Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What "Sweet" Means In Soca Music

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I in a four part series of posts about the meanings of the words "sweet" and "sugar" in Soca music. These posts use song titles, lyrics, artist's names, and comments from YouTube video comment threads.

This post focuses on the various meanings of the word "sweet" and showcases the song "Sweet Music" by the Founder of Soca music Lord Shorty (Ras Shorty).

Part II showcases the Calypso/Soca superstar Baron. Click for Part II of this series.

Part III showcases two recordings of songs entitled "Sweet Soca Music". Click for Part III of this series.

Part IV focuses on the various meanings of the word "sugar" and showcases a song by Calypso/Soca superstar Lord Kitchener and a song by the Soca superstar Sugar Aloe. Click for Part IV of this series.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

"Soca is a style of Caribbean music originating in Trinidad and Tobago.

Soca originally combined the melodic lilting sound of calypso with insistent cadence music from Dominica and the French Antilles (which is often electronic in recent music), and Indian musical instruments—particularly the dholak, tabla and dhantal—as demonstrated in Shorty's classic compositions "√Źndrani" and "Shanti Om".

It has evolved in the last 20 years primarily by musicians from various Anglophone Caribbean countries"...

"Calypso (or kaiso) was invented in Trinidad, but its influence has spread out to infect all of the Caribbean. Each island has well-respected, major calypsonians and national pride for the musicians runs high...

Many people believe that calypso is about jumping up and dancing at carnivals, that the form is devoted to entertainment. But true calypso is a very serious form of social commentary. The calypsonians address everything...Nothing is sacred in calypso" (

Soca, on the other hand, is a much less serious music form that uses the same beats and rhythms as found in calypso."

"Ras Shorty I who was born Garfield Blackman in Trinidad started singing calypso as the LORD SHORTY as early as 1963 with his tune "Cloak and Dagger" in Trinidad. He won his first title in 1970 in South Trinidad when he beat former monarchs Bomber and Black Stalin who placed second and third respectively. He was crowned King of San Fernando at that event. However he was unable to beat Calypso Monarch, The Mighty Duke at the National finals in Port of Spain that year.

In the 1970's he began writing calypso songs for other young calypsonians including "MAESTRO" and his cousin "BARON" who had a hit called "SEVERE LICKING" produced by Shorty. Trinidad and Tobago has been renowned for its magnificent carnivals,calypso and in this century's only musical invention: the steel pan. A prolific musician,composer and innovator, Ras Shorty experimented with the calypso beat for nearly a decade before unleashing "the soul of calypso,"...soca music...

"Upon the release of his first album "Sweet Music" and his next "Endless Vibrations", Shorty became more popular with young audiences who followed his revolutionary masterpieces of soca. One composition called "Om Shanti" caused such an uproar in Trinidad that it became very controversial."...

My sense is that the word "sweet" in the widely used phrase "sweet Soca music" is different than the meaning of the Italian musical term "dolce" (English translation "sweet")
"Definition: The Italian musical term dolce, meaning “sweet,” is an indication to play in a tender, adoring manner; to play sweetly with a light touch. Dolce is often used with other musical commands, as in “allegretto dolce e con affetto”: semi-quick, sweet, and with affection."

I think that the word "sweet" has more than one meaning in Soca music and these varying meanings can be used simultaneously.
(Disclaimer: I'm African American and by no means am an expert on Soca or other Caribbean music. Additions, corrections, and comments are welcome.)

1. A term of affection and/or admiration that is applied to a genre of music, and/or other cultural offerings
Read this definition about the colloquial meaning of "sweet" that was posted by tlc, Nov 20, 2004:
An intensive used to express satisfaction, acceptance, pleasure, excellence, exaltation, approval, awe, or reverence. When used individually, the level of satisfaction expressed is most often directly proportionate to the duration of the vowel sound.

"Mashed potatoes for dinner. Sweet."
"I just won a million dollars? SWEEEEEEET!"

2. A description of a style (sound) of music and/or the singer's voice tone; similar to the American term "crooners" i.e singers have a smooth voice tone and not a harsh, or gritty voice tone.
For example, here's a commenter from a video* of Soca singer Baron
"baron. sweet honeyed voice. cannot resist that voice. I enjoy going to his concerts too."
-brett12ism, 2011

*This video is showcased in Part II of this series.

3. reference to the fact that soca music is lighthearted, positive, and non-confrontational, unlike Calypso's much more serious subjects of political commentary and/or social commentary.
Read the excerpt about the Calypso song "Sweet Tempo" which is found in the Related Links section below.

Lord Shorty - Sweet Music

CanchozI, Uploaded on Feb 25, 2010

Lord Shorty - Sweet Music (Sweet Music LP 1976)

[article about and and interview of Juliana “Jahlee” Alfred, Dominica's first Calypso Queen]
"In its early years, Calypso music was known for its witty, smutty, political and social commentary.

Many households did not allow this type of musical genre into their doors because it was deemed unsuitable for listening consumption.

However, as the years progressed, calypso became more popular and acceptable in Dominica. Women also began entering the calypso arena as competitors and have given just as much good lyrics in these competitions as their male counterparts did.

...Sweet Tempo was your winning song, who helped you with writing that song and why Sweet Tempo? Is there a meaning to that song?

...I was born in the southern part of the Island, Grand Bay. Where in Dominica carnival there is considered a Rough Mas. So I wanted a topic that says we need to play Mas with no violence, with a sense of One Love, Peace, and have an incident free Carnival. We need a tempo that's sweet. So I came up with Sweet Tempo.”
Click for a video of Jahlee's song "Sweet Tempo"

Thanks to Ras Shorty I (Lord Shorty) for his musical legacy. Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post, and thanks to the publisher of the video which is showcased in this post.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment