I get nervous about our global village when it comes to “third world” nations. Imperialism of any kind, being from a region that was just so recently colonised (and in parts, still is), makes me very uneasy. I worry for our region and others, whose cultures and artforms can be exoticised, misrepresented, and ultimately, diluted and distorted to the point of painful parody.
And for better or for worse, despite some cautionary tales from the 30s through 60s and an American company patenting the steel pan (at least the recent progress with the G-pan has mitigated that disgrace somewhat), Trinidadian Soca stars are determined to get onto the Billboard charts. Montserratt-born Arrow made a breakthrough with the music in ’83 with the now-ubiquitous “Hot Hot Hot”. But since then, and particularly in the last decade, there has been a near-stampede to match or exceed that level of success.
I was interested, then, to see a press release I just got from 1720 Entertainment, an Atlanta-based company that’s doing the PR for British-born Barbadian singer, Alison Hinds, and her upcoming Soca Queen album. I love the lead single from the album, “Roll it Gyal” (produced by Trini magician, Sheldon “Shel Shok” Benjamin), and a lot of Alison’s and Square One’s music over the years, so I not disputing her contention for the title despite half a dozen other soca singers who are called “Soca Queen” or “Queen of Soca”. But then the hype went somewhere from whence it cannot return. The release states:
Having established superstar status amongst the Caribbean audience, the British born ALISON HINDS is on an unstoppable roll to introduce the rest of the world to the power and passion of SOCA (SOuthern CAribbean) music.
I’d thought Arrow already did that back in the 80s. And I had always believed Soca is a fusion of Soul and Calypso music (hence so-ca), pioneered by Trini legend Garfield Blackman, aka Ras Shorty I, about three decades ago. Thus corrected, I decided to take a look at the page they’ve made for Alison on their website. The bio begins:
Alison Hinds is to SOCA music what Celia Cruz is to Cuban Salsa.
My mind runs on Calypso Rose, Singing Sandra (Des Vignes), Ella Andall, Denyse Plummer, and then Sanelle Dempster, Fay-Ann Lyons, and Destra.
I worry about the way our music, our people, our artists are represented, misrepresented, or not represented at all in this new push to “globalise” soca. I sure hope they get the record right. (Pun intended)