Soca - pronounced 'soh-cah', not 'soccer!' - saw its 'golden age' between the 1970s and roughly the mid-90s. It has left us with a plethora of great and memorable songs, and many of them became great anthems of the genre almost overnight. While still very much a living genre, soca has never quite reached the incredibly high standards of those days again so far. Influences from other 'genres' have not enhanced the music since then.
Trinidad - where else! - was the birthplace of soca. The year was 1971, and the father of the genre was the calypsonian then known as Lord Shorty, now better known as Ras Shorty I - a giant of a man physically as well but one of the kindest, gentlest men who ever walked
this earth. Shorty had the brilliantly inspired if simple idea of infusing Trindidad & Tobago's (or T'n'T, for short) traditional calypso with elements of soul music. And the rest is history. Kaiso (calypso) was never the same again!
Here, we reflect upon, and present, some of soca's greatest ever anthems, some of them well known even internationally, such as the late Arrow's immortal Hot Hot Hot. It will come as no surprise that all but two of these anthems presented here are by Trini artists. Although the genre quickly spread throughout the anglophone eastern Caribbean, very few artists from outside T'n'T ever managed to equal their Trini brethren (and sistren), with two most notable exceptions being represented here of course.
Although this isn't intended to be any kind of 'top ten' chart of the all-time greatest soca anthems, it has proved unavoidable to rank the 'Top Three' - in their anthemic quality and perennial popularity they simply stand out too much.
Not everybody will agree with the selections here, that is in the nature of things. There are also some notable omissions. 'De Birdy,' or the Mighty Sparrow, is not represented, nor is the probably greatest calypsonian of all time, 'Kitch' - the late Lord Kitchener. Although both produced almost innumerable great and often immensely danceable tunes, none of them quite fit into the category of a soca anthem. (Nor, I feel, would they wish to have been included.) Arguably, other soca artists such as Chris 'Tambu' Herbert and Superblue should have been represented, but great 'fete' and 'roadmarch' hits though they have produced, none of them quite seem to match the iconic quality of an anthem of the genre.
Another traditional Trini musical form, the parang - a Christmas song that originated from Venezuela and was traditionally accompanied on the the Venezuelan cuatro, a small, sweet-toned four-stringed member of the guitar family - soon absorbed the influences of soca. It would be very remiss not to include this sub-genre here.
The 1980s saw the rise - and rise! - of a further sub-genre of soca, chutney soca. This blends the East Indian Trini popular music form known as chutney with soca. As such, it is probably a happy representation of Trini society - everybody mixing with everybody. The invention of the genre is usually credited to the queen of chutney soca, Drupatee Ramgoonai, who also coined the term. Naturally enough, chutney soca produced some early anthems of its own that could not possibly be ignored here. Furthermore, as we shall see, chutney soca also made its influence felt in mainstream soca.
Trinidad is probably the most genuinely multi-cultural, multi-racial and mixed society anywhere on this planet, and race means little or nothing to the man and woman in the street. (Politicians, and the media that support them, might like to give a different impression, especially at election time, but that is an entirely different matter...) And the music of T'n'T happily reflects this wonderful melting pot.
Baron - Feelin' It (1984)
Starting broadly chronologically, we have Trinidad's own Baron (Timothy Watkins Jr.) and his massive 1984 hit Feelin' It. As perfect a soca anthem as any and better than many. The well written lyrics make delicious use of the double entendre that is traditionally so characteristic of so many calypsos. Nothing like a bit of good, clean smut!
And if this groove doesn't get you, what will?
Baron - Buss Up Shut (1985)
We stay with 'de Baron' for his second great soca anthem from 1985. The title, Buss Up Shut, is Trinidadian dialect for 'bust up shirt', or torn shirt. It refers to a paratha (a type of griddle bread of East Indian origin) that has been wrapped in a muslin (or similar) cloth and then slapped about repeatedly on a hard surface, effectively tearing the paratha to shreds. Yum!
