Public Service Announcement: Check on your Trininadian friends. Check on all of your Caribbean friends. They’re not OK. Because for perhaps the first time in Caribbean history, that time of year has rolled around and the unthinkable has become real: Trinidad Carnival. Is. Cancelled.
To understand the appalling gravitas of this situation, try to imagine the cancellation of, say, Christmas. Or, broadly speaking, the event — holy public ritual, really — that motivates tens of thousands of people around the world to keep on keeping on amid the daily drudgeries and mundane indignities of this nine-to-five life, because they know that come February, there shall be an ecstatic release: They will be covered in oil or paint, drink in hand, shimmering costume on deck, dancing through the streets of Port of Spain and giving thanks for a life that is a grand gift—wholly drugged by music, dance, joy and love.
But all is not lost. Yes, if ever the world needed a grand life-affirming ritual, it’s this very moment. The oil that keeps the engine of Trinidad Carnival running is soca music, and it continues to flow from Trinidad and beyond. Carnival or no Carnival, pandemic be damned, artists from across the Caribbean region are still releasing tunes capable of transforming your living room into a proper Carnival fete. With lyrics to fit the times — sometimes comedically so — these tunes also have the potential to upend the soca music industry (which tends to revolve around Carnival) by proving that soca stands on its own: music with these many vibes is worth releasing year-round.
And so, a roundup of the hottest soca tunes for the year that Carnival wasn’t.
Farmer Nappy, “Backyard Jam”
It’s the definitive anthem for Carnival during the quarantine era: an irresistible invitation to the only place it’s safe to jam anymore — your backyard, with pots and pans as instruments. The other songs on this riddim (named for the Farmer Nappy song) are equally addictive, especially “Better Days,” by Patrice Roberts, which comes with a welcome reminder that “Better days are coming… don’t let this moment pass you by and remain the same.”
Problem Child, The Honey Bee Project Riddim
Another riddim packed with vibes, this one serves up Patrice Roberts and Shal Marshall’s affirmation that Carnival is an “Essential Need”; Kells and Sekon Sta’s hilarious “Horn Proof,” about getting “horned” (cheated on) while in quarantine; and King Bubba and (riddim Executive Producer) Problem Child’s “One More Party,” whose chorus captures what we’re all screaming inside: “Turn me loose; let me out; I losing it; I can’t take no more lockdown!”
Boyzie, “Need Ah Fete”
Speaking of not being able to take it, Grenadian artist Boyzie serves up an even more hilariously urgent musical SOS. “I tired fi home; I need a fete,” he begs. “Open up the gates!”
Machel Montano, “High Life”
Meet your meditation for this moment: a sweet song by the Michael Jackson of soca, which begins with counting blessings and delivers your daily reminder that positive energy is the ultimate high.
Kes, “Keep Jammin On”
It’s magical nostalgia in your ear: a stunningly well crafted homage to “jammin on” despite it all, plus all that is glorious about Trini musical culture, from soca, kaiso and bacchanal to the great Calypsonians Kitchener and Sparrow.
Jonny Blaze, Stadic, Kerwin Du Bois, Destra Garcia, “Stress Reliever”
Who doesn’t need a stress reliever in these times? Consider this catchy collaboration yours.
Sanctuary Vibez, “Forever”
A sexy, groovy soca tune from Barbados for that rare moment in the fete when waistlines slow down — just for a moment, and just for a quick breather, before it’s back to full-fete business.
Kerwin DuBois featuring Noelle Archer, “Party Central”
Talk about forgetting all things pandemic. Blast this high-energy, road-friendly tune, close your eyes, put your hands in the air and musically teleport yourself to the streets of Port of Spain.
Olatunji “Drunk History”
Drinking songs always have their special place at Carnival, but considering growing global drinking habits during pandemic times, this one — its chorus cheerily informs us that “last year alcohol nearly kill me” — has special resonance.
Swappi, “God is a Trini”
Because an inspirational, patriotic song emphasizing what Trinis never fail to remind us — “God is a Trini” is a common phrase in the country; during Carnival, you certainly won’t doubt that it’s true — is always welcome.
DJ Private Ryan, Soca Starter 2021, The Quarantine Edition
For the definitive mix of all the above tunes, plus everything else you’re mandated to hear this season, all hail the Carnival DJ of all DJs, Private Ryan. His annual “soca brainwash” party is basically the highlight of everyone’s life each year: soca Disneyland, Carnival holy grail, Mecca of Bacchanal.