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Getting to the heart of soca
Social media have been abuzz over speculation of who is the “King of Soca,” the main artistes being Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin. Music analyst Meagan Sylvester has studied the careers of both artistes as part of her studies at UWI, St Augustine.
“The music-listening public seems to be pitting Machel Montano against Bunji Garlin as they try to decide which is the new king of soca,” said Sylvester.
“I find this exceedingly regrettable because it is wrong to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Machel Montano has been in the music business for several years and has made a significant contribution to the musical landscape of T&T.
“And, in addition to that, has paved the way for many of the current soca artistes. And credit should be given where credit is due.
“Bunji Garlin’s meteoric rise reflects a combination of factors, including astute marketing, skilful talent and proper timing. This is Bunji’s time to shine, just as Machel shone when his time arrived.
“T&T is fortunate to have two gifted sons who are shining the light of soca on the world stage. In years to come the contribution of these two gifted and talented artistes will lay the groundwork for soca artistes in the future.”
The title of Sylvester’s PhD studies, at the St Augustine campus of UWI, is Sociology of Music. She is focusing on music and its identity, with regard to all of T&T’s indigenous music.
Born in St Ann’s, Sylvester spent most of her life in Maracas, St Joseph, Tunapuna and St Augustine. She attended St Xavier’s Private School in St Joseph, St Joseph’s Convent, St Joseph, and UWI.
She said: “I am from a musical family so from a child I was connected to music. After piano tuition, I moved on to the playing the guitar. My father always played jazz music in the house, plus I have an uncle who is an accomplished cuatrista and parrandero, so I grew up on that. So, being around live music my whole life was my main motivator.”
Sylvester explained: “The principal focus of my thesis is ragga soca music, which is the hybrid of Jamaica’s reggae and dancehall (chanting lyrics) and T&T’s soca music (rhythms). Looking at the literature of our arts I realise that a lot had been written about calypso, especially by Dr Gordon Rohlehr and Dr Louis Regis, and there was a lot of information about rapso, both by Bro Resistance himself, and Marsha Pearce and others, especially on the contribution of 3canal.
“There was, however, a dearth of information on the sub-genre of ‘ragga soca’. I wanted to explore this music.”
Sylvester is a virtual encyclopaedia of knowledge as far as soca music, reggae and rapso are concerned.
“After examining who were the ragga soca artistes of T&T, I discovered Bunji Garlin, Maximus Dan, General Grant and KMC. I began exploring their music and their contribution to this particular sub-genre. This led me to want to write about it, as this is one of the indigenous musics of T&T.”
The music of Black Stalin and Shadow also had an impact on Sylvester. “This was so because of their hard-hitting social commentary and the uniqueness of their music, how they performed, and the values of their compositions.”
This young academic claimed that she is in much demand, at home and abroad, to lecture on T&T culture. On a light note, she said: “I think I may have to begin to take T&T flags when I go abroad, as people are extremely curious about our country and its indigenous music. For instance, I got an invitation from an academic in Egypt to write an article for the International Sociological Association E-Symposium. My article on T&T music was published in December 2013.”
Apart from soca, reggae and rapso, Sylvester also has a deep affinity with jazz, no doubt instilled from her childhood.
“There is a lively jazz music scene in existence locally and I play a very active part in that as well. I attend all the shows as an avid connoisseur of the music, as well as other indigenous non-soca live music shows.
“As far as non-soca music is concerned, there is a thriving post-Carnival circuit that is alive and throbs with energy and talent. This is where you’d find artistes like Dayo Bejide Jazz Project, co-ordinated by the sons of the late Jah Jah Oga Onilu (Modupe and Baba); Vaugnette Bigford, Chantal Esdelle, John John Francis, Sean Thomas, Gyazette, and Glenda Collens & Medea.
“It is good to juxtapose traditional calypso and soca with the more modern, non-soca material live music offerings because this provides a sense of the wealth, length and breadth of music that emanates from T&T.”
Meagan Sylvester holds a BSc in sociology and government and a post-graduate diploma in international relations. She has a Masters of Philosophy (MPhil) in Sociology of Development with a special emphasis in research, development and political economy of the Caribbean from UWI, St Augustine and Mona campuses, respectively.
She is finishing her PhD in sociology with special emphasis on music and identity in T&T at St Augustine.
Sylvester teaches the sociology of music and history of the Caribbean.
To date, Sylvester has several articles published on higher education in the Caribbean, developmental research options for the Caribbean and music and identity in the Caribbean.