Every year, thousands of revelers from across the world travel to Trinidad and Tobago for what’s been aptly titled the greatest show on earth: Carnival. Sexy soca fills up the streets of Port of Spain while people, young and old, chip down di road in their colourful costumes under sweet Trinidad and Tobago’s sun. That’s just one way to experience the Caribbean twin islands’ musical offerings, though.
On record, Trinbago has produced some of soca’s most iconic artists—Machel Montano, Bunji Garlin, Destra, Patrice Roberts, Kes, Fay Ann Lyons, Iwer George, to name a few—but it’s also home to an eclectic blend of other music genres like chutney, calypso, rapso and jamoo. In addition, the islands are widely known for the invention of the steel pan, which is also the country’s national instrument, but many people still don’t know about its other music scenes and the artists who teeter on the lines of these genres to make infectiously addictive music.
If you’re not familiar with the diverse array of talent coming from Trinidad and Tobago, here’s a roundup of 10 artists spreading the vibes of the islands all across the world.
If you’ve done road marches at any carnival this year, you for sure heard the single from the snackboss herself, Nessa Preppy. The Travis World-produced “Issa Snack” dominated the road and carnival mixes this year and was a great follow-up single to her 2018 single “Tingo”. The soca artist—who was inspired by the calypso competitions she took part in as a youngster, as well as the hip-hop and rapso music she frequently listened to—has been making records for carnival since 2013 and has no intention of letting up. We’re excited to see what Nessa has in store for 2020!
Since her debut in 2017, Nailah Blackman has taken over the soca scene. Alongside the powerhouse Kes, their joint single, “Workout”, launched Blackman into unprecedented success—both at home and abroad. Soca is literally in her blood (her grandfather, Ras Shorty I, pioneered the genre), and Blackman has tasked herself with bringing soca into the folds of the mainstream and beyond carnival season. The singer is well on her way to accomplishing her goals to have the genre transcend the borders of T+T as she frequently collaborates with artists from other genres, like her 2019 hit song “We Ready (Champion Gyal)” with dancehall star Shenseea, and was nominated for a BET International Award last summer.
Jay Nahge, who is part of a growing minority of acts making music outside of T+T’s dominant sounds, stands on the frontiers of broadening the musical landscape. The rising rapper/singer shared in a recent interview the difficulties he’s had to navigate making music that was sonically different than what most people are used to, but Jay perseveres regardless and doesn’t depart too far from his roots as he proudly raps in a Trinidadian accent. His most recent project, PLoT TwIsT, is a strong indicator of his capabilities and what he can bring to the table.
Voice is one of Trinidad’s most exciting artists. Having only been on the soca scene for a few years, he’s already taken the industry by storm, making him a fan favourite across the Caribbean. Voice made soca music history when he was able to secure three consecutive wins during Trinidad and Tobago’s annual International Soca Monarch in 2016, 2017 and 2018 with the songs “Cheers To Life”, “Far From Finished” and “Year For Love”. This made him the youngest artist in the competition’s history, entering at the age of 24, to garner the accolade. Watch Voice go!
If you’re looking for a light and ethereal R&B fix, Keoné is your go-to. The talented singer-songwriter also creates the production on her own records, which are a perfect balance of the sonic aesthetics of new and old-school R&B. Though she’s only liberated one, two-single project, titled On My Mind…, Keoné has a promising future in music ahead.
Though soca is Trinbago’s most known export, Jimmy October is part of a new wave of artists introducing people to the other sounds the twin islands can produce. October’s records are refreshing, encapsulating the warmth of Trinidad and turning it into melodic, soulful and catchy audiobites. The singer combines his favourite genres of R&B, soca and hip-hop to create swoon-worthy records, and he also holds writing credits on Kalpee’s “What About Us” and Kes and Shenseea’s “Close To Me”. Watch Jimmy’s star rise.
Kalpee’s feel-good records belong on your playlist. After landing a spot on UNCOVERED, a web series with the aim to highlight and showcase Trinidad’s creatives, Kalpee has gone on to create a slew of singles, including “No One” which accumulated a whopping seven million views on YouTube, and has even signed a distribution deal with Sony Music (Middle East).
Tano is a producer and songwriter who is slowly making his way into the performer arena. The artist has already made featured appearances on Mical Teja’s “Motion” (also featuring Jay Nahge) and on Jimmy October’s “Calypso Girl”. His incredible production and songwriting portfolio includes credits on Shenseea and Kes’ “Close To Me”, Kalpee’s “No One” and “What About Us” and select tracks on October’s Vacation project. Do not sleep on Tano.
You can’t talk about music from Trinidad without talking about Calypso Rose. Though not new to the scene, her recent Coachella performance has shifted everyone’s attention and now all eyes are on her. The 79-year-old is a highly respected Calypsonian legend, whose career spans over 50 years, but since her latest project, Far From Home, dropped in 2016, she’s been killing it non-stop! She’s received incredible music accolades, like the Grand Prize for World Music from France’s Sacem Grand Prix last November, the World Music Album Of The Year from France’s Victoires de la Musique the year prior, and in 2017 was awarded the country’s highest award: the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.