Food, and especially curry and paratha, or roti, somehow became a very popular topic in soca (as well as in parang) in T'n'T in the 1980s!
Another irresistible groove.
David Rudder - Bahia Girl (1986)
From 1986 comes this gem from David Rudder, backed by his band Charlie's Roots. Together with his primary song that year, The Hammer, Bahia Girl won Rudder the Calypso Monarch crown that year with some controversy. Not only didn't he come from a 'conventional' calypsonian background but instead was a vocalist in a band, but also Rudder didn't use a sobriquet. All the same, Bahia Girl was a great groove and became an instant soca anthem. And David Rudder went on to become perhaps the greatest 'modern' calypsonian/singer-songwriter of his generation in T'n'T.
Sugar Aloes - Roti And Thalkari (1989)
We jump to 1989 for Sugar Aloes' iconic anthem Roti And Thalkari (titled Roti and Dhalpouri on the record!), strongly flavoured by chutney soca. And food again!
The video is of Aloes' live performance at the Calypso Monarch finals at Dimanche Gras in 1989, off TTTV's broadcast. The sound quality is not great, and picture quality not much better if any, but classic soca is somewhat thin on the ground on YouTube. Super groove though, great performance, and a nice Trini chick dancing as well! Well, Aloes was looking for a dulahin (wife, bride) there, after all!
Crazy - Nani Wine (c. 1990?)
Calypsonian Crazy also went for an Indian theme with Nani Wine, inspired by none other than chutney soca queen Drupatee Ramgoonai. 'Wining' is the gyrating of the waist in dancing in 'Trini talk.' Wine yuh wais!
This is Crazy's official video. It's terrible, and the quality isn't too hot either. But it's one hell of a fabulous groove.
In the calypso tent that season (not literally a tent, just a venue where a whole group of calypsonians perform during the carnival season each year; and there are a number of 'tents') and at Dimanche Gras, Crazy had the most amazing 'winer' chick wining for him. Never seen anything like her! She must have had pure snake oil for hips. Fab-u--lous!
David Rudder - Rally Round The West Indies (c. 199?)
I don't think I would be forgiven if I omitted this anthem by David Rudder. Rally Round The West Indies is perhaps more of a cricket anthem. As almost anywhere outside Britain where cricket is played, in the West Indies cricket is a religion, so this is a must. Great tune, anyway...
Really, there are so many of Rudder's compositions from the 80s and 90s that could qualify as great soca anthems that it would be impossible to include them all in a feature such as this.
Mighty Scrunter - I Want Ah Piece Ah Pork (1980s)
For our next classic anthem we divert to parang and the Mighty Scrunter's I Want Ah Piece Ah Pork, a true perennial popular favourite without which no Christmas season in T'n'T could be complete. Christmas without Scrunter would be like Christmas without Santa!
And yes, food again! Trini 'home cooking' cuisine is undoubtedly the finest on the planet as well as the most varied, a rich blend of many of the world's major food cultures. Afro-Caribbean, East Indian, Chinese, Spanish-Venezuelan, Native American, American-Italian, English - you name it, it's there. Naturally enough, food therefore has an important place in the Trini psyche. Life without my roti and pelau and what have you would simply be too awful to contemplate!
Drupatee Ramgoonai - Mr. Bissessar (Roll Up De Tassa) (1988)
We now come to some classic chutney soca anthems, and here, the queen of the genre herself, Drupatee Ramgoonai and Mr. Bissessar (aka Roll Up De Tassa). Perhaps the most iconic of chutney soca anthems, this features the mighty tassa, a Trinidadian drum of Indian origins, or rather, set of drums. These are principally played, in massed bands, for the Shia Muslim festival of Hoosay. St. James, a western suburb of Port of Spain, has the largest of these gatherings, and the noise is just unbelievable and glorious!
The song itself is about a tassa player by the name of Mr. Bissessar. Naturally enough.
Over the last few decades the tassa has also found new life in association with the steel pan.
