Words by Rishi Bonneville
For a century, German brands have been known for their steely precision, quality and expense. Vehicles from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche, for example, can be found in every corner of the globe, flossed by the successful and idolized by the striving. Iconic artists like Kraftwerk have found success internationally by translating these archetypally German traits into musical form. But after the re-unification of East and West in the mid-90s, German youth began rethinking this technocratic image. In the midst of it all, an unexpected new counterculture bubbled up in Deustchland: reggae. The Cologne-based Mighty Pow Pow productions, vocalist Gentleman, and the clash sound Sentinel from Stuttgart (the 2005 World Clash winners) are amongst those who built a creative and respected scene even without the colonial migration that drives London and Parisian nightlife. Until recently, however, other Caribbean music styles–soca, calypso, zouk–were off the radar. With hard work and vibes to spare, two young men from Berlin have begun to change all that. LARGE UP recently sat down with the Berlin-based duo Soca Twins to talk about history, the 2006 World Cup, and how they party.
LARGE UP: Firstly, who are the Soca Twins?
FRANKY: The Soca Twins are Franky Fire (DJ) and Boone Chatta (MC) from Berlin, Germany. I founded Soca Twins in 2002 together with another DJ. The name came up since we looked alike and danced in the same style. So, people started to call us “Twins.” The “Soca” was predetermined since we were the first soca sound in Germany. After personal changes, Boone Chatta became my other ‘twin’ in early 2005 and rocks the mic ever since.
Q: What is the history of soca and calypso in Germany?
BOONE: Barney Millah was the first DJ to play soca in Germany at the turn of the century. But his sets were mainly reggae & dancehall. There was a famous underground club called “Subground” where Franky and I heard soca for the first time. The first ‘strictly’ soca party was in 2002 and Franky played with Barney. I was there, but we didn’t even know each other back then. But a few years later, the love for soca music has brought us together.
FRANKY: If you look at the mainstream newspapers, TV, radio…soca is not present at all in Germany. But we’ve built up a crowd of fanatics and it’s getting bigger every day. Our hometown Berlin has the biggest soca crowd in Germany. But everywhere we play, we meet lots people who have been listening to our soca mixes for years. We have seen a lot of German cities go crazy. Colonge, Stuttgart, Leipzig, only to name a few, but also smaller cities. Our mission now is to take it to the next level; get soca out of the underground and into mainstream.
BOONE: And we’ve been playing with a lot of soca artists in Germany in the past years. Machel Montano, Bunji Garlin, Fay Ann Lyons, Rupee, Benjai, Problem Child, Skinny Fabulous, KMC, Jamesy P and many more and they all said our crowd is crazy. They know the songs, wave rags, drink rum, and might be a little misbehavin’ like it’s Carnival.[audio:http://largeup.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/SocaTwins_BlackCakeAndSorrel_Mix_08.mp3|titles=SocaTwins_BlackCakeAndSorrel_Mix_08]
Soca Twins “Black Cake & Sorrel Mix,” Christmas 2008
Q: Germany is well-known in the Caribbean and New York for its reggae soundsystems. Does the emerging German soca scene have strong connections to the German reggae scene?
BOONE: The reggae and soca scene go hand in hand in Germany. Soca used to live by the presence of reggae. But we’ve noticed a change in the past years. More and more people want to party ‘harder’. Reggae is too slow, but a lot of people still can’t take soca the whole night. That’s why we always cooperate with reggae sounds. And after seeing how the crowd responds to us, they start to play soca as well. Now, Pow Pow, Sentinel, Supersonic and all other famous German reggae sounds have soca in their sets. And we play with reggae acts like Jimmy Cliff, Vegas, Junior Kelly, Serani, Aidonia…
Q: Strange question but…did Rupee’s family connection to Germany help soca in Germany develop?
BOONE: I can imagine Bajans would love to hear that… but it’s not true. Rupee was born in Germany by a German mother, but he had to gain his reputation here just like everybody else in the business. It doesn’t really matter where you come from. It’s about what you do. Otherwise, two crazy Germans who play soca music would have never gotten such international recognition…. (laugh)
FRANKY: True. But of course we think that Rupee is a great artist and we respect him a lot. 2003 he had a temporary media buzz with “Tempted to Touch” in Germany.
Q: In 2006 the FIFA World Cup was held in Germany. The Trinidad & Tobago team, dubbed “the Soca Warriors,” qualified. What was it like for the Soca Twins during those few weeks?
BOONE: It was amazing. The Soca Warriors in Germany! And they brought loads of fans from Trinidad and also some top artists. We had shows with Machel and the HD crew, Alison Hinds, Rupee, Destra, Maximus Dan and Jimmy Cliff. The Laventille Riddim Section was there. In Dortmund, we had thousands – completely in red – jumping, waving and having a time.
FRANKY: After the final, we played in front of more than 5000 football fans in Berlin, and most of them never heard soca before. They all went crazy… We could write a book about those six weeks. It was something we’re gonna tell our grandchildren one day.
Q: Sounds like an exciting documentary project! With all your connections, are you involved in any productions with any soca artists out of Europe?
FRANKY: We always wanted to produce more soca but never really had time to do so. But Boone is singing reggae, dancehall and soca tunes. He works with producers from Germany and around the world. I hope his album will drop soon…
BOONE: Yeah, me too… (laugh) But good things come to those who wait. I’m on it! Until then, check me out online.
Q: My Parisian friends tell me that the Berlin nightlife is unexpectedly vibrant.What is the typical crowd like at a Soca Twins fete?
BOONE: Energetic, crazy, loud, resistant to tiredness and the impact of rum…
FRANKY: …and always ready to palance! Most of our crowd is between 20-35 years old. Lots of girls who can wine… basically all kinds of people who come out to have a good time and see an entertaining show.
Q: I can’t help but ask one political question given a recent geopolitical shift: Horst Seehofer and Chancellor Angela Merkel have proclaimed German “multiculturalism” a failure. However, soca music has always been a music of mixing and unity. Can soca in Germany play a role in keeping an open cultural environment?
BOONE: I wouldn’t mix politics with soca music – not in Germany. Multiculturalism is an important part of Berlin. In my opinion Merkel is wrong. But we’re not politicians. Our ‘party’ is soca. And since our party is bringing people from all kinds of nations together, it’s a good thing. We don’t watch color, religion or wealth.
Q: Understood. So what was the response when you visited Trinidad for the first time?
FRANKY: It was overwhelming. I knew soca only for a few months and went to Trini Carnival in 2002. I got to know a lot of nice people and finally met some artists, DJs and producers in person. I was very impressed to see the beautiful Mas Costumes at Carnival and of course I had to play Jouvet. Well… I came back every year since.
BOONE: In 2006 Franky convinced me to join him. It’s was amazing. “Soca Twins” was already a brand name in Trinidad for ‘the two crazy soca DJs from Germany’. People recognized us on the streets. We went to Synergy TV, gave interviews, played on Trini Bashment and a Carnival truck.
Q: And New York?
FRANKY: And we’ve also been to NYC in 2006 for the International Soca Awards and we played at the after show party. That was our first nomination as “International Soca DJ of the Year”. We were staying in Brooklyn close to Flatbush Ave and it was like a little Caribbean island to us. We had a great time and we definitely want to come back. But we’re still looking for a promoter who can set up a little Soca Twins tour in the US…