While carnival season in the UK doesn’t begin until June, carnival in Trinidad (and other parts of the Caribbean) takes place two days before the Christian month of Lent, which this year begins on Wednesday 6 March. For music lovers, a highlight of Trinidad Carnival is the Road March competition in which Soca artists battle it out for the much-sought-after title. Artists have been releasing new material with the Road March in mind since November, giving the listeners plenty of time to grow familiar with the tunes. By the end of January, there’s already hundreds of new Soca songs to pick from with some artists having released as many as 16 new titles.
The competition has been officially held in Trinidad since 1932 but it’s roots go back almost a hundred years before then. Until the 1970s it was Calypso all the way with Lord Kitchener, Roaring Lion, and Mighty Shadow being regular winners. Then Soca took over with Calypso Rose’s 1978 number ‘Come Leh We Jam’ being the first official Soca song to win the Road March in Trinidad. Calypso Rose had become the first female to take the title the previous year. Other Caribbean islands have Road March competitions too, most of which date back to the 70s. The United Kingdom even held a competition for four consecutive years beginning in 2010, making it the only country outside the Caribbean to do so. The Carnival Road March moves with the times and listening to the winning Road Marches in chronological order not only gives you one hell of a party playlist but gives you an understanding of how Calypso and Soca has developed over the past century or so. Listen to the winning Road Marches from 1967 to 1978 and you’ll witness the birth of Soca in 12 songs. Skip forward to last year’s Road March, ‘Soca Kingdom’ by Machel Montano and Superblue and you can begin to understand why some feel that the older traditions are being lost, it’s almost a different genre.
However, if some of the latest Soca releases are anything to go by, traditions are still important and are far from lost. Adapted yes but not lost. While songs like Superblue’s ‘Rag Storm’, Machel Montano’s ‘Dr. Mashup’ and Iwer George’s ‘Road March Bacchanal 2’ bring nostalgic vibes to the fete, Aaron Duncan sings about going ‘Back To Basics’ mentioning Lord Kitchener and Mighty Sparrow, in ‘Iron Love’ Nailah Blackman sings about her love of the iron bands, a predecessor of the steel band and Superblue gives us a history lesson in ‘Rag Storm’. “Oh my gosh” he sings “since de 18th century de first carnival was in T and T”.
There’s another tradition that can be heard in recent Soca releases that many listeners may not be familiar with. Calypsonians have been battling it out lyrically since the very early days of the genre. Long before Rap Battles and Diss Tracks, Calypso singers would write ‘Calypso Wars’ about their revels and would ‘battle’ one and other live on stage. The art form seems to have made a come back with the ongoing drama between Iwer George and Machel Montano. As Iwer George’s song ‘Road March Bacchanal 2’ explains the drama began in 2018 when Machel Montano’s ‘Soca Kingdom’ won the Road March over Iwer George’s ‘Savannah’. In ‘Road March Bacchanal 2’ Iwer also sings about how Machel ‘blocked’ comedian Sunny Bling from performing on stage with him. Machel’s reply came in the form of ‘Dr. Mashup’ to which Iwer replied to by adding a new verse to ‘Road March Bacchanal 2’. The back and forth continued when Machel released ‘Dr.Mashup 2’, giving us a four song battle with a possible third round on its way.
With so many great tunes competing for this year’s Road March title it’s going to be extremely difficult to pick just one. Could Machel Montano take the title again, giving him his tenth win? Or will Superblue beat all competition for the eleven time? Could Nailah Blackman or Destra become the first female winner in ten years? Rising star Aaron Duncan stands a good chance too. Below is our list of the top ten Soca tunes of 2019 (so far).
- Rag Storm – Superblue feat. 3 Canal
- Hookin’ Meh – Farmer Nappy
- Dr. Mashup – Machel Montano
- Doh Study People – Destra
- Famalay – Skinny Fabulous, Machel Montano, Bunji Garlin
- Games – Nailah Blackman
- So Long – Nadia Batson
- Back To Basics – Aaron Duncan
- Road March Bacchanal 2 – Iwer George
- Iron Love – Nailah Blackman