Words by LargeUp Crew
Afro Soca is a term we’ve heard a lot lately, as musical crossover between the Caribbean and Africa has become more frequent, and prominent. To celebrate this surge in cross-continental awareness and collaboration, we had DJ Jam Central put together a mix gathering the best new soca and Afrobeats, with a specific focus on the places where these two genres are intersecting. Tracks like Nigerian stars’ Runtown and Wizkid‘s “Bend Down Pause,” a remix of which featuring soca king Machel Montano (and produced by Walshy Fire) starts off the mix.
Afro Soca is the first in our new monthly series of LargeUp mixes. Yeah, we’ve been putting out mixes for years, but now you’re going to be seeing them a lot more frequently. For Volume 1 we commissioned photographer Sean Maung to shoot a portrait of dancer and choreographer Shakira Marshall that would capture the spirit of the mix. It was Shakira, who has worked with Lauryn Hill and Alison Hinds and was an original cast member of Fela!, who first coined the term Afro Soca, as the name for her Brooklyn dance class. We also made an Apple Music playlist featuring our favorite Afro Soca tunes.
Download Afro Soca here, and read our interview with DJ Jam Central for more on this burgeoning fusion of sounds.
Tell us who you are, and what have you been doing the last few years as a DJ..
Jam Central: I’ve been a DJ and drummer for a minute [laughs]. I started out in Brooklyn — shout out to Sesame Flyers International, DJ Mad Man Maddy. I grew up in a very musical and artsy Caribbean family. My father is Bajan and was a drummer, my mother is Trinidadian and was a fashion designer. My uncles were DJs, and my grandfather owned a club in San Fernando, Trinidad.
I’ve been pushing Caribbean culture, mainly soca music through podcasts and Internet radio, promoting events in Barbados. I hosted a radio show at Miss Lily’s. During the last World Cup, I played at Nike’s “Hall of Phenomenal,” [it] was cool to see folks at that venue jamming to afrobeats and soca. I played for Jillionaire and Feel Up Records’ Chicken & Beer event.
When did you start playing Afrobeats as a DJ?
Jam Central: On my radio show at Miss Lily’s, anything that had a soca-like sound I would play regardless of the genre. At the end of the day, good music is good music. I used to a listen to a lot of Fela, and it reminded me of calypso with the social commentary, and reggae because it was speaking for poor people. First, I got into music from Angola — kuduro — and music coming out of West Africa and also South Africa. I began to realize a trend with all of the of music — it was very similar to what was coming out of the Caribbean. For obvious reasons — the roots are the same — but I also noticed the influence from the Caribbean, and how it was mixed into a new sound, and that opened my mind up to African music so much more. I merge genres based on the vibe and feel of it. I like to highlight music that has a heavy African influence whether that is soca, house or whatever.
When did you start to notice the idea of Afro Soca taking shape?
Jam Central: Well, soca began in the ’70s with Ras Shorty and when he created soca music, he fused African rhythms and Indian rhythms with calypso. If you look at a lot of Ras Shorty songs from early, it had heavy African rhythms. Sparrow had a song called “Congo Man,” where he is singing metaphorically about being a cannibal in Africa. That was way back in the ’60s. Of late, I noticed when Machel did “Possessed” with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. That stood out to show that this is a direction the music was going; and then you had artists like Olatunji, who represent being very Afrocentric. Even in the ’90s, you had Alison Hinds’ “Faluma,” which is actually a song from Suriname, but that just goes to show that the African beat is in all the genres.
What are some of the songs on this mix that you think really embody the idea of Afro Soca?
Jam Central: There’s an exclusive, unreleased song by Skinny Fabulous called “Give it to Me,” Erphaan Alves’ “Intentions,” Olatunji’s, “Oh yay,” Machel’s “Human” and “Loner” by Lyrikal.