The sounds of Carnival

If reggae and dancehall is the music that epitomizes Jamaica, then Calypso and Soca is the heartbeat music of Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago While the Trinidad-born steel drum is known as the official instrument of the Caribbean, it’s the presence of Calypso, that is probably best known for the early internationally hits from the 1950’s; from artists like Lord Kitchener and Mighty Sparrow; the art form was most popularized in American black by Harry Belafonte dubbed the King of Calypso for popularizing this original Caribbean musical style with an international audience. Belafonte’s style is perhaps best known for singing The Banana Boat Song, with its signature lyric Day-O. The calypso of to 1950’s give way to the offspring of the 1960’s called Soca.

Soca is a mash-up of styles just like the Caribbean island people of Trinidad and Tobago. Soca Music’s true meaning is the soul of calypso – hence the shorting ….SO-CA. This raw fusion of calypso with East Indian rhythms and musical instruments is said to have been invented in 1963 by Ras Shorty I’s Clock and Dagger song. Shorty added Indian instruments, including the dholak, tabla and dhantal (you might want to look them up) in a fast blend. The reason was that Indian people make up a large percentage of the population of Trinidad and Tobago, and have done so for a very long time.

Indian music and culture had inspired Ras Shorty to experimented with calypso and the East Indian rhythms of chutney music. Therefore unleashing the soul of calypso … the people all around Trinidad and Tobago.

American soul

Soca humble start reached its modern form by the early 1970s under the influence of American soul, disco and funk music, which reached Trinidadian artists when they began recording in New York City; by this time, most of the Indian-derived elements had been removed from the genre. Soca became less heavy on lyrical revolution unlike the traditional calypso, soca remained mostly focused on good times throughout its history, although the 1986 soca song The Sinking Ship is directly linked to helping remove the People’s National Movement from the Trinidadian government.

The popularity of Soca grew as a new sound, it soon rivalled Reggae as the most popular form of Caribbean music. And then a big break in early 1980s with the international chart-topper after Hot! Hot! Hot!, a 1983 release by singer Arrow, who came from Montserrat and not Trinidad. Arrow proved to be one of the most innovative and creative Soca artists of the 80s, incorporating other influences musically from Latin music to Zouk.

Other artists from the 80s that put Soca on the map, was the Tobago artist known as Shadow and from Barbados, the band; Square One Band. Added influences from artist like Superblue and Reggae/Soca Icon – Byron Lee & the Dragonaires witch had an important fusion was Ragga – Soca. Which combined Jamaican ragga dance style with soca.

Bunji Garlin, KMC, Maximus Dan and Machel Montano & Xtatik were the most popular of the Soca acts of the 1990s. Recently, Machel Montano recreated himself and form Machel Montano HD and dominated the last few years. Even the ladies are represented in this new from Alison Hinds from Square One Band, Faye-Ann Lyons Alvarez (daughter of Superblue), Destra Garcia, are among Soca most popular artist.


Soca music has evolved just like other music styles over the years, with experimenting with other Caribbean rhythms and international sounds.

Some examples are the following:

Rapso: Eastern Caribbean dialect hip-hop with smooth calypso melody and bold lyrics

Chutney soca: Original soca performed with a more chutney styled form; mainly performed by chutney musicians

Ragga soca: A fusion of Jamaican dancehall and soca (chutney music replaced with dancehall music) so it is dancehall and contemporary calypso, which is an uptempo calypso beat with moderate bass and electronic instruments. A Trinidadian form of performing dancehall reggae.

Parang soca: A combination of calypso, soca, and Latin music, Parang originated in Trinidad and is most often sung in Spanish.

Steelband-soca: Steel pans are types of a drum often used in soca and calypso music; it became so popular that it became its own musical genre. Steel pans are handmade, bowl-like metal drums crafted so that different drum sections produce different notes when struck. Steelbands are groups of musicians who play songs entirely on steel drums. There are many types of steel pans, each with its own set of pitches.

Bouyon soca: A style of soca music from Dominica, it uses more prominent elements of bouyon music.

Rockso: A futuristic-sounding, North American/Trinidadian ‘mutant’ style of calypso, focusing on a wide range of subject matter and ‘flows’ (delivery), song arrangements, innovative, bass-laden drum patterns, quirky sound effects, elements of ‘extempo’ (freestyle lyricism), and an urban music sensibility. It differs from groovy soca and rapso, in that it rarely, if ever, incorporates ragga soca or a reggae personality. It is characterized instead as a more modern update to calypso and highlights the disparate personalities of the performers. Unlike soca, it is not seasonally focused, but is geared for year-round play. Its vernacular reveals its Trinidadian and North American soil.

Groovy soca: Created by Robin Imamshah with his composition Frenchman, this growing style focuses on melody in soca, partly because of criticism of soca’s ubiquitous ‘jump and wave’-only lyrical and musical content. It features sensual vocals over mid-tempo soca rhythms, and very often elements of zouk and ragga soca.

Soca has also been experimented with in Bollywood films, Bhangra, in new Punjabi pop, and in Hip-hop and Club music in the United States.

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