Some thoughts on calypso , modern soca and the steel-band

I believe that the primary difference between calypso composers of yesteryear, and soca / calypso composers of today is the fact that old time composers wrote calypsos with a steelband beat “in dey head”.

This was partly because the steelband dominated the streets and determined the road-march winner which was coveted by calypsonians back then , but it was also because of the close connection between the calypso and the steel-band as the two elements of our musical culture grew together in the post war years.


The Mighty Sparrow – Steelband Music


As the steelband culture matured in the 1960s and 1970s , Jamaicans developed the DJ based Sound system , in Jamaica and also in Britain where the Jamaican music culture dominated the Caribbean music scene.
It was inevitable that dj sound systems would also dominate in Trinidad at carnival time , especially since their was no musical opposition , and since the steelbands were not sufficiently prepared , or professionally competitive.
There is also no doubt that the popularity of Jamaican reggae and dancehall as party music influenced the direction and sound of Trinidad’s music .

Subsequently , the musical focus of the steel-band  also changed , from adapting popular local and foreign tunes to carnival party music , into a preference for a competition based, highly arranged , almost semi-classical music genre more suited for listening and appreciating than for partying and “getting on bad ” at Carnival.
My feeling is that the major influence in the changing of our music from steelband oriented compositions to a dj sound style is the diminished role of the steelband in determining the road march.

In the sixties, big , powerful steelbands ruled the road on Carnival day, and they determined the most popular tunes for the Carnival. As a result,. there were rumors about calypsonians paying steelbands to”beat” their tunes on Carnival days so that they could win the coveted Road March title and prize money.

The Mighty Stalin as he was then known was more familiar to us “limers” in Marabella and in South than to the whole country, and was just emerging as a nationally known singer, and this may have been his first hit.

As a matter of fact, this tune was not that well known when it was chosen by San Fernando’s Silvertones Steel Orchestra as their calypso of choice in the 1967 music festival, but it could be considered a great pan tune.(Silvertones placed second in the unsponsored category)


It is my opinion that the steelbands of the future will have to create or adopt a genre that would appeal to the main consumers of music , the youth , bearing in mind their relative short attention span.

Panorama style music, like the classics would always appeal to an older audience , people like myself.

Unfortunately , that audience is yesterday , not tomorrow.
As for calypso , maybe it will not hurt progress if more of today’s composers returned to composing calypso music with “a pan in dey head”.

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