NPR logo Wile Or Wine: 10 Soca Songs For Carnival Season

Wile Or Wine: 10 Soca Songs For Carnival Season

The audience cheers and dances at a Machel Montano concert in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in February. Sean Drakes/CON/LatinContent Editorial/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Sean Drakes/CON/LatinContent Editorial/Getty Images

The audience cheers and dances at a Machel Montano concert in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in February.

Sean Drakes/CON/LatinContent Editorial/Getty Images

Soca music is not for the faint at heart. The Trinidadian genre is calypso's faster, raunchier, studio-driven wayward child; the word comes from "soul of calypso," and the genre was inaugurated in the 1970s by calypsonian Lord Shorty, who merged calypso with East Indian tones. It's also the soundtrack to the multicultural island's grand Carnival, which erupts on the streets of Port of Spain every year in late February.

As such, soca is crafted to generate what Trinidadians call bacchanal: the irrepressible urge to dance, jump, sweat, wave hands in the air and, to use hip-hop speak, generally wile out. It's party music with feverish directives. Pace and lyrics generally tell you whether to bubble (rotate hips casually), wine (gyrate waist intently) or jump and wave (usually with a flag, preferably a Trinidadian one, flung up and down to the music, which can approach 170 beats per minute).

New soca is released in Trinidad at a frenzied pace in the two months or so leading up to Carnival, as artists compete to have the most popular songs on the big day and at dozens of fetes leading up to it. After Carnival in Trinidad, the music packs up and emigrates, enlivening carnivals across the globe: Toronto in August, New York in September, Miami in October and so on.

Below is a sample of some of this season's hottest new songs for Carnival and beyond.

Wile Or Wine: 12 Soca Songs For Carnival

Cover for Advantage

Advantage

  • from Advantage
  • by Machel Montano

Last year Machel Montano took a leave of absence from Carnival and it was a national affair: The country all but declared a week of mourning. He is, after all, a soca icon. Famous since age 9, at 36, he is still the most dazzling performer in a genre glutted with vigorous virtuosos (warning to all concert attendees: Montano's waistline can do very scandalous things). His return to the scene this year means an upcoming album and a Caribbean-wide sigh of relief.

YouTube
Cover for Hold A Burn

Hold A Burn

  • from Hold A Burn
  • by Bunji Garlin

Garlin spices up his soca with a heavy dose of Jamaican dance hall, specializing in rapid-fire, baritone delivery that's more chat than song. Here, he charges zealously across a hyperactive rhythm.

YouTube
Cover for Confidence

Confidence

  • from Confidence
  • by Super Jigga TC And Nebula 686

The newest radio-personality-turned-soca-artist serves up the perfect club song, built for bubbling.

YouTube
Cover for Dance & Dingolay

Dance & Dingolay

  • from Dance & Dingolay
  • by Denise Belfon

In Trini-speak, there's no difference between dancing and "dingolay"-ing, but Belfon urgently wants us to do both. One listen to that brawny voice and you'll clear the way for her.

YouTube
Cover for Whole Day

Whole Day

  • from Whole Day
  • by Shal Marshall

Calypso is feted for its double entendres, and soca does its best to carry on that tradition. So here is a singsong track about a woman who wants to ride not a bus or a car but a motorbike, all day long. Get it?

YouTube
Cover for Trini

Trini

  • from Trini
  • by Benjai

No one can make Trinidadian vernacular sing like Benjai, which is why he's found two hits this season. They're playfully folksy, this one an homage to all things Trini — is there any higher praise than "we make good company"? His "Wine to the Side" is a dancing song doused in comedy.

YouTube
Cover for Wotless

Wotless

  • from Wotless
  • by Kes The Band

Being wotless can be a full-time job during Carnival season: It means acting worthlessly naughty and hedonistic. This eclectic Trinidadian band — they record everything from rock to dance to reggae — celebrates all things wotless in one of the season's most popular anthems.

YouTube
Cover for Town Ting

Town Ting

  • from Town Ting
  • by Cassi

Cassi sounds as if he drank half a bottle of Johnny Walker before recording this track, and that's the point: It's Trinidad's version of a drinking song, an ode to ladies from the big city — "town tings" — whose dance goes down even sweeter when preceded by plenty of rum.

YouTube
Cover for Middle Ah D Road

Middle Ah D Road

  • from Middle Ah D Road
  • by Destra

Two very different styles merge seamlessly on this vigorous track: Destra's full-bodied R&B vocals and newcomer Swappi's Jamaican-sounding chat.

YouTube
Cover for Tanti Woi

Tanti Woi

  • from Tanti Woi
  • by Blaxx

This is soca's version of the consummate marching song. Feverish drumming is set off nicely by Blaxx's ecstatic chants, both designed to keep revelers charging down the road on Carnival Tuesday and at the ultimate pre-Carnival bacchanal that is J'Ouvert: a dawn-till-morning street parade during which revelers cover themselves in everything from oil to paint to chocolate.

YouTube

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