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…BUT WE HATE THE SOCA by Burton Sankeralli

posted 14 Jan 2016, 09:47 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 14 Jan 2016, 09:58 ]
It appears as if everyone enjoys bashing today’s young people and their music. But so-called art forms are not abstract inventions
imposed on history. Rather they are carried in the vital living of community…and the engulfing violence.
So let us attempt a return to the source. When it comes to Carnival and its offshoots such as calypso we must turn to Canboulay: that vital claiming of the road of the post-emancipation energy articulated in the nation architecture; our matter-in-motion.

Here took place the emergence of the African as it is carried by people in the encounter of nations of traditions, such as Congo, Yoruba, Rada…and from different Caribbean territories. But it is the field and frame that is a constituting aspect of wider nation architecture: “Africa” along with India and Europe.

It is the master template that is landscape itself. Hence calypso is born of this vitally emerging African community in the very energy of the road – Canboulay. Yet here is being constituted the landscape’s total cultural ethnic architecture but not merely as fragments but as possibility of wholeness.

Yet this is resistance/affirmation struggle. Being is never neutral. It is always directed for and against. Here in our space, “Self” 
affirmation means such struggle against the structures, the very forces of oppression, which indeed brought what we call a society into being. Or we may fail to so resist.

Yes, compromises were made. The contending forces find not balance but a sort of equilibrium; a stasis. It is a stasis that oppresses. Not only African and Indian, not only social practices not deemed acceptable and of course political practices seen as s
ubversive, but the space in its entirety. Here a range of vibration feeds the street, disclosing people as vitally kinetic. Calypso here emerges as the music of the street. This is the first phase, the generations pre-1900

In the first decades of the 20th century led by the Lord Executor calypso morphs into a lyrical art form. Here in the midst of conflict there is rendered more pronounced a presence more middle class and more Euro-oriented, not that the two are to be identified. Yet even as this ballad form is being articulated, there is still pulsing African rhythm, energy, musicality and vital vocal style, the vital Afro 

Lord Executor
traditions of storytelling narrative. There is protest, social commentary and analysis rooted in the masses. And yes we may here speak of the masses that define the landscape as a whole even as there is a discernible Afro presence at work. The art form is vitally embodied as such community, for while an African working class community is here located, it cannot be abstracted from the landscape in its totality, in its cultural diversity and with its contradictions.

This has been called a Golden Age and it gave us the normative “Executor template” of the calypso. Other key names include Chieftain Douglas, Attila the Hun, the Roaring Lion. This second phase takes us to World War II. Phase three, enter the “youts” the generation of the Young Brigade (led at first by the Lord Kitchener) musicality, humour, sex…entertainment and not a little violence: calypso as seeming full blown business.

But the powerful lyrical traditions continue. All this is embodied in the genius of Sparrow. Powerful and ambiguous. Nationalism. And here we often speak of Williams. But we fail to recognize that The Mighty Sparrow is indeed an equal architect of the independence project. And here he unleashed an unrelenting, one may even say revolutionary, assault on the ethos and aesthetic of hegemonic respectability.

Let it be clear that this is no obscure “sub-altern” speaking. Rather, in Sparrow, subaltern ethos becomes nationalist mainstream. Here perhaps is located the very core of his genius.
However that which has been thus obliterated has been replaced with nothing. Moreover the nationalism of Williams, gesturing notwithstanding, leaves the colonial structure of oppression intact.

Black Power. The new generation of the 1970s here announces itself against the nationalist betrayal: this in its struggle against class and race oppression and the calypsonians are here the mouthpieces with lyrical power: Valentino, Duke, Black Stalin, Chalkdust,
Maestro, Mudada, Explainer. However, with the assistance of an oil bonanza, the PNM manages to subvert this over the course of the 1970s. Is blockorama and petrodollars flowing like water! Nationalism marches on.

Soca is born: music for the fete (not that it can be so easily dismissed). A great deal of the original soca music is substantial and lyrically substantial. Just look for example at Shadow, Shorty and Maestro and later Blueboy/Superblue. Canboulay asserts itself. However as Sparrow put it – capitalism gone mad!

