He is a Grammy award-winning songwriter and a child of Trinidad and Tobago. After 14 years of resisting the urge to enter competitions locally, Anslem Douglas has not just returned for Carnival 2013 but has thrown his hat into the ring for this year's International Soca Monarch competitions.
At the 2001 Grammy awards, Douglas' Who Let the Dogs Out earned The Baja Men the award for Best Dance Track. Already a resident of Toronto, Canada, Douglas says the success changed his life "forever." He explained, "The changes have been both good and bad. The good side was getting worldwide recognition as a songwriter. You know you are big when the New York Times calls you for an interview, and Jamie Foxx's people call you for material. On the down side, people expect thereafter that every song you write is a Grammy award winner."
With a new CD under his belt, Douglas has also released three songs for C2K13. "I have two releases this year," he revealed, "one a power soca named Bacchanal (Ah Come Again), and a groovy soca named Do You Think He Will Understand. I also wrote a techno soca which I intend pushing after Carnival. It is called Touch Me and it was produced by a Toronto-based musician named Rocky."
Bacchanal was written by Douglas, and Do You Think He Will Understand by Carlton Roberts, a young producer out of Toronto.Douglas has resided in Canada for the past 19 years, migrating there in 1994 after rocking the town with his hit single Ragga Pum Pum, and after breaking ties with Atlantic Records. He said, "I have always been in music out there (Canada). I just released a new ten-track CD, titled Project AD. It's neo soul/R&B, with a few smooth jazz tracks as well, and has been receiving favourable rotation on the airwaves in Toronto."
Douglas participated in the 1999 edition of the Soca Monarch competition. Performing Palms on the Ground, he placed fifth. That final was won by Kurt Allen, singing Dus Dem.
About competing against his peers, Douglas said, "I decided then that the competition wasn't really my bag and that I should focus on the music. This year however, encouraged by fans and friends, I decided that I should return. My mind to do so was made up during an interview on WACK Radio station when listeners and a few knowledgeable people called in and advised me to enter this year's contest. Earl Crosby was the one who pointed out that I shouldn't regard the contest merely as a competition but as a powerful vehicle for international exposure."
The handsome, lanky composer/recording artiste, who has been in the music business for many years, said, "I jumped into this soca thing while I was still a member of the Coast Guard, singing with Fire Flight during the '80s. I went full time, 100 per cent, when I left the Coast Guard in October 1990, just after the coup in July. Overall, the music has been good to me."
Attempting to make a comparison between the genre of old and today, Douglas said, "Soca music cannot be classified as better or worse. Change has happened. I find that the music aspect of the genre has become less melodic and less musical, but more rhythmic, at least for a period.
"Today, I am seeing more music coming back into the music. It definitely now is getting better as the rhythm is here to stay. And as we begin to incorporate those beautiful chords we once had it will get better. The thing that lasts the longest in music is its melody. If we can get back to the nice melodies we had before, with the rhythms of today, I think we'll have a stronger music genre."
Douglas believes that soca music internationally is more recognised and popular today than when men like Ras Shorty I breathed life into this new music genre four decades ago. He said, "Soca music in North America is seeing a new growing interest in the music. The second and third generation West Indians up North are growing up now with a sense of belonging and wanting to identify with the music of their parents. Some of them who were born out there are actually now trying to speak like West Indians, trying to nail down the accents perfectly. The younger generation is really into the music. I'd say our culture is alive and well in North America."
Asked not to name Machel Montano as an example of young artistes to take soca music international, after some thought, Douglas said, "Not mentioning the obvious, which is Machel Montano, some of the young soca artistes I am impressed with today are Bunji, Benjai, and Fay-Ann. A lot of young people are doing some very good work here, but I wonder if they are getting the kind of rotation their work deserves on the airwaves. Nonetheless, they've got to keep toiling because, at the end of the day, it's all about WORK."
Douglas expressed concern over local 'ageing' music. He explained, "I think it's a sad thing that bookings for fetes and shows are not based on repertoire but more on what have you done lately. It would be nice if promoters would hire an entertainer just based on repertoire, with the artiste giving a one-hour performance on stage within the Carnival season. What happens though is that once you begin singing on stage, people began clamouring for some of your old school material, like When Ah Dead, Ragga Pum Pum and, of course, Who Let the Dogs Out. It would be nice to see so many of our soca and calypso stars, like Shadow and Baron, singing some of their old stuff in parties. Since I've been here I have managed to get a few gigs for the Carnival. My calendar is beginning to fill out bit by bit.
"In Carnival the world comes to us, the world comes to the home of Carnival, and I feel we should show the world everything that we have to offer–from limbo to tassa, to African drumming and dancing, pan and calypso. Perhaps the calypso tents can start to do this type of thing.
"There is an artistic side to Carnival, one that people come from all over the world to see, but which isn't shown to them. It's all about showcasing our Carnival in its entirety, every facet of it."
Douglas is also a successful vocalist of songs for Panorama as three of his songs have won the National Panorama title three times in the last five years. Those wins have been Musical Vengeance–Phase II Pan Groove (2008); Battle Zone –Silver Stars (2010); and, Showtime–Trinidad All Stars (2011). He said, "I love music that is specially designed and composed for the pan. I believe that I feel the same kind of excitement recording and singing these songs that a panman feels on a Panorama final night. I definitely intend doing more pan music."