever he can get his hands on. His love for his elders and forerunners in palpable, and he is clearly moved when he talks about Shadow. The choice box is big as usual, but my favourite is Day One, sung with Farmer Nappy. He’s riffed on the peeps/buddies theme before when singing about his “friends and dem” and Famalay, but this is one of the better-written ones, and it hit the spot for me.
Issa Snack – Nessa Preppy
One of the groovy tunes I first heard and bike-danced to in spin class, and for a long time I had no idea what its name was or who sang it. I just knew that I liked the riddim, and smooth sultry tones of the singer. Turn down the lights, turn up the resistance, and let Nessa Preppy croon. She’s not most vocally polished live performer, but with her neo-reggae bad girl vibe she’s a full dish, and for my money is going to be a star. Machel Montano helped to elevate the song with one of the many selfless collabs he does (Issa Snack Remix), but the tune is her own.
On stage she projects a fearless sexuality, but in interviews she can come across as slightly shy. She’s an excellent cook and bit of a homebody, she says somewhat fittingly, given her hit song. So what does the song mean? “Is snack season”, she said, pointing to herself in her barely-there outfit at Army Fete, when interviewed on TV backstage. And “the song is about female empowerment.” You do the maths, reader.
So Long – Nadia Batson
Another song that made the leap from the gym was this gorgeous, soulful one by Nadia Batson. And the colourful, nicely shot music video is one of the better ones this carnival season. The song is real, says my friend Dominic, who will also be sharing his Top 5 with us. “That’s how some of Trini friends who mostly only see each other at carnival fetes talk to each other”, even friends they don’t that well who come in “from foreign.” Another friend: “it’s a song that makes you want to hug and kiss a long-lost friend.” Nadia’s good on stage singing ,live and performing as well, with a physical presence that meets with the approval of a large section of her male fan base. “Catching Feelings” is another song with a lot of soul. Batson is the real deal. She is a proper singer. I think she’s got the potential to make good, commercially successful music in other genres.
Run Wid It – Mr Killa
You know that song that you know is going to be a hit the first time you hear it? Run Wid It was it. No other song brought the energy the way that Mr Killa’s did. It was the fete-ender and party climax choon. The heavy iron of the Planet Jab Riddim (also used by Bunji on Big Song) makes a nod to the influence of traditional bands like the Laventille Rhythm Section. It also remined me of RaRa beats I heard in Haiti. It was the song that the big truck DJ saved for the very last, as the clock struck 10pm on carnival Tuesday where I live in central.
It was the song that led to police warnings to be careful about what or who you picked up. Savannah Grass plucked at the heartstrings of Trinis… I heard a lot of folks either say it was pore-raising or brought them close to tears. Famalay won the street fight. But the most jumpuppable song of the season was Run Wid It, and had it been eligible for Road March, it would have… walked with it. Mr Killa is also a sensational stage performer. The Winner of International Soca Monarch crown in the Power category, he was genuinely moved by the love Trinis showed him this season. Take a bow, Killa. You’re Number One.
Honourable mentions. Savannah Grass. It didn’t win Road March and its fans are disappointed, but as one of them put it, it is The Hammer of our time. Congrats to Machel, the Road March champion with Famalay, for win No. 10. He stands equal with Super Blue and is one away from equaling the legendary Lord Kitchener.