The Birth of Soca

Explore the history and development of Soca music in Trinidad and Tobago and in the United Kingdom.

Lord Kitchener, Lord Superior and Lord Melody (1962/1962)Notting Hill Carnival

What is Soca?

Soca (or Sokah) music is an offshoot of Calypso which developed into a popular musical style in Trinidad in the 1970s. Soca literally means the ‘(So)ul of (Ca)lypso’, and represents a fusion of African and Caribbean Kaiso and Calypso and South Asian rhythms.

While Calypso music is a form of sociopolitical commentary on current affairs, generally Soca emphasises dance and ‘feel good’ undertones, such as in Groovy Soca and Jam’n’Wine. The Calypsonian tradition of social commentary can however still be found in the Conscious Soca subgenre.

Lord Shorty, Robin Ramjitsingh and Bisram Moonilal (1973/1973)Notting Hill Carnival

What does Soca sound like?

Soca is a blend of African and East Indian rhythms. It has merged with other musical styles over time, including influences from Reggae, Zouk, Latin and Cadence. The rhythmic energy of Soca encourages audiences to dance, emphasised by synthesised sounds and electronically mixed effects.

Lord Shorty's 'Endless Vibrations Vinyl Artwork (1974/1974)Notting Hill Carnival

The Origins of Soca

Soca developed as a by-product of Calypso. In the 1970s Calypso was losing favour with the younger generation as reggae from Jamaica and Soul and Funk from the USA rose to popularity.

As a result, Lord Shorty developed Soca in an effort to restore Calypso’s prevalence. Shorty originally spelt it ‘Sokah’ to reflect the East Indian influence on the genre, however due to a newspaper error it was printed as ‘Soca’, and has remained as such to this day.

Lord Shorty's 'Soca Explosion' Vinyl Artwork (1978/1978)Notting Hill Carnival

Garfield Blackman - Lord Shorty

Widely considered the ‘Father of Soca’, Lord Shorty rose to fame with his 1964 calypso hit ‘Cloak and Dagger’. In the early 1970s, Lord Shorty made the groundbreaking decision to experiment by fusing calypso with elements of Indo-Caribbean music which more closely represented the multiculturalism of Trinidad.

Nailah Blackman (2019/2019)Notting Hill Carnival

How did Soca Music Develop?

In the years following Lord Shorty’s development of Soca, the genre became more studio-produced. Originally sporting brass bands and rhythm sections, Soca is now nearly all electronically produced. In particular, Soca has been influenced by EDM, Afrobeats, and Dancehall.

Machel Montano (2011/2011), Sean DrakesNotting Hill Carnival

Soca has since dominated the popular music scene of Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean, with Soca artists typically producing new music during the intense Carnival season. 

Lord Kitchener (1951/1951)Notting Hill Carnival

How did Soca Music come to the U.K.?

Calypso, and by extension, Soca music, is thought to have become established in the U.K. with the ‘Windrush Generation’, as Caribbean populations moved to the nation. Several notable Calypsonians moved to Britain during this time, including the Lord Kitchener, Roaring Lion and Lord Beginner.

Wotless Mas Band (2015/2015), Adrian ScottowNotting Hill Carnival

Soca and Notting Hill Carnival

Since its introduction to the U.K., Soca has become solidified as one of the ‘five key arts’ of Notting Hill Carnival, and is the most pervasive sound you will hear roaming the streets on Carnival Sunday and Monday. 

DeeVineNotting Hill Carnival

In addition to its sonic presence at Carnival, Soca has furthermore become entrenched through U.K. versions of Trinidadian Soca competitions, most notably the U.K. Groovy Soca Monarch competition.

Below watch some performances from the U.K.’s best soca artists, filmed for the digital Notting Hill Carnival 2020: Access All Areas.

Notting Hill Carnival, Triniboi Joocie (2020/2020), Notting Hill Carnival LtdNotting Hill Carnival

Triniboi Joocie

Triniboi Joocie is one of Europe’s elite Soca artistes. With various titles and achievements gained throughout his short but accomplished career, he has surpassed expectations for the development of the Soca in the U.K. and Europe.

Notting Hill Carnival, Ms Desire (2020/2020), Notting Hill Carnival LtdNotting Hill Carnival

Ms Desire

Ms Desire is a two-time Best UK Female Soca Artist and Best UK Soca Artist winner, and was also nominated as best Female Soca Artist at the International Soca Music Awards in the United States.

The SunDivas

The SunDivas (Sunshine & Nadiva) are the 2018 UK Groovy Soca Monarchs and St. Vincent Soca Monarch Finalists. They are one of the most hard-working duos on the UK Caribbean Music scene. The sisters are award-winning singer/songwriters from East London, with heritage from the Caribbean.

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