With Rudder there is apotheosis: lyric and music intersect in their radical ontological point of ancestral origin; brilliant re-creation signalling a possibility of transformation on a stage native and global. But sadly our materiality could not actualize it. So we now have in this fifth and latest phase the apparent degeneration of calypso - what the youths now call “soca”.

There is now a construction of “traditional calypso” that clamours for special attention as it is supposed to be the source, demanding a million dollar. But it is similarly degenerate…or worse.
Even this the youth are now taking over but successfully reviving it will prove to be quite an uphill task. So let us look at the movement of this art form, born of the creative chaotic musical fire of Canboulay.

The genius of Executor and the “Golden Age” calypsonians (distinct from the Golden Age Generation that came after) establishing the lyrical template. A template nevertheless rooted in and carried by the vitality of the music.

Then comes the Young Brigade (the calypsonians representing the wider Pan-Caribbean Golden Age Generation). Here vitality, humour and musicality are prominent even as the Executor template is sustained. Indeed the general movement of calypso from World War II to the mid 1990s is this: the unfolding of the innate musicality indeed the very foundational “vibe” within the Executor lyrical template.

So here has been a vibrant interplay of musicality and lyric within this template: note Sparrow and Kitchener. And yes lyric was always asserting itself: Spoiler or the Black Power social and political commentary of the late 60s and 1970s. Indeed, the original soca unfolds in this interplay even as it signals a musical ascendance and Rudder the crown of the Black Power/soca generation shows that word and vibration is one and the same: sustaining Executor in his transformation.

But with our present youth soca generation led by Machel Montano, we may also mention Bunji and Iwer; it is precisely this template that collapses; apparently leaving in its wake musical chaos framed by the violent global capitalist machine. So the question is asked – What is kaiso? And at core it seems that the true true calypso is still considered to be the Executor template where musicality may or may not be attached.

But soca and the market having carried away the musicality we are left with a supposed traditional calypso that when compared to the work of the masters past is inferior. Even lyrically it has lost its way entangled in the PNM-esque nationalist system and its ethnocentric – or as we term it “racial” – politics. It is moribund and degenerate; as moribund and degenerate as the very political system of oppression that keeps putting it on the Dimanche Gras stage.

Furthermore they say that soca comes out of this supposedly traditional calypso: a remark even more pathetic than it is funny. Not only is what passes for traditional calypso now only a distorted rump of the Executor template, but the youth in their claiming of this raw energy have gone back to the very roots of calypso, the core that is Canboulay. This is also evident in the overtly “African” rhythmic

Brother Resistance
power of the lyrical “rapso”. We may mention Brother Resistance, Ataklan and Three Canal.

I also want to mention the blooming of powerful lyric and musicality, ancestral tradition and world beat in the diaspora evidenced by Drew Gonsalves and his band Kobo Town; perhaps the best contemporary calypso available today. Hence it may be argued that this 21st century generation is in essence more traditional than those of the 20th century. A re-claiming of the source that gave birth to the “rotation’ that is the Executor template.

Here, very interesting: women are once more coming into prominence: witness for instance Faye-Anne and Destra. Or even that at one level they seem set to take over the so-called traditional form. This is also a return to the Canboulay where women were prominent.
The real tragedy is that a great deal of this reclamation takes place within the violent distortion of the framework of contemporary capitalism: the oppressive system that constitutes the reality of criminality, bloodletting, the destruction of community, the vile globalized commercial machine running amok that now seems to own soca itself; this in the midst of its decaying nationalism.

This is the world that our young people today inhabit and, at the end of the day, the soca is merely revealing the reality. Is this not what calypso has always done?
So the music of the Montano generation is thus lurching toward annihilation or so it seems but so is the society itself. But the door of return always remains open.

But instead we are all complaining: condemning the music and its generation. Yet no one seems to be prepared to stand up against the monster that’s producing the disruption, the ongoing system of oppression. We hate the soca but we love we capitalism.