2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the sub-genre of Calypso known as Soca. It is also the 50th anniversary of Hip-Hop music.
Both genres were born out of organic movements by pioneers who envisioned something but couldn’t fathom what would be fifty years later.
Regrettably soca music has not enjoyed the commercial success of hip-hop music. To date Soca has produced two, only two, major international hits. Arrow’s Hot, Hot, Hot and Kevin Little’s Turn Me On.
While Soca music has the distinct advantage of having the platforms of Carnivals regionally and globally as outlets for exposure of the genre the business structure and the fundamentals of the music industry are glaringly lacking.
Copyright, business managers, the production of albums all rudimentary elements for international and sustained success in music are woefully absent from Soca music. Conversely hip-hop has benefitted from following all the rules and operating within the framework of a tried, tested, functioning and established music industry. The most recent genre to enjoy world-wide acclaim, Afrobeats, is also following what has worked before leading to tremendous global success.
It is a travesty that a genre of music that is exposed to millions of people through carnivals not only in the region but New York, Miami, London, Toronto has not found a way to be more appealing outside of its seasonal confines.
The recent announcement that the Soca Monarch competition in Trinidad is cancelled in 2023 is not as a consequence of Machel Montano’s decision to host a show on the same Friday night when the Soca Monarch was to be held. The demise of Soca Monarch started several years ago and it was the same Machel Montano who’s presence in the competition gave it a few more years of life. Prior to Machel’s return to the competition there were attempts at tweaking the show to make it and or keep it attractive to its audience. There was the inclusion of reggae and dancehall Artistes as guest performers, the inclusion of Hollywood Stars as special guest commentators and there was the year the show was sold
as an all-inclusive. Without Machel’s life-line and let us not be naïve his presence all but ensured no one else was coming close to winning the crown, the Soca Monarch competition would have already been cancelled. Once that era was over the fate of the international soca monarch was sealed.
The absence of the competition should allow for the former competitors, the creators, the producers and all industry players to earnestly build a soca industry that borrows from the success of other genres with similar trajectories. The cancellation also allows for more creativity avoiding the familiar refrains of ‘hands in the air’, ‘put them up’, ‘show me your rags’ and the predictable repetitions that have numbed a weary audience.
The Soca monarch competitions in Grenada and St Vincent have grown and remained relevant because the artistes in those territories don’t rely on instructive songs to move their audiences. In fact, most of the songs enjoying success at the competitions in these two islands are not necessarily songs built for soca monarch. No commands or instructions built into the songs, but more a reliance on sweet, captivating melodies, thumping rhythms, catchy hooklines and a penchant for writing songs that reflect the activities taking place in society.
These other islands and wherever soca music is produced suffer from the same dereliction of industry standards and depend on the meagre offerings of the ‘carnival circuit’. The global success soca music and its practitioners so desperately seek can only come through adherence to the industry norms, by getting out of the comfort zone of seasonal festivals and by expanding the scope of creativity to include topics that are not synonymous with carnival, waving and wining and jamming.
If changes are not made, using the end of the International Soca Monarch, as a catalyst, other genres will continue to celebrate continued success and growth while soca music struggles to find new ways to instruct a shrinking and dissatisfied audience.