04 May 2009

Soca vs. Reggae? Who wins?

Growing up in the Caribbean, or another part of the world where Caribbean culture is very apparent, we have all run into this argument. Both sides claim credit as being the best party music, both claim to be the most original, and both have created a unique culture amongst it's indigenous and foreign fans.

If we were to base it off of worldwide influence, who could we say claimed the title? Dancehall has made its way to commercial radio limelight outside of Jamaica for over the last 20 years at least. Now claiming fans of all colors, races and ethnicities, it would be a fair assessment that it has claimed its space in the forefront of world music. Hell, its an official genre and recognized by the American culmination of "good" music, The Grammy's. Soca is not. But, most forget one thing...CARNIVAL..That is right, carnival in Trinidad and Tobago (as well as the other leeward and windward islands) is probably the biggest attraction of any celebration in the world, earning a cult like following from all islands, continents and corners of the globe. Is it the music? Probably more like the atmosphere that the music creates. But at the end of the day, a shining star in a clear glass case that dancehall cannot claim.

I believe for years the "Soca vs. Dancehall" debate was really an inherent "whose island is better" argument, which spilled over into the Caribbean's most popular and recognizable trait...Music.. But in these times it seems we are on the cusp of a major change. For the generation of the late 70's through 90's (my generation) we have had many, many cross over artists. The biggest in my mind to date is a toss up between Byron Lee, and Beenie Man's number one soca hit, "Jump and Wine." Since then, we have seen an influx of reggae and soca artist collaborating and musical masterworks, with sayings, nuances and dances crossing the cultural borders. Even the BPM's of some reggae songs of late can rival that of a Groovy soca song. So it just seemed fitting that eventually, along would come a spider, and spin a web of fusionary bliss between the two.

Yet, that attempt has only helped to add fuel to the argumentative fire. Tony "The Mad Architects" debut riddim, entitled "The Major Riddim" was supposed to be the beacon light, symbolizing the union of two cultures, ideals and musical styles. But it has turned into a bigger competition from both sides of the musical isle. (Yes "isle" is purposely misspelled, clever I know). This fusionary music style (name of genre still pending) has sounded the call from soca and dancehall artists, squaring off of the riddim to settle the argument. However, fortunately, and unfortunately, it doesn't seem like we are any closer to settling the beef. The soca artists have come up with some songstry ballads that are sure fire hits; while the dancehall side has stringed together some lightening like lyrics, along with well placed punch lines and hooks, placing them amongst the top of this riddim's elite.

So who will win this epic battle? Who has taken the lead? Seemingly this will be and endless saga that will never end with a clear victory. But it sure is fun to witness!