Rikki Jai - Sumintra (1988)
Another early chutney soca anthem is Rikki Jai's superb Sumintra, about a girl who naturally enough prefers soca to Lata Mangeshkar (a famous Indian movie singer).
A great groove that's hard to get out of your head. Sadly, the sound is poor, the video annoying with some chick who thinks she can wine, and the sound is cut off before the end. Alas, only one to be found.
Rikki Jai - Dulahin (1989?)
Another early great anthem from Rikki Jai, the king of chutney soca, Dulahin. The subject here is a mother's anxiety for her son to get married, and her efforts to find him a bride. And his efforts to reject every candidate brought forth! But there's a twist in the tale!
The embed code here sadly isn't working so until a fix can be found, here is the link. (Right-click and select 'Open in new window')
Explainer - Lorraine (c. 1979?)
Saving the best till last, we now come to the three most iconic classic soca anthems of all time. Without a doubt, a lot of people would disagree with the order in which these are placed, but this is not about a public vote or some such nonsense (to see what a complete nonsense such voting is one just has to look at things like so-called talent shows on television!) so here goes anyway.
Narrowly placing third is T'n'T's own Explainer and what is the earliest of the great soca anthems, Lorraine. And who could possibly disagree with Explainer in the current cold conditions about wanting to go home to sunshine and fun in Trinidad? It's the carnival season!
The sound quality is regrettably absolutely atrocious...
Arrow - Hot Hot Hot (1982)
Montserratan Arrow, the first of only two non-Trini artists here, places second all time greatest soca anthem with Hot Hot Hot, the internationally best known of them all. Arrow (Alphonsus Cassell), who sadly died earlier this year, never quite achieved such iconic status again with any of his subsequent hits. This one was a real monster. Hot Hot Hot has been covered more times than any other soca or calypso before or since.
The lyrics are among the most simplistic of the various selections here, but what a great fete (party) groove!
Spice - In De Conga Line (1988)
And so finally we come to the greatest classic soca anthem of all time, Bajan (Barbadian) band Spice's In De Conga Line, popularly aka Bump And Wine.
Possibly a controversial choice, as Spice was (or is, as they have reunited as Spice & Company) a band rather than an individual calypsonian. Moreover, In De Conga Line never became as well known internationally as Arrow's Hot Hot Hot (basically due to lack of promotion by Spice's then record label), even though both the song and the band would have hugely deserved international success. The song did however make it onto the soundtrack of a Disney movie if memory serves.)
However, locally within the eastern Caribbean and T'n'T especially, In De Conga Line was massive - probably the biggest monster of a hit ever. Ultimately, its irresistible, irrepressible ultra high-octane groove is without a doubt the greatest in the genre. If Arrow's Hot Hot Hot is the Mercedes sports car of socas, Spice's In De Conga Line is the Ferrari, the mother of all sports cars! On the opening gig of Spice's first tour of Trinidad in 89 the massive crowd at Port of Spain's National Stadium went absolutely mad from the moment they opened with this monster groove. You could have been forgiven for thinking that 'Beatle mania' had been reborn!
What was further highly unusual about Spice was that they by no means limited themselves to soca. They were equally good at reggae, soul, Latin, rock, ballads or for that matter anything else. Spice were without doubt the most versatile and at least one of the finest band(s) to ever have emerged anywhere in the eastern Caribbean. Sadly, a split occurred around 1994 when singer Alan Sheppard felt forced to leave the band after, so rumour on the web has it, being forced on stage by the band while suffering a severe cold and fever and as a result collapsing on stage. The band then continued as Spice & Company - aka Spice & Co. - under which name they reunited, originally just for a one-off show, in 2009.
Founder members and original co-leaders Alan Sheppard (vocals) and Dean Straker (guitar) wrote In De Conga Line together. The video here is Spice's official video from the time.
It is of course quite ironic that the two greatest classic soca anthems of all time should have come from outside Trinidad and Tobago. But fairness must prevail.
Apologies for the frequently poor quality - as mentioned before, classic soca is rather sparsely represented on YouTube. Reach for the volume control every time, volumes vary hugely.