The Notting Hill Carnival arrives early and you’d better have yer dancin’ shoes on coz this is gonna be some party. Drawn together by Blur frontman, Damon Albarn and Honest Jons’ collaborator Alan Scholefield, Lif Up.. gathers the cream of “the soca train from Port of Spain”, a four day carnival from the cutting-edge artists at the Trinidad and Tobago that literally blows the roof of all suckas.
Albarn is no stranger, or tourist, to the world music scene, with his previously released Mali Music, on his Honest Jon’s label and Notting Hill record shop of the same name, raising the profile of artists from Africa to Iceland, often in collaboration with his own work.
Lif Up is a multi-coloured blast of the incendiary energy of the human Soca Train, powered by the coals of a hybrid Soul-Calypso soundtrack (hence ‘soca’) with its origins in African and Caribbean music. This is true soul music. Filling your belly with sparks that ignite your hips and feet to start your own fires.
The whole nature of the music in the soca train is that everyone gets on and moves in a direction of unity. In defiance of the strict government in Trinidad, the carnival is the chance for everyone to let their hair down. Soca lyrics traditionally touch on all manner of subjects, from current affairs to sleeping around, set to incendiary tunes blasted out in a fury of creativity. This is not just for dramatic effect; sometimes these tunes are the artists pay checks for the year, and failure to make an impact at the carnival can make things pretty lean.
Heavy on the percussive beats, synthetic stabs of strings, urgent blasts of sampled sirens, whistles and over-excitable backing vocalists butt in and booty everything along in a rumptastic fury of shaking flesh and social good times. This is way more substantial than the populist image of Notting carnival bonhomie of a fat lady kissing a policeman.
Personal favourites are hard to choose when the standard is so high. But Timmy‘s Bumpa Catch A Fire is a prime cut of cheeky breakneck soca, topped off with Timmy urging all to bring their hoses to cool down “yuh bumpas” in fine dancehall style. Dawg E Slaughter‘s Trample does just that with a devastating Bajan ‘jump-up’ rhythm.
Other cultural influences are added to the pot with the Indian spicy soca of Massive Gosine‘s Chrloo, and Middle-Eastern stylings of Bobo & Agony‘s Soca Taliban. Maximus Dan is an anthem, reworking a previous classic from more traditional style to cutting edge contemporarism, in celebration of the Soca Train, in an infectious call to good times. Things ain’t all party though, as soca’s social commentary is writ large, with Andre Tanker‘s Food Fight putting the Iraq conflict in basic humorist terms with a choice of those who eat “the ham or the lamb”.
Overall, this is a global wake-up call to stuffy music purists not venturing from their lethargic sofa of musical familiarity. Get out there, get into it, and rediscover what your feet and face were meant for. Forget Notting Hill, get me a ticket to Port of Spain to get on board the Soca Train.