Happy Carnival Monday, y’all! Down in Trinidad, the time is finally here: The gravitational pull of Carnival season comes to a peak today and tomorrow. Thousands (millions?) will flood the roads of Port of Spain and other Trinidadian cities in feathery mas costumes, chipping away behind mammoth soundsystem trucks that thunder forth nonstop soca hits. To get you in the Carnival mood, here’s an extensive playlist of some of the best soca of this season, from the laid-back, groovy tunes to the frenetically mad Road March bangers. We’ve got the playlist on YouTube and [what was available on] Spotify, and all the videos below, with some commentary. Get your fete on!
Let’s kick it off with theme songs from the two kings of soca, Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin. Montano dropped this anthem with another soca legend, Superblue, leading up to his stadium-filling fete, Machel Monday. It’s one of the top contenders for the Road March title (the song most played as the mas bands cross the main stage on Carnival Tuesday). Then, the Viking of soca, the skillful Bunji Garlin, with his booming soca theme song, “Big Bad Soca.”
Machel Montano and Superblue: “Soca Kingdom”
Bunji Garlin: “Big Bad Soca”
Have some more Bunji with his unique, hard-hitting sound and flowing lyrics:
Bunji Garlin: “Vintage Garlin”
Bunji Garlin: “Bacchanal and Water”
Shal Marshall has a pervasive smash hit with “Splinters.” Really, you can’t escape it.
Shal Marshall: “Splinters”
Patrice Roberts is probably the biggest female soca artist in a heavily male-dominated field and she is on fire. Here’s her sweet Road March contender.
Patrice Roberts: “Sweet Fuh Days”
While we’re on the topic of Road March, Neil “Iwer” George’s intense “Savannah” is fiercely facing off with Machel Montano’s “Soca Kingdom.”
Last year’s Road March kings Ultimate Rejects are back again with their ample sound.
Ultimate Rejects: “Inside the Festival”
Let’s cool it down a bit with more Machel. There’s a reason why he’s the King of Soca--the prolific Machel Montano, who has been singing since childhood, has an abundance of hits this year. Here’s a few, including one with a reggaeton vibe and some Spanish lyrics:
Machel Montano: “Take It Slow”
Machel Montano: “Rough Wine”
Machel Montano: “Mami Lo Tiene”
In dancehall, several artists lay their own melodies and lyrics over the same beat, known as a riddim (e.g. the Sleng Teng riddim). This is cropping up in popular soca too. One of the top songs of the year shares a riddim, called “Upendo,” with Machel’s “Take It Slow.” This year’s International Soca Monarch is Aaron St. Louis, A.K.A. Voice, for the third year in a row. His song “Year For Love,” has a positive vision for a troubled Trinidad. He sings to the wicked people “Fire go burn dem” and calls for love to overpower hate and violence this year. People love this song and love Voice for using his platform to spread this message.
Voice: “Year for Love”
More riddim vibes: here are a few tracks on the “Folklore” riddim, a sunny groove with a retro guitar vamp that gotten a lot of love this year. Kes’s sweet love jam, “Hello,” has been a massive hit for all ages.
Nadia Batson: “Catching Feelings”
Sekon Sta: “Aye Yo”
Here’s a couple of big tracks on another riddim called “Pim Pim.” Motto, a St. Lucian soca star, produced the riddim and put out “Party Lit” with Lyrikal. Machel Montano has yet another enormous hit with “Showtime.”
Motto X Lyrikal: “Party Lit”
Machel Montano: “Showtime”
Here’s a great dancehall/soca jam from Kes and the international superstar producers Major Lazer.
Kes and Major Lazer: “Go Dung”
Erphaan Alves: “Overdue”
Farmer Nappy: “Wifey”
Last year, we premiered Fay Ann Lyons’ first collaboration with Ghanaian dancehall singer Stonebwoy. Here’s some more transatlantic vibes from the duo.
Stonebwoy and Fay-Ann Lyons: “Carnival”
More evidence that soca and Afrobeats are perfect bedfellows: Machel Montano and Turner pair up with the Ghanaian star Flavour on this gorgeous track. The original is by Turner--a song that began with this freestyle video.
Flavour, Machel Montano and Turner: “She Bad”
Some more Turner. He has such a phenomenal, unique voice--one of my personal favorites. “Holding On” is also on the famous “Folklore” riddim.
Turner: “Holding On”
Olatunji hasn’t been so big this year, but this is one of the most innovative tracks of the year and another favorite. That old-school piano vamp is just unstoppable.
Nailah Blackman is a relative newcomer to the scene but with deep soca roots. Her grandfather was Ras Shorty I A.K.A. Lord Shorty, the creator of soca music, and her family is full of prominent musicians. Of her many songs this year, “Dame Lorraine” gives respect to a famous traditional mas character and “Sokah” honors her grandfather.
Nailah Blackman: “Dame Lorraine”
Nailah Blackman: “Sokah”
Nessa Preppy: “Tingo”
Jadel: “Round and Round”
Time for chutney! Chutney soca is the Indian music-inflected branch of soca. While not as widely popular as soca, it does get a lot of love in Trinidad. Here’s the Chutney Soca Monarchs of the year with “Masala” and last year’s Monarch on a fun collaboration with Bunji Garlin.
Neval Chatelal and Nishard M: “Masala”
Omardath Maraj: “Me and Muh Motor Car”
Ravi B: “Police”
O.K., now it’s late into the night and its time to get real low. To bring us out, here's some raw, rough jams for when its time to really wine. It’s all in the hips.
Mighty and Subance: “Bad in Bum Bum/Back Bend”
Trinidad Ghost and Cali Grey: “Bubble and Grip”
Kerwin Du Bois: “Touch Down”
Dawg E Slaughter: “Ease Up”/ “Jook & Jook”
Dev: “Is Jam”
Just in case this list really wasn’t enough, check out the ever-popular DJ Private Ryan’s extensive party mix.