“Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it.” -Stevie Wonder
Music can be a funny thing. Some songs you fall in love with immediately, others require listening to a few times before it becomes a favorite. Others you may even hate to hear, but it will nevertheless get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. People love to share and proclaim their favorite artists or genres, while others are resistant to explore anything different or new in favor of their well-accustomed classics.
Before coming down here, I had no concept as to what the genre of soca music was. However, I also remember being eager to listen to and experience authentic reggae music, beyond the universal love the world has for Bob Marley. In short, I wasn’t very well-versed in a broad range of music, so I was looking forward to the opportunity to experience what else was out there.
Despite that fresh outlook, an unexpected development in my time here has been the number of live shows and concerts I’ve attended. Just last weekend, I attended the Grenada Music Festival with a few PCVs and local friends. A three-night event, I attended the “Reggae Night” to see Busy Signal, Maxi Priest, and Ky-Mani Marley (son of Bob Marley). I’ve fallen in love with live music since being down here. I guess that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that music and dance are essentially the foundations of Caribbean culture. Caribbean music, whether its Trinidadian soca, Jamaican reggae, or everything in between, has become one of the things I will miss most when this chapter of my life is complete in a few short weeks.
But the beautiful thing about music, much like any art form, is that it stays with you for the rest of your life. Every time you listen to a particular song, you can seemingly become transported to another place in time. When a song is played, you’ll commonly feel the same emotions or re-live certain memories that whether consciously or not, you’ve associated to the particular rhythm, lyric, or song you’re hearing. This especially holds true after seeing your favorite songs performed live at a concert with friends.
Additionally, what one person takes away from a song might be entirely different than another. As a result, a particular song can take on innumerable narratives, countless memories, and infinite meanings. This aspect of music, and art as a whole, is simply beautiful. It’s something that just can’t be taken away from you once its already been experienced.
Consequently, to have lived and shared my experience for two years in the Eastern Caribbean and to not include music, would be a great injustice. Therefore, what follows is a soundtrack I’ve dubbed “Run Wid It.” These are ten of my favorite songs from both the soca and reggae genres, and from my favorite regional Caribbean artists. Each song title is hyper-linked, so you can take a listen for yourself as I share with you my personal takes on each song and the memories I associate with them. Unfortunately, I had to narrow down my list as much as I could, so I did leave off some great songs. But I also wanted to share with you the breadth and authenticity of what Caribbean music has to offer. For those interested, I’ve created a few extensive playlists on my brother’s Spotify, which you can find hyper-linked at the bottom of this page. Otherwise, please feel free to reach out if you would like to hear more or let me know which ones you liked best. Enjoy!
Chronixx is hands-down my favorite Caribbean artist. In November of my first year here, he performed in Grenada promoting his then-newly released album Chronology. To this day, not attending that concert is my biggest regret. At the time I just didn’t know him or his music, but after he came and went his music just popped across the island (and I learned my lesson for not going). You couldn’t step outside or get on a bus without hearing one his tracks. The same held true on the island of St. Vincent, where I visited a month later with a few Volunteers in December of 2017. As I later discovered for myself, from top to bottom his Chronology album is incredible. For anyone looking to test the waters of modern reggae, I suggest starting with Chronixx. Although his biggest hits are Smile Jamaica, Skankin’ Sweet, and I Can, the bonus track of I Know Love was my favorite from the get-go (other personal favorites being Majesty and Legend). But with I Know Love‘s sunny, easy-going vibes, what’s there not to love?
One of the first major hits in my time here, Romain Virgo’s passionate vocals on this track never cease to impress me. A very soulful and heartful song, it’s no wonder why it caught on the way it did. This was one of my first introductions into modern reggae and for me, it’s an instant classic.
When I hear the name Beres Hammond, my first thought is of Julie, my St. Lucian host mother. During one of my first days in St. Lucia, I went out to lunch with her and a friend. At the shop, reggae music was playing on the speakers and when I heard a song that struck me, I had to ask, “Who is this?” She quickly answered that it was her favorite artist, Beres Hammond. The fondly reminiscent tune of Rockaway was the song that first piqued my interest in old-school reggae. I was fortunate to see Beres perform live at a Mother’s Day concert in May of 2018 here in Grenada with some local friends.
The distinct and recognizable voice of Lucky Dube, the late South African reggae artist, brings to mind the many nights I’ve spent shooting pool at “D Banana Bar,” otherwise known as Mansa’s, in my community of Gouyave. One of the trailblazers for reggae music in the days before Bob Marley’s prime, Lucky Dube was the guy. Although I enjoy many of his songs, this one seems to me the most fitting of his signature reggae style.
