In St. Maarten, the 40th Anniversary Carnival Season has begun and has actually been quite impressive if I do say so myself. To my opinion, the real STRENGTH of SxM’s Carnival has always been the undeniable level of diversity. Besides what you’d expect to see in any Caribbean Carnival, in the way of Soca artists and the likes, you also get to see a VERY healthy mix of artists from other genres as well. From Mavado and Anthony B to a whole heap of Reggaeton performers who I’ve never heard of are just a taste of those who drop by during a St. Maarten Carnival. And next weekend, for the second week in a row, we’ll be treated to a Soca show headlined by the INCOMPARABLE Destra Garcia which is where I’ll be! Yet, there’s also a Zouk bill which features the DIVINE Fanny and even Jessye Belleval and, were that not enough (and it was) a mixed bill headlined by American hip-hoppers Omarion and Rick Ross. Like I said, in St. Maarten, it’s all about DIVERSITY in the vibes and I’d definitely recommend stopping by one year should you get the opportunity. I would say that’s the case for Carnivals all over the region which just leaves a particular impression on you, regardless of how informed/uninformed you may be and, if it’s a good one, should leave you with a memory/ies that you’ll never forget. In so many cases I would say (and definitely in my own personal situation) I think that in terms of Caribbean Carnivals what most often helps DEFINE a particular season is the music which comes from a certain region or island and matching that up with a given year. For example, take any well known artist like woman of the moment Faye-Ann Lyons: You (“you” meaning you, Soca head) can go through her recent catalogue and align it with particular moments you may recall. 2008 will definitely go down in your memory as a special one if you’ve been paying attention to Faye-Ann’s career as she was full on ROBBED from taking her first Soca Monarch crown with Get On and, almost like a response to that act, she overwhelmingly claimed her second Road March crown, ending the reign of Soca superstar Machel Montano HD, AND doing so while my wife was having our first baby! 2007? What do you remember about M.A.S.? That song was definitely underrated and, in my opinion, may have been as good or even better than any tune which she has had since then. In ‘Mr. Faye-Ann’s’ recent history you’ll find even more interesting as his years are almost UNIVERSALLY tied to amazing performances just as much as the music itself but it all falls into that category. Destra, Machel, Shurwayne Winchester and now Blaxx, they all have their certain sides of the vibes which, for the really ‘touched’ by Soca, can draw up all sorts of wonderful and interesting memories.
So what type of memories will this year bring? Well undoubtedly (literally this time), the person of the moment and of the Carnival YEAR is to be Faye-Ann Lyons. Having finally taken that Monarch crown, taken a Groovy title, a People’s Choice award and her third in total and second consecutive Road March title (with her husband having already predicted that in 2010, she’ll take another) (of course, he’s wrong, because Destra will take her first instead). Anyone in any other place trying to outdo Mrs. Garlin in terms of capturing the moment will simply undertaking a lost cause (the closest is likely to be Claudette Peters from out Antigua who will be attempting to capture both the island’s Party (Power) and Groovy Soca Monarch titles for the THIRD consecutive year). But they can outdo her musically which is why we’re here today. With Trinidad Carnival having packed up and gone international until next year, now comes the business of going international in a much more indirect manner, through the releasing of albums. Already we’ve seen artists like Destra, KMC, Crazy and most recently Shurwayne Winchester break out with their typical seasonal recaps of albums which they push every year and going forward now we can expect the BIG compilations to start reaching the masses as much more and more tunes are released. Of course, the class of the Soca compilations (in terms of popularity and generally speaking in terms of quality as well) is VP Records’ HUGE Soca Gold which is simply the most popular THING branding the name Soca on the planet. VP has always stuck well in promoting the music, they may, also later bring a next installment of their more laid back and always very well done D’Soca Zone compilation as well and with their stable of artists (currently officially including both Bunji Garlin and Bajan superstar Edwin Yearwood, as well as the late great Byron Lee) who knows what else. But they aren’t the only game in town. Bajan super producers D Red Boyz will definitely bring a compilation sometime around Crop Over, just as they have solidly for the past three seasons. Trini super producer Mastermind has already launched his piece for 2009, the decent Da Mastamind Project 4. And you can also expect Ragga Ragga Soca to appear as well which is the compilation which essentially recaps a particular year’s Vincy Mas and a whole heap of others as well. That being said, the compilation in particular for which we are here today is quite EASILY the most CONSISTENT Soca compilation you will hear ANYWHERE. The Best Of The Best Soca Hits compilation from JW Productions is basically a compilation which, minus a few big tunes, is a recap of Trinidad’s Carnival POWER season. So, what that means is this: If you scored with ANY big Soca tune in Trinidad’s Carnival season, there’s a very good chance you’re song will appear on Best Of The Best. The exceptions being only one Iwer George who has his own compilation, Soca 91.9 FM Trini Bashment Soca Compilation (which has already released for 2009) and those artists who choose to keep the exclusivity going with their own albums (Machel every year and I GUESS Destra and Shurwayne this year in particular). EVERYONE else is pretty fair game and as this one has come at least three months before SG2009, if you REALLY don’t feel like waiting for the BIG comp, like every year, you can’t go wrong with this Best Of The Best.
