Written by: Adela Scotland
Within the past couple of years, the popularity of Afro beats has skyrocketed with artists like Burna Boy, Omah lay, Rema, Wiz Kid, and Fireboy DML dominating the charts and assimilating into the Western music industry. These artists have attracted the attention of major stars and have had collaborations with industry legends like Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, and Selena Gomez.
In the past artists like Burna Boy have received a Grammy for the Best Global Music Album. As the Grammy’s aims to be a space of expression, inclusivity, and diversity within the music industry, they took note of AfroBeat’s dominance of the Western music world and in May of 2023 the board decided to introduce the category of, ‘Best African Music Performance.’ Mason Jr. revealed the reason behind this decision in a statement, explaining that, “These changes reflect our commitment to actively listen and respond to the feedback from our music community, accurately represent a diverse range of relevant musical genres, and stay aligned with the ever-evolving musical landscape.
Now that Afro Beat fans everywhere can relish in the fact that their favourite creators have the opportunity to win the prestigious award in their own category it begs the question why hasn’t Soca gotten its own category yet? Like Afrobeat, Soca has also been around since the 1970s and it is also a fusion of different rhythms and styles. It has also gained worldwide popularity within the last couple of years and there are artists who are talented enough and deserving of the accolade. Yet, the world doesn’t seem to give it as much regard as AfroBeats. So let’s explore why hasn’t the Grammys given a category for Soca?”
Even though Soca is now more international than before, it is still mainly enjoyed by the Caribbean diaspora. Over the last couple of decades, the genre has spilled to all the islands in the Caribbean but it is mainly centered around the celebration of carnival and the local culture making it Jump and wave party music with lyrics tailored strictly for those occasions. Outside of the islands, it is mainly enjoyed by individuals with ties to the Caribbean in clubs, parties, and of course the carnivals of the big cities.
Global ‘authorities’ on music such as Billboard do not feature Soca Music on their chart or promote it to a wider audience. Thus, it is harder for people to come across. Billboard and other digital music services have a narrow perception of Soca music. To these influential organisations music from the Caribbean is confined to dancehall and reggae and even these genres aren’t promoted as much as westernised music. For instance, Billboard has weekly updates as to the status of popular songs in several genres such as hip-hop and r&b. Soca music does not have a feature on billboard and is thus less accessible to a wider audience. Furthermore, if one was to search ‘AfroBeats’ on Apple Music, they will find playlists specially curated by the platform. If this same search is done for Soca, no specially curated albums would appear. This lack of promotion on a global scale further reiterates why soca lags behind.
In the age of social media, having your song go viral is a definitive feature of its popularity. ‘Love Nwantiti’ by Clay went viral in 2021 with over 15 billion views on TikTok. This viral success paved the way for other Afrobeats artists to achieve recognition and have their songs go viral. TikTok has become a large platform for the music industry as consumers use songs in the background of their videos or to dance to. ‘Calm Down’ by REMA has a viral dance challenge associated with it, which has made the song a staple on the app. In order to have a category at the Grammys, Soca artists and their teams need to invest time, research, money, and other resources to make viral videos featuring Soca possible.
Local songwriter and music producer and son of the late great Lord Kitcher, Kernel Roberts, in an interview with the Caribbean Entertainment Hub, had this to say:
“It’s all about numbers.”
“Remember with Afro beats, there’s a whole nation behind that beat. The African continent is all down and they back their culture. The numbers that back that genre, in terms of people listening and appreciating Afrobeat, is much larger than Soca; and Soca doesn’t get the support that Afro beats get. The whole of Africa and the rest of the world appreciates Afro beats. With Soca, this isn’t the case. Soca doesn’t have as much listens and sales as Afrobeat does. Afrobeat is sort-after music in the world right now. It’s been accepted as mainstream with Burna Boy selling out US stadiums. The appeal for Afrobeat is huge and the Grammys have taken notice of that. Soca on the other hand, we have a lot of work to do to get the support. In the West Indies, we only give seasonal support. Only around Carnival time we get the support. We don’t support our own as hard as Africa. Soca doesn’t have the numbers yet and that level of mainstream support.
The African continent watches their videos and streams their content, and the Grammys have taken notice and it’s spilled over to London, America, and the rest of the world. Soca we don’t have that backing, that hard push into the mainstream. If you check the streaming platforms the numbers for Soca are far off from Afrobeats. I don’t know why we don’t get that real support. Why people can’t stream our music all through the Caribbean?”
Now to create a new Grammy category for Soca, it will take a successful lobby by the stakeholders to convince the Recording Academy that the current categories do not serve their needs. Presently soca artists have to seek nominations in the World Music, Dance, Reggae, Urban Alternative, and Video categories. Also, Artistes and producers need to join the Recording Academy and become voting members.
In 2021 Soca producers were invited to join the Recording Academy. This step shows the Grammy’s commitment to reflecting culture and promoting diversity. This invitation has created the opportunity for Soca albums to be presented for the Global Performance Category. However, Kasey Phillips, a music producer, explained that although songs can be presented to win an award in this category; without a greater push from talents within the Soca industry, nothing will come of this opportunity. The onus is on artists in the industry, consumers, and governments to invest in the growth of Soca music so that one day it can get the recognition it deserves.
At the crux of the matter, Soca genuinely isn’t popular enough to have its own category at the Grammys. Although the genre is beautiful and appreciated amongst Caribbean nationals and the diaspora, it is not global enough for the Recording Academy to consider it. Government authorities need to put a greater emphasis on the arts. Local artists need to gear their music, especially the lyrics to a global audience and increase the production quality of their videos and their social media presence. The Grammys has been making an effort to be more inclusive, and representative of what consumers love. So, a lack of diversity on their part is no longer a considerable obstacle.
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