Soca's most energizing strain is power soca: an uptempo subgenre that has been popularized by Trinidadian, St. Vincent & Grenadian artists.

Sound Stage: The Energizing Pulse of Power Soca

When you hear Suhrawh and Chow Minister’s 2022 single “In The Water,”you know you’ve reached a fete’s power soca segment: the crowd starts jumping at a faster pace, people belt out their favorite lyrics and an undeniable energy surges through people as they begin to move and dance. Power soca is a subgenre that has long been the score to many celebrations in the Caribbean and its diaspora giving an exhilarating means to jump and wave.

The subgenre’s roots developed from soca. An infectious, lively music genre created by Trinidadian calypsonian, Lord Shorty, the genre, then known as sokah, emerged in the 1970s as a way to reach younger audiences and unite the twin islands’ large Indo- and Afro-Trinbagonian populations. Soca was referred to as “the soul of calypso” because it infused Indian instruments, like the dholak and tabla drums, with traditional calypso instrumentals, like the maraca, guitar and tamboo bamboo. Over the decades, soca music has evolved forming various subgenres with unique localized elements as it began to spread across the region expanding to groovy soca, chutney soca, bashment soca, bouyon soca, ragga soca and many more. 

Among the strains are power soca, known for, arguably, being fast-paced and energetic in comparison to other strains. A typical power soca song ranges between 140-170 beats per minute (BPM), while slower paced soca subgenres, like groovy and sweet soca, are under 140 BPM. The genres also differ in their lyrical content and instructive-focused elements. Due to the genre’s production style, power soca is very popular in parties, performances and on the road while revelers play mas.

Power soca was first made popular by the legendary Trinidadian soca artist, Super Blue. Singles like “Get Something and Wave,” “Bacchanal Time” and “Flag Party” were released in the 90s and embodied many of the aforementioned elements. The lively performer was known for his upbeat performances and would prompt crowds to jump, wine, and wave their country flags. What made the artist a pioneer was his unique sound. Super Blue emerged during a time where calypso was more popular, and in turn, he is widely considered to be the predecessor to modern power soca. 

Of course, a genre as electric as power soca is demanding of a major stage. One of the biggest platforms for power soca is Trinidad and Tobago’s International Soca Monarch (ISM): an annual competition where artists create songs to be entered into either the International Power Monarch and International Groovy Monarch categories. Whichever artist and their single emerge as the champion is considered the monarch of the respective category after having gone through several rounds of competing with other artists and calculating votes through a voting system.

With the BPM being the main designation between which category a soca song would fall under, the ISM has been a staple in Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival processions since the inaugural monarch in 1993 where the majority of that year’s winners performed power soca singles. Previous Power Soca Monarch-winning performances include “Meet Super Blue” by Fay-Ann Lyons in 2009, “Palance” by JW & Blaze in 2010 and 2011’s “Advantage” by Machel Montano.

Another country in the Caribbean widely known for their contributions to power soca is St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Some of the most popular Vincentian artists that sing, write and produce power soca are Skinny Fabulous, Problem Child, Hypa 4000Wetty Beatz and The Great Zee

The Great Zee is integral to the development of power soca in the 00s due to his ultra fast-paced production. The 2005 single “Mad” by Problem Child is one of The Great Zee’s signature productions, which molded the current power soca sound that the island is known to produce. Skinny Fabulous’ 2008 single “Head Bad” is an uptempo power soca single featuring high energy production that continues along the sonic lineage The Great Zee had created.

Popular Vincentian power soca riddims include the 2014 Oil Stain Riddim produced by Wetty Beatz, which is often heard during power soca segments in fetes and j’ouverts. Like Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines also hosts a soca monarch competition during their Vincy Mas Carnival season.

Similarly, Grenada is also known for its production of power soca and artists like BoyzieTallpree, Lavaman and soca duo Lil Natty & Thunda have defined their country’s sound. Grenadians are known for including jab jab elements in their music which heavily influence Grenada’s musical output.

The concept of jab jab stems from j’ouvert, but what makes Grenadian power soca distinct is their inclusion of horns and conch shells while artists deliver their lyrics in Grenadian creole. “Ah Cyah Hear,” the 2007 single by Lavaman, is an oft cited Grenadian power soca single that encapsulates said elements. “Top Striker” by Lil Natty & Thunda is another quintessential Grenadian power soca song released in 2017 for Grenada’s carnival, Spice Mas, and one that amassed popularity throughout the Caribbean and its diaspora. Just like Trinidad and Tobago and St. Vincent, Grenada’s soca monarch competitions heavily focus on power soca with its winners dominating with power soca releases.

Producers and artists from Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent, Grenada and other Caribbean countries have historically worked together to continue to elevate the subgenre. This practice has become popular since the 2010s with songs and riddims that include the 2016 Greenz Connection-produced Sick Jab Riddim and the monster hits that emerged from 2019 like Mr. Killa’s “Run Wid It” and the joint Skinny Fabulous, Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin record “Famalay.” As more producers, songwriters and vocalists come together to collaborate, while still making use of the subgenre to define their own local sound, power soca singles continue to showcase a robust sonic landscape that represents the different soca strains in the region.

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