The Soca Invasion

Dancehall Queen Carlene

And just like that, the Trinidadians, who opted out of the West Indian Federation, After the rather silly and politically shortsighted Jamaican Opposition Leader Alexander Bustamante,  stoked the fears of xenophobia; greed, whilst playing to the largely ignorant population, voted in their plebiscite, to forego the proposed West Indian Federation, for what the said would be Independence, are now on the verge of being colonized by Trinidad, Whose PM in 1960s, Eric Williams, was dead set against Trinidad becoming a Part of the proposed West Indian Federation, because not unlike the unhinged Kamla Persad Bissseeassar, saw West Indian Unity, as a ploy to gain cheap access to Trinidad’s oil coffers. 

Funny, how times and reasoning change, with time, if the reasoning was not anchored by a principled philosophy, subscribed to by the founders and their heirs and successors, bound by a common, goal.

So, back in the late 1950 and early 1960s the Caribbean was emerging from its colonial slumber into a hotbed of activism, based on its desire to free itself from the oppressive yolk of Colonialism, the objective to become Masters of their own destiny.

At the time, the region was bursting at its seams with firebrand leaders, who were busy searching for a post-Colonial working Model, that would unify the region to give it a bigger voice on the world, stage, in areas of trade, foreign policy, and the pooling of the region’s natural resources – the operational model we can now look to is that of the European Union. Sadly, the West Indian Federation died not because it was not a brilliant concept and championed as it was by the brilliant Norman Washington Manley. It died because of the parochial minds of regional Leaders such as Bustamante of Jamaica, and Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago. 

Now what failed as a political venture, is being fully engaged as indeed, Trinidad is staging a benign cultural invasion, of Jamaica, with the complicity of those whose first thoughts and motivation is the ‘almighty Dollar’, and boosting of the profit margins. So sadly, whereas the attempted political Unionification of the Region, failed and continues to be resisted in some quarters,  The Cultural invasion, Not unification, that began shortly after the failed attempt at Political unification, is now well and truly underway, with the weapon of choice, being  Soca.  And if allowed to continue unchecked, then the late Eric Williams would have achieved what he thought Political Unification would not have afforded his beloved Trinidad – Dominance.

Cultural Penetration; Then Dominance

Jamaicans have always been fond of Calypso/Soca, with several Jamaican artists dabbling in the genre, starting back in the 60s and into the 70s. But it was always regarded as a fringe genre, indulged in by a minority, and so, never considered a threat to Jamaican homegrown music. I do recall questioning however, (and this was back in the 70s), if f our neighbouring Radio Stations carried a Radio feature of any kind, named Reggae Beat, to complement Calypso Corner, a feature carried by RJR, for years, featuring the music of Trinidad. 

Now, the fascination with Calypso, became a love affair for some, when the late realtor, Don Stiebel, began his annual excursions to Trinidad’s annual carnival, which saw the middle classes queuing and elbowing each other, to make this trip. And if that was not enough, there was the massive Soca/Calypso fete, organized by Byron Lee and partners and hosted at the then Cinema 2, in New Kingston, named Heat In A De Place, that first debuted in the early 1980s. 

Realizing the growing appeal of Soca/ Calypso to the middle classes, some enterprising entrepreneurs banded together, and “Orange Carnival” was born. And thus erased the annual trip to Trinidad’s Carnival, as Jamaica had its own homegrown Soca/Calypso Carnival every year, and the allure got so strong, it grew from one Carnival to two at least 3-competing carnivals at one time. 

Please note that there were no commensurate trips from Trinidad To Reggae Sunsplash, or later to Reggae Sumfest. It is also instructive to note, that at the time Entrepreneurs were busy making a killing off the Promotion of Soca and Calypso, as alternative music festivals and entertainment offerings, to Reggae, there was a concerted media campaign, to discredit Reggae and Dancehall, as being lewd, Vulgar, misogynistic, and homophobic, by the supposed intelligentsia, the chattering verandah classes, and the paid stooges in the media, by the puppet masters. 

So here we were, promoting a foreign musical genre to compete with our own, whilst at the same time lambasting our own. The commentary at the time ran the gamut of labeling the dancehall and Reggae aficionados as low-lifes, skettels, and hooligans for daring to dress skimpily and as ragga-muffins, to enjoy their own music and cultural offshoots, such as the style and fashion, and entrepreneurial thrust it promoted via its Round-Robin. sponsored events.

Enter Carlene Smith, a sexy, fabulous-looking, near-white, uptown browning, repping as the Dancehall Queen, and this was just way too much for the socaphiles,  to take. So, after digesting the initial conniptions and sense of outrage that she, had sold out her own. They decided to Co-opt her as Brand Ambassador for their Soca brand. And hence the shortlived hybrid, known as Danehall-Soca. 

And as if hypocrisy knows any bounds, the same people who were busy chastising and castigating the dancehall and reggae fans for their love of and vibing to the music and building of its cultural base, by branding them degenerates, started promoting their version of Dancehall, with their Impy Skimpy Soca Fetes, where the carrying-ons, rivaled the debauchery and supposed debasement of the dancehall. But perhaps recognizing that Dancehall and Reggae were going nowhere, they decided to recruit the newly crowned “Dancehall Queen Carlene,” after first pillorying, condemning, and attempting to ostracize her, for her innovation, creativity, and marketing genius, in birthing and representing as the Dancehall Queen.

And lest we forget, there was always a racial component to those who opposed Reggae and Dancehall, as both genres, were protest music of and by the people of the urban and rural ghettos, sufferers, and the under-represented, usually harassed and harangued by the Police and Soldiers, who disproportionately targeted them for arrest, abuse and disenfranchisement. Naturally, these were the masses, and so, were the descendants of Slaves. Correspondingly, Soca, was the dystopian refuge for those living in their ivory towers, whilst lambasting Reggae and Dancehall as Vulgar demeaning noise, unworthy of airplay. Not surprisingly, these were the descendants of the plantation classes. To be sure, there were always Uptown Rebels, who did not subscribe to the commonly held view that Reggae and Dancehall were low-class music and the purview of so-called lower-class bhuttos.  

And this brings us to where we are today, where RJR and its little 5-minute segment is not the only Radio Station that carries a daily Calypso/soca feature. It now attracts prime-time sponsorship on Most commercial Radio stations. Whilst reggae and dancehall, are still given a fight by programs Managers and Disc Jocks who it seems are always on the take, and willing to sell out young Jamaican Artists to promote the banal, lewd, vulgar, and repetitive strains of Soca. That Dancehall and Reggae were accused of propagating.

 On any given day, one could be confused into thinking more Soca is being played on Jamaican Radio Stations, than Reggae and or Dancehall, as whilst there are sponsored hours/segments for Soca, there seem no such corresponding sponsored segments for Reggae and or Dancehall, and they playing of Reggae and or Dancehall is left to the whims and or fancy of the Disc Jockey, occupying that space and time. 

Sadly, the music that unified the dispossessed, under-represented, oppressed, repressed, and abused people globally,; whilst celebrating their struggles, triumphs, machismo, aspirations, and limited freedom, is on the verge of being eclipsed or subsumed, by those who despise our very being.

Sadly, the supposed elected guardians of our culture, remain, gloriously unaware, of the serious trespass, being visited on the Jamaican Music and Culture.

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