A call to island cultures to recognize their shared traditions

By Kirk Moss

Kirk Moss

Imagine you’re a kid growing up on the south-west side of rural Jamaica in the 1980’s.  Reggae is blaring from all corners of the island.  The giants of this cultural expression, with its roots lengthier than the contours of outer-space, echoed grandiose phrases and fantastical melodies over groovy boobastic-instruments.  When suddenly, out of nowhere, came a sound so sweet, it ignited all the tendons in one’s feet.  This Jamaican-soca smash-hit, for ‘dis generation’ simply ‘ruled the nation, with version’ in 1984. 

Such a musical ambush left no time for anyone to question its origins.  But one thing felt certain; its authenticity was undeniable.  When the great Byron Lee and The Dragonaires released “Tiny Winy,” backed by funky-horns and a catchy-rhythm, it made even the cows ‘jump over the moon’.  As kids, who played daagie-waagie, chebby, jax, marbles, and even dolly-house (confessionally-speaking), this new-tune had us in a dancing-tance. 

For us 80’s-babies, there was nothing ‘tiny’ about this song as it suddenly grew into our musical-lexicon and became one of our most lasting impressions of soca.  In many ways one could argue that this was the start of a magical love-affair between reggae-vibes and big, bad soca, with countless engagements, nuptials and honey-moons yet to be born. 

But the turbulent urban musical-scene of the 1990’s was engulfed in a mega-war on two-fronts.  Leading the hip-hop troupes were the musical-battalions of Mr. Shakur and Mr. Smalls, while the dance-hall reggae scene pitted the lethal-tongue of Bounty-Killa (straight outta Seaview) against the witty, yet cleverly skilled Beenie-Man (the girls-dem-suga).  At this point, these two sagas dominated mixtapes, 45/12-inch vinyls, clubs, and basement-jams across the western-hemisphere, leaving little cultural-space for soca. 

However, the vigorous-spirit of soca-music was constantly creeping into spaces across the GTA, especially in Mississauga, Brampton and Markham where Caribbean families were finally living in their suburban dream-homes, taking over streets and building new communities.  As fetes were popping-up alongside bbq-block-parties aka blockos, and park-cook-outs, Dr. Jay (the soca-prince), D’Bandit and D’Enforcas were serving up red-hot soca tunes on campus radio across the city, and hosting limes, fetes, and boat-cruises along the waters of Lake Ontario.  These selectors of exceptional musical-taste kept serving up spicy-gatherings where you entered ‘preen & proper’ and left drenched in sweat. 

Through the fusion of sounds, bands and steel-pans emerged a thunderous wave called ragga-soca that captivated dance-floors from Government to Berlin, Epiphany to Seven – all legendary club-spots and cultural-gardens of good-vibes, nice-times, wicked-tunes and plenty mingling. 

No longer did we gather in strictly dance-hall bashment-jams (mostly yardies) or soca-only white-out fetes (trinis/bajans) or day-parties featuring songs of neo-soul artists in some friends’ backyard littered with countless uninvited guests.   Instead, our musical events started to fuse into four-course dancing-meals at all clubs across the entertainment landscape. Except for sound-clashes, a Jamaican untouchable-tradition, all weekend club-promoters began seeing the power and importance of hosting parties that included Reggae, Hip-Hop, R/B, plus and without exception, a dessert of Soca.  This delectable musical-offering attracted not only a diverse crowd of various cultures beyond the African/Caribbean-Canadian sphere, but it sent a clear message.  Perhaps, encapsulated within the musical-echoes, was a calling for the Island-cultures to recognize their commonalities and embedded respectable similarities. 

What became emphatically clear through these musical-spaces was a greater need for collaboration and cooperation amongst the various branches of our Caribbean-community.  Quite frankly, countless club/party-promoters and cultural-workers expressed the same sentiment: “diversity is our strength”. 

The bravery of Byron Lee and The Dragonaires during the time of Independence for numerous Caribbean Nation-States, with Jamaica on August 6, 1962 and Trinidad following-suit on August 31st, something new and exciting was bubbling beneath the politic-surface.  Just imagine the jubilation on the faces of Trinis and Yardies in 1963/64 when Lee and his band-mates touched-foot at Trinidad’s Carnival and received a resounding welcome.  It’s this legacy of Dr. Eric Williams and his vision for the enrichment of Carnival, and the cultural works of Edward Seaga (former Jamaican PM and manager of The Dragonaires) that definitely paved the way for what we are witnessing today.  The Soca Viking Bunji Garlin explains that “while soca and Carnival have been ‘growing’ in JA, they’ve been more than ‘warming up’ to soca.  The soca movement in Jamaica (has) been on a