Blending influences drawn from rap, hip-hop, ragga and R&B with more traditional calypsonian elements, from the devastating rhythm of Dawg E Slaughter's ‘Trample’ to the provocative sexuality of Denise Belfon's ‘Saucy Baby’ via the Bajan jump-up sensation of Timmy's ‘Bumpa Catch A Fire’, it's a unique compilation of tracks.
The idea for ‘Lif Up Yuh Leg An Trample’ took shape when Damon Albarn together with Mark Ainley and Alan Scholefield - the trio who set up the Honest Jon's label in 2002 - visited this year's Carnival in Trinidad. "I've lived in Notting Hill for 12 years and enjoyed being in the middle of the biggest Carnival in Europe," Albarn says. "But nothing prepares you for Carnival in Trinidad. It's a way of life and the entire calendar seems to be built around it. People are up for days on end and you hear the songs over and over again until they become like mantras."
Virtually all musical activity in Trinidad and Tobago is concentrated in the Carnival season, which runs from late December to March. During that time, more than 1000 songs are released, a legacy of the days when music was only permitted during the Carnival season and was obliged to cease as soon as Lent arrived. Although the days of such strict religious observance are long gone with the former colonial rulers, the tradition lives on and the pre-Lent Carnival period remains the key time to get a new song on the airwaves. Radio play during Carnival will then determine whether the artists get to work for the rest of the year. "For the performers there's a lot riding on it which is what makes Carnival so intense," Albarn notes. "If we can further the cause of soca musicians with this compilation, then we'll have achieved what we set out to do."
Also key to success in the soca world are the official Carnival competitions. The longest-standing is the Road March, which goes to the most played song and is open only to Trinidad and Tobago residents ever since an Antiguan almost won the title in 1977. But in recent years there has been a plethora of further competitions added to the Carnival calendar and in 1994 the International Soca Monarch award was inaugurated. This year it went to Bunji Garlin for the track ‘Warrior Cry’, which is included on ’Lif Up Yuh Leg An Trample’.
Yet the tracks selected for this compilation are not necessarily the biggest Carnival hits. "Like anything, there's a less appealing commercial side to some of the music," Albarn says. "So by and large we avoided that and went for the tracks with the most energy and a cutting edge."
Soca evolved in the 1970s from traditional calypso, which was seen as an increasingly insular form and was beginning to decline in popularity. As Trindadian musicians increasingly travelled to New York to record, the new up-tempo style that developed became known as soul calypso (hence soca). Using more sophisticated recording techniques and incorporating influences drawn from '70s American soul, disco and funk, it swiftly came to rival reggae as the most popular form of music in the Caribbean. Trinidad inevitably remained soca's stronghold, but the freshness and dynamism of the new style soon attracted adherents from other islands such as Barbados, Antigua and Montserrat.
Lord Shorty's 1974 hits ‘Endless Vibrations’ and ‘Soul of Calypso’ brought soca to an international audience, while Arrow - not from Trinidad but Montserrat - had an even bigger international success with the 1983 global chart-topper ‘Hot! Hot! Hot!’. Such tracks were essentially good time party tunes. But soca has not entirely turned its back on the calypsonian tradition of political and social comment and Gypsy's 1986 hit ‘The Sinking Ship’ is credited with helping to remove the People's National Movement from the Trinidadian government. Andre Tanker's ‘Food Fight’, is just one of the tracks on ‘Lif Up Yuh Leg An Trample’ to pack a message.
By the 1990s, soca was expanding its horizons once again to take in influences from Jamaican ragga and dancehall and from hip-hop and house music. These new influences helped to create a harder-edged school of contemporary soca and gave birth to a new generation of young artists such as Bunji Garlin and Machel Montano & Xtatic.
The new soca sound is not a uniform movement, as you can hear from the sheer diversity of the music on offer on ‘Lif Up Yuh Leg An Trample’. It also takes in the Indian chutney soca of Massive Gosine's ’Chrloo’, for example. But the global transformation of the music since the early 1990s has both captured a younger generation that had given up on more traditional forms of calypso and soca and has created considerable generational friction with the calypsonian old guard. Yet there is also a continuous narrative thread that joins modern soca and all its diverse influences to the days of calypso and the early soca pioneers.
Calypso legend Mighty Sparrow - who won his first Carnival Road March way back in
1956 - has endorsed the new sound and has pronounced himself happy to pass on the baton to the likes of Machel Montano. Maximus Dan's ‘Soca Train’ is a cutting-edge reworking of a 1982 hit by Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters and represents a direct, conciliatory link to soca's first golden age. On ‘Love Fire’, the new generation meets the old guard with thrilling results on Machel Montano's remake of Black Stalin's 1987 hit. Other tracks come from the 2003 Carnival while offerings from the likes of Michelle Sylvester, Bunji Garlin and Dawg E Slaughter were especially created for this year's Trinidad Carnival.
