CD Review: Crossing Over
It is now rather timely that Soca music is making a greater and more significant appearance on the international level and finally invading the United States. The last few years alone have seen artists such as St. Vincent's Kevin Lyttle and Rupee and Edwin Yearwood of Barbados take to the international airwaves with their pop-infused style of Soca (most recently known as Popso). Popso has become rather popular as it almost exactly is akin to pop music, with just a tinge of the wildly insane vibes which is the more `traditional' brand of Soca. In its `standard' form, Soca music is anything but standard as it rather easily pushes forth some of the craziest and harshest musical vibes in the world. The heart of the music is Trinidad and Tobago which offers the grandest platform for the music in easily the finest and most divine Carnival in all of the Caribbean every year. Each and every year thousands of people travel from locales all over the world to attend TnT's Carnival (and the trip is ALWAYS worth it) and the last couple of years, with the music itself becoming more and more of a major deal TnT's Carnival has taken itself to an even higher level (and the fact that this past year their football team made it all the way into the World Cup didn't exactly hurt the vibes at all). The attention has attracted not only a new line of tourists eager for a taste of the vibes, but likewise international customers who stay home at Carnival time now nearly as anticipating the next big Soca release fresh from TnT as the next big reggae release from Jamaica And while I've recently been writing reviews acknowledging the potentially lethal development of vibes in roots reggae coming from Trinidad, their Soca counterparts have stepped up their game as well. Likewise, the international record labels have come calling to a greater extent looking to sign up some of TnT's talent, while the best known label for putting out the soca music of TnT, JW Records has even their success rates step up with the releasing of several of their highest profile albums to date. And while audiences all over the world continue to become more and more enchanted with the Lyttle's, Rupee's and Yearwood's of the world (and rightly so, they all make truly excellent Popso music) it really remains to be scene if a soca artist of a more hardcore variety could find a consistent audience amongst the more mainstream international avenues.
Meet Mr. Hardcore. While it is nearly undoubted that more potentially marketable soca talents exist in TnT (with probably the most marketable coming in the form of Laventille pint sized dynamo Destra Garcia whose music can be heard playing on Captain Morgan's beer commercials, not just here in the Caribbean, but all over the world as well) there is just as probably no name in all of the music which carries more weight amongst hardcore Soca heads than the name Bunji Garlin. Garlin is ultra-respected name and face of a brand of soca branded, ragga-soca. Ragga-soca most closely resembles dancehall (I'll go as far as to flat out call it a mix between soca and dancehall) and it has to date had no greater champion than Garlin, whom up until 2006 was the two time defending International Soca Monarch (until he was brutally robbed of his title by Shurwayne Winchester... Who incidentally was just as maliciously robbed of his title earlier this year by former champion Iwer George ) and the most consistent hit maker in all of soca over the past few years and had actually began to make a dent in the notoriously soca unkind market of Jamaica. Rather unsurprisingly and long overdue, this past winter Reggae giant label VP Records announced the signing of the Trinidad native to an album deal which was just about five years late as they had previously released an earlier album from Garlin in 2005, the solid and odd Revelation. He has since been very consistent in appearing on pieces for the label, being the most frequently occurring name on the label's massive Soca Gold series; while every year I wonder why a certain song didn't reach the Gold album (like already having seen the 2007 edition's I'm already wondering where is Open the Gate by Winchester), a Garlin tune and in some cases more than one, is almost guaranteed.
Garlin's style of soca is of course more aggressive lyrically than the insane `Jump and wave' volley's you'll hurt break your sweat and absolutely kill your feet vibing too, although he does that as well. He is almost a pure dancehall artist at times just throwing lyrics forth constantly at a great speed and even going further in some cases and taking someone or something to task in trying to make a song. Most famously, he was involved in a rather public feud with roots reggae sensation I-Wayne who very nonchalantly once referred to Garlin's beloved soca as, `The devil's music'. Garlin comprised the I-Wayne targeted Yuh Mad or What which appeared on his previous album, Next Direction in 2005, a tune which even the staunchest I-Wayne supporter (myself firmly included) had to admit, was near brilliance. A live performance from Garlin is something definitely to behold, at his greatest peak, doing anything to please his audience, including setting himself on fire isn't above the lengths to which Garlin will go. He can also work more level headed and strictly pour lyrics, his style is part Bounty Killa and part Elephant Man all in one which has definitely helped push his overall notoriety, particularly in the Caribbean.
I had one large question going into this album, Global, Garlin's latest creation and what is actually his official debut into the truly big time internationally on an album (as Global shall, and probably already has, received a greater push than all of Garlin's other albums combined): How soca heavy would the album be. I'm all but convinced that given the opportunity to do so, Garlin would rather happily release a near completely dancehall album and given the history and function of VP, the biggest reggae label in the world, I'm convinced that they'd happily let him. So what I basically expected was a great number of these tracks to be recorded by the whose-who of dancehall producers, even given Garlin's history over the past year, making himself available on numerous occasions to voice for Jamaican producers. It was, and is, my opinion that Global should be higher on the soca content due to the fact that it is a hardcore soca album which will probably reach more people than any other album of its type has ever done to date. The results are mixed, on a purely musical scale, Global is very very well done. Garlin tackles several dancehall tracks and does excellent on them, and even mixes in two rather odd combinations and has a great deal of success with one of the more unlikely combinations seen in all of Caribbean music in recent memory. But VP has shown (and I'm thankful) over the past few years a nice effort in pushing soca music, not just on their three running soca series (besides the Gold series there's also the D'Soca Zone and 101 series, both of which have seen releases in the past year) and in signing Garlin, but they had been the home of the ultra popular and busy Byron Lee & the Dragonaires and the fine young ragga-soca group the 3Suns over two albums as well. VP has a nice recent history of pushing soca.