Best Of The Best Soca Hits 09 is one of a pair. The same label also releases Best Of The Best Soca Grooves which, obviously, deals with the Groovy hits. Therefore, what you need to do before picking this one up is know that even if they’re tunes here which you don’t know they’re far more likely to be of the HEAVY road marching/jump and wave type of song than the cool and sexy type. The same two artists who started Best Of The Best Soca Hits 08 take the honours for 09’s edition (showing the rather ‘streaky’ nature of jump up Soca in my opinion, which I’ve spoken of before) but in reverse as this was so much more of a NO BRAINER in 2009. Faye-Ann Lyons’ ode to her father, Meet Super Blue, absolutely routed the competition wherever it found any. The tune which took both Road March (by more than quadrupling it’s closest competitor) and Power Soca Monarch wasn’t quite as big as her Get On from last year in my opinion, but it was absolute MAGIC. However, it has finally found a title it can’t take: The Best tune on BotB 09. HUGE start still. That honour doesn’t go to Blaxx either who also, in my opinion, took a step down in terms of the quality of his tune with Tusty following the downright BRILLIANCE that was Breathless from 2008. Still, Tusty was HUGE and if you talk about WINDING and winding alone, there was no greater masterpiece than Tusty in 2009 and beyond (and I’m already willing to bet that after being Breathless and Tusty, Blaxx will be HUNGRY in 2010 and may just take a crown because of it). Ending the opening of Best Of The Best Soca Hits ‘09 is the equally addictive and ANNOYING Stabby from Stabby De Guard. If there is the SLIGHTEST of Soca twitches in your bones Stabby will find it and it will not let you go. You will get tired as HELL of singing this one GUARANTEED, but you will not be able to stop. Very reminiscent of recent tunes like Pressure Boom although even more annoying, Stabby is destined to be one of the most memorable tunes of the past two seasons having left mentally WORN people in it’s wake, every island it has touched so far. All in all, a big ass addictive piece of an opening.
What’s very weird here is that, despite 2009 CLEARLY being a step (or two) below 2008 in terms of musical quality for TnT’s Carnival, BotB 09 is a step (or two) ahead of the 08 edition with NOTHING really striking me as a BAD song actually (unless you count when I’m hating Stabby). One of the real reasons why this edition is better than 08’s is DEFINITELY due to the presence of one of my favourite tunes of all time, the UTTER RIDICULOUSNESS that was Traffic by Berbice. This tune is actually two years old now having taken 2007’s Road March crown for Grenada and he used it to qualify for Power Soca Monarch finals as well where Berbice represented himself very well. Traffic is all but PEERLESS in my opinion and I’m still not tired of it so it’s the best tune on this album and pretty much every album you’ll see it on. Another older tune here was one which literally caught fire in Trinidad the time we were there, Skinny Fabulous’ LARGE Head Bad which won him 2008’s Soca Monarch for St. Vincy (and should have won him a placing in TnT’s show) (he was robbed). This tune is another of the real highlights on the album and simply one of the best jump up Soca tunes of the past couple of years and I’m quite wondering if it’ll make it on the Soca Gold album as well as it will look very good there also. Keeping going veteran Nadia Batson (who’s also been to SxM Carnival I believe) checks in with the best of her offerings from 2009, the WICKED Play Mas. Batson is always solid and I’m pretty sure that this will make it to Soca Gold (or Bumpers Rule, her Groovy tune). Play Mas was a very VIBRANT and just feel good type of tune, a noticeable step down from 08’s My Posse but definitely a real winner still. Mr. Faye-Ann himself Bunji Garlin comes off of what I think had to be one of his most deceptively strong seasons in recent years with his LIGHTENING tune Clear D Road. I went from being completely neutral, to disliking and finally to liking this tune in all of about two weeks or so. Clear D Road is SERIOUS! And hopefully Bunji will deliver an album as well in 2009 (to make up for that mess which was the Fiery album). Faye-Ann and Bunji good friend Benjai checks in also alongside his Asylum mates (or is it still HD these days?) with another tune which grew on me, Whole Day. The spotlight wasn’t on this tune for the most part (it was on the alcoholic’s anthem Drunk Again) this season but of ANYTHING I heard from Benjai in 2009, Whole Day was king. Right after Benjai’s Whole Day is another tune which I felt was overlooked, On D Road from Surface leader Tony Prescott. To me, this one is a BIG tune but I didn’t like the reaction I saw so many people giving it through calling it ‘mediocre’ and such. I’m not claiming it a SPECIAL tune by any means but On D Road was a COOL jump up tune that deserves it’s respect. Going back, briefly, there’s a tune by Blazer by the name of Jumpie which is another crazy ADDICTIVE tune which is damn near frustrating as it’s an Soca tune disguised as an R&B tune. The roof CONSTANTLY threatens to blow off several times before it does and even when it does, you feel that it could have even gone madder. It’s a veteran show rounding out Best Of The Best Soca Hits ‘09 as Giselle ‘Di Wassi One’, brings her very nice tune Do It So; Ghetto Flex checks in with the album’s worst tune altogether, the very forgettable Double Up (and even that one isn’t HORRIBLE) and even Lord Nelson himself comes with the road mix of La La alongside Devon Matthews. I wasn’t high on the original tune there and I hardly ever like road mixes, this time no exception, but altogether you won’t find me complaining too much of the final two given the power of the eleven preceding them.
Overall, this one can definitely serve two purposes: The first is that if you are a Soca head, there’s a good chance that RIGHT NOW you probably don’t have any OFFICIAL album with several of these tunes on it (you probably have DOZENS of mixtapes with them however) and some of them may fall through the cracks and never appear on any other album; and the second is that if you are a new fan then you’ll absolutely love Best Of The Best Soca Hits 09. As a Soca head myself (yay me!) most of these songs I’ve WELL spun and although I’m not tired of all of them yet, I’m probably well headed there (except Traffic of course) so, in the case of this one, probably the sooner the better. However, that being said, just as I said before, most of this music is music that you can relate to a particular moment or memory. So, should you want to rewind time just a couple of months and get the jump on Soca Gold 2009, definitely pick up The Best Of The Best Soca Hits 09. It doesn’t take too many chances in it’s song selection, but in doing so it probably makes itself the first BIG Soca compilation of 2009.
Rated 4/5 stars