Get ready to trample. Get ready to bounce. The soca train is here. Lift up yuh leg and enjoy the ride.
Lif Up Yuh Leg An Trample
Laventille Rhythm Section Rhythm
Based in Port of Spain's deprived suburb of Laventille, an area rich in steel band history, the Laventille Rhythm Section is essentially a percussion engine room of the type that drives Trinidad and Tobago's massive steel orchestras. Specially recorded for ‘Lif Up Yuh Leg An Trample’, "Rhythm" signals that de bacchanal now starts.
Dawg E Slaughter Trample
Dawg E Slaughter (real name Derek Pereira) first started making waves with his Road March contender "Tic Toc" during 2002 Trinidad Carnival season. He returned with a vengeance in 2004 to co-develop the Trample Rhythm.
Timmy Bumpa Catch A Fire
" Bumpa Catch A Fire" was a major hit for Timmy at Barbados Crop Over festival in August 2003, placing second in both the Tune-Of-The-Crop (Road March) and Party Monarch contests and winning the inaugural People's Monarch. The song crossed over to 2004 Trinidad Carnival season, where besides causing waists to furiously wine it took him to seventh place in the International Soca Monarch final.
Maximus Dan Soca Train
Formerly known as Maga Dan, Maximus is currently one of the most popular ragga soca artists with Trinidad and Tobago's youth. Edghill Thomas dropped Maga in favour of Maximus after seeing the movie Gladiator. UK soca deejay / broadcaster Smokey Joe inspired him to update the minor 1982 hit "Soca Train" by calypsonian and former government minister Winston "Gypsy" Peters.
Andre Tanker Food Fight
Andre's music is quintessentially Trinbagonian and transcends the confines of Carnival. Still, his masterful "Ben Lion" in conjunction with 3 Canal became a major hit during Carnival 2002. This led to collaborations with young hit-makers Maximus Dan and Destra Garcia. "Food Fight" - featuring Maximus - was produced for 2003 season, which was sadly Andre's last as he passed away on Carnival Friday.
Michelle Sylvester Go Ahead
A frontline singer with the band Pure Energy, Michelle Sylvester enjoyed a successful 2004 Carnival with two significant hits - the solo number "Go Ahead and Horn Meh" and "Dip Down Low" with Terry Seales. Writer Nadia Batson provided additional vocals to Tanker's "Food Fight". To "horn" is a Trini expression for being unfaithful in a relationship.
Massive Gosine Chrloo
Nirmal "Massive" Gosine, a major force on the Indo-Trinidadian Chutney scene, performs over the Dougla Rhythm, which was created by groovemaster Daryl Braxton for 2003 Carnival. “Dougla” is a Trinidadian term for someone of mixed African and Indian parentage. For 2004 Carnival season, Massive organised the groundbreaking National Chutney Touring Tent.
Machel Fire Man
In 1986, 11-year-old soca prodigy Machel Montano became the youngest finalist in the National Calypso Monarch competition. Eighteen years on, he and his band Xtatik are the foremost ambassadors of Trinidad's new generation of soca. "Fire Man" also features long-time vocalist Peter C. Lewis. Wanskie provides ragga flourishes and Onyan injects vocal stylings reminiscent of his work with the Antiguan soca band Burning Flames.
Dawg E Slaughter Bounce
Slaughter come back a nex' time with his 2003 selection "Bounce", arranged by Richard "Charsu" Ahong. In addition to being a soca singer, Slaughter is a deejay (working under the name of Xcaliber), rapper, producer, songwriter and Carnival designer. His composition "Cry For Peace" - one of the two selections performed by the 2003 National Calypso Monarch Singing Sandra in defence of her crown - attracted respect even from the musical establishment.
Bunji Garlin Warrior Cry
This cut from his album Graceful Vengeance secured the 2004 International Soca Monarch crown for Bunji Garlin. Born Ian Alvarez in Sangre Grande, Bunji burst onto the Carnival scene in 1999 with the mega hit "Send Dem Riddum Crazy". He has reigned as Trinidad and Tobago's Ragga Soca Monarch since 2001, because the short-lived contest demised that year.
Denise Belfon Saucy Baby
Career winer-girl Denise Belfon shot to attention with hits like 1994's "Doggie" (aka "Wine Like a Dog") and 1995's "Ka Ka Lay Lay". Widely known as "Saucy Wow", her sexually provocative and show-stopping performances have taken wining to a higher or lower level - depending on your moral point of view!! Her 2003 self-penned hit "Saucy Baby" is made available here for the first time.
Bobo Soca Taliban
A haunting tune from 2002 Barbados Crop Over festival.
Machel & Black Stalin - Love Fire
The new generation meets the old guard in this remake of Stalin's 1987 National Calypso Monarch winning selection "Burn Dem" (originally from the LP I Time on B's Records).