Trinidad Carnival 2015, from a music standpoint, was dominated by one name: Machel Montano. Trinidadians opted for one or more of his dozen new songs as anthems for fervent frolic.
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Rock ’n’ Soca Rollercoaster
My name is Phil Hill and I gave up soca to play rock and roll.
I played soca keyboards from around ’96 to 2009 or so with Alison Hinds and, before her, Destra. And others, like Anselm Douglas. I earned pretty well but I don’t think I did pretty well, musically.
I’m from Maraval. I grew up two houses away from my primary school, Blackman’s Private School. But I used to reach school late anyhow.
I come from a nuclear family: just me. My father remarried and had me late, around 58, 59. Being an only child made it easier to turn to music. Loneliness is a great motivator.
I didn’t mind my father being older when I was born but he died at the wrong time. I was 18. To enter university, all that freedom, and him not there. I ran amok and only lasted a year-and-a-half in UWI before I dropped out to do music. Through God’s grace, I ended up surviving.
QRC was very positive for me because it pushed me along the music track a lot, from form one! They had a lot of music programmes then, orchestra workshops during the holidays.
My first musical composition was at ten years old. Yeah, it was a tabanca song! Lyrics were terrible. But it was my first.
My father was a music teacher, very classically-based, so that was my foundation, those beautiful movements and passages. And I listened to a lot of 95.1FM, secular music, where I heard those classical passages again, like reoccurring themes. I started to fall in love with songs. Karen Carpenter was my queen! Carole King, too: Carole King was my queen. Earth, Wind & Fire and Billy Joel were my two main influences.
When you have an eyebrow ring, people kind of write you off from the first time they lay eyes on you. I did it just before I joined Alison Hinds. I think I wanted to say I was a rock man. So I pierced my eye.
I was raised Anglican and I believe in God but my faith has been tested many times. That tuning fork that goes off in your head that gives you that connection to something above. And lyrics just start to come, chords just start to fall into place. That’s why I believe in God.
Not to make it all mystical, but that can’t be all me!
I dropped completely out of soca in around 2010. I don’t regret it at all. Soca music had become so plastic, so manufactured. It’s ironic that we have to rely on people like (rock band Orange Sky leader) Nigel (Rojas]), who came from that school of composing, to put something into the songs.
I read Naipaul, Vonnegut, all the sardonic, twisted guys. My Bible was A House for Mr Biswas.
Let’s have a Carnival without soca bands. Let the artistes perform with tracks alone. And let’s see how the Carnival will suffer! Then you will get to realise the power of live musicians behind you!
3Canal, rapso, is the closest thing we have to a successful rock band now.
By the time I left soca, I had replaced the horn and rhythm sections. I was literally pushing buttons and turning knobs for a living. I found myself daydreaming on stage. It became so rote. When I realised it was water more than flour, I just stopped.
The best thing about playing rock ‘n’ roll instead of soca is the intimacy between you and the crowd. The rock ’n’ roll crowd is so small, you really feel the connection. With soca, you play for 10,000 people and you make them jump and put their hands in the air. Bup! Next band comes on and does the same thing.
The worst thing about playing rock ’n’ roll as opposed to soca is rock ‘n’ roll is born out of pain. And going to that place, where rock ’n’ roll comes from, all the time, that drains you.
Trinis used to be forgiving, tolerant and mannerly. Now they’re angry, impatient and frustrated.
Trinidad & Tobago will always be home to me. And there’s space in the home for rock ’n’ roll, even if it’s a small room.
Read a longer version of this feature at www.BCRaw.com