Global is a high powered introduction to one of the greatest talents we have to offer as the entire Caribbean. Garlin takes on not only as expected both Soca and Dancehall, but also more hip-hop elements, most notably on the combination with NYC rapper Chris Black, Swing It. Swing It is not one of my favorite tracks from Global, not even remotely, but it works! And in the grand scheme of things, its definitely the type of tune which would receive an airplay in the states. It flows rather simply over a hip hop beat, and I can imagine it would appeal to hip hop fans and just something exactly the savviest of the savvy at VP would choose to set up to record for the album. The album's other combination is just downright brilliance as the self proclaimed `Fireman' (and I can think of another excellent combination now that VP might want to set up for the next album) teams up with reggae legend Freddie McGregor on One Family. The tune is of course lyrically a reggae tune, but it is built over a pop like or popso styled riddim and it works in just about every way, with Garlin doing very well and McGregor proving all his years of experience has made him capable of just about anything musically.
There are bad things going on with Global (and I thought I'd get it out before talking about the album's real magic). First and foremost is Fire fi Dem. Through no fault of his own (besides voicing the riddim) Fire fi Dem is marred by virtue of being recorded over the ridiculously bad and annoying Wipeout riddim. Also not cool on Global is the presence of 3 tracks. Firstly, and not so bad is Put in de Ting which flows over the Scoobay riddim. . . Which by my count is now 3 years old; then there's Get Up, Stand Up, with dancehall collective T.O.K. which is about 4 years old, and lastly there's a near slap in the face by including the album's closer Hands Up. . . Which you can also find on the Soca Gold 2002 album! All of the songs are pretty well done (although I'm flat out tired of Get Up, Stand Up by now). It would have been nice had Garlin had to go into his bag of tricks and pull out some newer material strictly for the album it harkens back to late 90's style of dancehall album making where the album was much more of a compilation than an actual album because either all or most of the tracks had previously been released.
Nevertheless, thankfully the good on Global far outweighs the bad. The certain highest point on Global is the opener, the MASSIVE No Super Hero. No Super Hero offers the listener just about everything that is great about Garlin. Besides being the high paces and crazy tune on which he made his name, should you at any point on any verse slow it down and listen to exactly what is being said you'll understand Garlin's odd cleverness which shows he is maybe amongst the best in all of soca. Check the succeeding track as well, the nice nice Pan and Soca, which is just about as straight soca Global goes. The song incorporates a nice pan drum while being wrapped in a very large and thumping soca riddim and Garlin puts it through its paces in his typically building vibes style. Speaking of `typical' Bunji, as opposed to `typical' anyone else, check the ridiculously heavy We Maniacs. We Maniacs is something for the PURE socaheads out there and its easily one of the album's best definitely nice that it was included on Global and I imagine were the album released during Carnival (which might be a good idea for the next one) it would have been an official single, as it is expect it to be in even greater rotation on the Soca mixtapes and compilations circuit than it already was as a pre-release, definitely love We Maniacs!
Other good tracks worth checking out on Global include the title track. The Global riddim by Firelinks was a very very odd one. When the riddim album was released and you saw exactly who the eccentric (to say the least) Firelinks had linked to voice it, it even got stranger, but between the 2 successful artists to ride the riddim, to my memory, Bunji was one definitely as the nearly completely soca riddim was of course right up his area of expertise. Globally the track (I guess they discovered that the shortened version worked better as an album title) is very very nice as well. Check Blaze it Up as well, probably the best hook on the entire album and yet another song with the nice building vibes and a rather perfect example of a ragga-soca track as the cadence and melody in the track is pure soca (or something you might hear from Soltex at Asylum) but the riddim itself is definitely out of the dancehall, but very nice track at the same time. Also check the one combination which I never mentioned, Hardcore Loving with Trini songbird Rita Jones who always does a nice job. Hardcore Loving is a track that evens out Global a little bit, always nice to hear a dominant female voice on a male album, and I'm happy that this is the one that VP chose to include instead of pushing a Garlin combination with a dancehall singer. I have to say something about Brrrt too! The album's first official single over Massive B's March Out riddim (again, a very soca-ish riddim) is a song that I go back and forth on, it can get very annoying or very addictive, very quickly, but right now its addictive, so definitely check that one out, although if you've read this far you've probably heard it already.
Overall, Global is a big big album. Not only musically, but for what it means. This is one of the first times on an album that a big time pure soca artist will receive the type of promotion generally granted to his dancehall peers. And, as I mentioned, there are certainly more marketable soca talents out there, but definitely glad that VP chose to put that force behind Bunji's project. Should it do well, or even decent, I imagine (and expect) others to follow suit, bringing even further exposure to one of the strangest and strongest musical vibes in the entire world.
And on a side note, also check out The Book of Angels from soca enigma Machel Montano, just recently released, VERY huge album on JW Records (and wouldn't it be so nice if VP, or Greensleeves would pick up the international distribution) definitely an album to hear if you like the vibes on Global.
Bramoi for Trini Jungle Juice
Global - Bunji Garlin
Release Date: April 23rd, 2007
01. No Super Hero
02. Pan And Soca
04. Get Up Stand Up ft T.O.K
05. Fire Fi Dem
06. Hardcore Loving ft Rita Jones
07. We Maniac
09. Raise Yuh Hand
10. Blaze It Up
11. Swing It ft Chris Black
12. One Family ft Freddie McGregor
13. Put In the Thing
14. Turn Me On
15. Hands Up