Up until a few months ago, I had no idea who Buju Banton even was. Flyers and billboards one day seemingly sprung up all around the island promoting his “Long Walk to Freedom” tour that came to Grenada last month. His upcoming show became the talk of the island. Tickets were pretty expensive, particularly by EC concert standards. Yet, I was given a very strong and influential recommendation by Wes Moses, our former Director of Programming and Training in PCEC and who now runs a guest house on the island of Dominica. He had just gone to the show there and explained that, “this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Coming from someone like Wes, who has lived in the Caribbean for much of his life, it was a recommendation I couldn’t ignore. The show didn’t disappoint either, as Buju performed continuously and emphatically for hours on-stage before concluding with a 4th of July-esque firework display. Before and during the show, Wanna Be Loved was hands-down my favorite.
Now that we’ve slowed things down with some old-school reggae, it’s time we pick things back up with some feel-good, fast-paced soca. I heard Dash perform this song at the “Dingy Concert” that takes place at a southern point of Grenada every few months. Essentially, Dash and his band performed on a tugboat rigged as a stage and we, the audience, got to take in the show from adjacent dingies and barges floating out on the water. It was a lively performance by a well-known and proudly Grenadian artist. I really enjoy this music video as well, given that it was filmed in various locations across Grenada and includes a number of cultural elements. Not to mention, how many times do you have the opportunity to experience a concert out on the waters of the Caribbean Sea?
Last February, I spontaneously decided to attend an Independence Day fete at what’s known locally as “The Cowpen.” There, several artists performed their recently released tracks before leaving for the upcoming Carnival in Trinidad. The upbeat soca rhythm counters the somewhat realist lyrics of a man being kicked out of the house despite still being madly in love. I had first recognized the lyrics while playing cricket with a few of the local children; when a passing vehicle blasting the song went by, they randomly and excitedly proclaimed: “And she paaacckked up me clotthhess, in a gar-bage bag!” When Farmer Nappy performed at the Cowpen it was right as the sun began rising, which if you know how concerts and fetes go here, there’s a huge lift in energy as everyone is literally and metaphorically brought back to life with the rising sun (due to concerts and fetes quite literally rocking all night long until late in the morning).
Set to the same soca rhythm as Hookin’ Me, this song often follows immediately after it when played by local DJs. I love this song primarily for its lyrics: “So long I ain’t see yuh, gimme a wine nuh,” which is a fitting description of a Caribbean reunion with old friends at any fete. Another particular line I love from this song is, “I thought yuh hiding, I thought yuh went foreign.” Anytime I would travel to St. Lucia for a conference or to America for the Christmas holiday, upon my return countless people in my community would say, “I thought you gon’ back,” assuming that my time must’ve been up and I returned home to America, otherwise they would’ve seen me as often as they typically do.
Now for a shift from groovy soca to the more Carnival-driven power soca. SpiceMas 2018 saw Lil Natty and Thunda repeat as Soca Monarchs (winning in 2017 when I first arrived with their previous hit Top Striker), this time it was their song Get In Your Section that was the crowned tune of Grenada. During this performance at the Soca Monarch Competition and throughout the subsequent parades in the streets, everyone eagerly moved in unison back and forth as they “Got in their Section.” It’s lyrics are proudly Grenadian as they state: “Foreigners from all over, come down to Grenada. Yes they likin’ the Jab Jab, they likin’ the SpiceMas.” Every time I hear this song, I am reminded of the high times SpiceMas 2018 was, as I celebrated and jumped Carnival with my brother, a few visiting friends, and fellow Volunteers.
This one might take some getting used to, but believe me, this is a hit. Released just at the onset of Trinidad Carnival last spring, this song absolutely exploded across the Caribbean. Hailing from my community of Gouyave (and having met him before), Mr. Killa is a cultural icon in Grenada. This song quickly became controversial, however, for if you pay attention to the lyrics a man by the name of “Mr. Rum,” encourages those to “Pick up something and run wid it.” At various events when this song was played, I have seen everything from guard rails, gas tanks, goal posts, tents, and even other people picked up and carried away. During the International Soca Monarch Competition in Trinidad, Mr. Killa became the first non-Trinidadian to win the event with this song. There was a big watch party in the local park in my community during the competition, which once the results were announced, you would have thought Gouyave just won the Super Bowl. Many people equated the win as equivalent to Kirani James (who I’ve also met, as he’s from Gouyave as well), to winning the 400m gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics. As it turned out, it was another night I ended up being out and celebrating in the streets with local friends until the sun came back up in the sky.
Although you may not have memories to attach to these particular songs, I hope these songs (and music videos) can give you a window through which you can begin to experience what life is like in the Caribbean. As Stevie Wonder expressed, music and memories go hand-in-hand; so I’ll certainly be taking these songs, with many others, and “Run Wid It” with me to share at home. One thing for sure is that these songs, much like the memories associated with them, will never get old.
Even if I do.
Reggae Playlist: (Dreadlocks & Daydreams)
Groovy Soca Playlist: (Lime N Wine)
Power Soca Playlist: (Trouble in D Morning)