Friday, April 8, 2011

'It Belong To She': A Review of "Welcome Back" by Destra

The mythical and perhaps somewhat ridiculous title of “The Queen of Soca” is one which, at least in my opinion, has no ‘rightful’ owner. There are so many different ways to examine such a claim and all of them have a certain level of merit and reality to them and you’re going to find a multiple number of potential claimants on each level that it’s pretty absurd to even think about proclaiming someone “The Queen of Soca Music” . . . But I’m going to do it anyway. Can we really have an argument about someone other than Ms. Alysha being the LYRICAL Queen of Soca? Is Alison Hinds not the Queen of Bajan Soca? And were it a matter of lifetime achievement, would she not take the crown there as well? In terms of overall skill and craft I think that I’d go with Nadia Batson and in terms of simply making the best music these days and presenting it the greatest, over the last few years the ultra-decorated Fay-Ann Lyons has not only distanced herself from most of her peers, but has also probably distanced herself from most of history and most of the foreseeable future as well. Currently no other female in Soca music, anywhere, is making better music than Lyons. HOWEVER, in terms of the world where I’m a fan and because of that, I’m a bit of a selfish, I’m not always adhering to the rules of good, old fashion common sense and because I like what I like - In terms of the all prevailing Queen of Soca Music, it is, has always been and probably always will be the incomparably divine Ms. Destra Garcia. In the past I’ve well detailed my initial infatuation with Destra - Mainly being the first Soca artist that I really began to pay a great deal of attention to and ultimately opening up such a powerful form of music to me - but there are also a couple of relatively fresh ideas that I’ve noticed about Destra’s music, in particular, which were very present in 2011. The first being that she, somewhat like Nadia Batson, seems to infuse a bit of CLASS in the midst of the madness. This is as opposed to Lyons who, although very classy, seems to excel with this unmatched sense of musical freedom and ‘expansion’ when at her finest, Destra quite often is this classically trained fireball of Soca energy with a mind slightly focused on maintaining specific old school values and traits in her music. And, most importantly, it is my opinion that the proverbial ‘ceiling’ of Destra’s vibes is higher than that of anyone else’s in Soca music - At her best, the music is at its best and in 2011, she was damn near there.

'Cool It Down' @ Soca Monarch

A certain other Soca superstar wasn’t the only one making a ”Return” in 2011 to Trinidad Carnival as Destra had also taken a great deal of 2010 off, but not to let others take more of the limelight for themselves, instead, most honourably, she took it off to have a baby. And while that specific and most wonderful ‘angle’ to her 2011 wasn’t greatly explored, and definitely not as much as it was in 2010, what was explored was the fact that this year would bring the first FULL season from Destra since she smashed through 2009 on the strength of the MAMMOTH shot that was ‘Bacchanal’ . So one year removed - what would she do for an encore? Well, she’d start by throwing her versatile hat in the Soca Monarch ring for the first time in 320 years and while her results would be mixed (although by her own admission, she didn’t do very well, but I’d disagree - Her Groovy performance was pretty good and it netted her a third place finish in the competition and her Power . . . I mean . . . Her in that bed and . . . Yep) her season, in full, has to be considered one of her finest in recent years and I’d even place it over the 2009 cache of tunes. So, what’s left to do? Surprisingly, Destra has decided to join a quietly NICE group of Trini Soca artists who have not only released albums, but have taken advantage of the digital swing of music these days for their projects which includes Kes The Band and Nadia Batson and, reportedly, the previously alluded to “Soca superstar, whose name I promised myself that I wouldn’t mention in this review, is also soon to take that route as well. Soca is woefully behind the times in that medium and the fact that you can roll over to iTunes or Amazon and pick up her latest album is just fucking nice (and it also means that hell has officially frozen over)! Said new album, ”Welcome Back” is Destra’s first from 2009 and her sixth (and a half) altogether and, unsurprisingly, I think it’s the best Soca album I’ve heard in 2011. I had no idea this album was on its way and when I first heard that it had been released, I remember the first thing that went through my mind was just how SMART such a move was and when I noticed the channels through which the album was coming, I got even more excited. ”Welcome Back” also carries the COTT tag which is the Copyright Music Organisation of Trinidad and, hopefully, that means that the group will begin to flood the digital market with even more releases from its roster of artists and they have in the past, but this is, distinctly, the very first time I can recall seeing the company directly lending its name to a digital release. Surely, I can’t be the only one who thinks that this is a HUGE deal for Soca music to FINALLY begin to take advantage of this most immediate of vehicles for future releases and DEFINITELY for gems for the past as well. And what a better way to begin things that with Destra in 2011.

This year, for me at least, was vintage Destra in terms of the quality of her vibes. 2009, for the most part and with the exception of Bacchanal was very sleek and fashionable and while that’s something which is pretty much inherently present in her style, for me, when Destra is at her best there’s a certain level of ’harsh looseness’ which accompanies her music. It is this type of defiant self-assurance which she is able to basically wrap and hand deliver to her audiences which comes BOWLING through in her vibes. Also, it should be said that in terms of lyrics, I don’t know that she’s been much better than she was this year and all of that is on full display on the single best Soca album of 2011, ”Welcome Back”.

'Welcome Back'

With two seasons full of music to choose from, the material on this album is largely from 2011, but there are pieces from 2010 as well as, and this is always expected, Destra’s offerings for the 2010 Crop Over Season and there is something missing here, which I’ll tell you about a little later. To my clearly bias opinion, Destra dropped four tunes in 2011 which were undeniably SPECIAL tracks and two of the quartet of EXCELLENT songs appear in the first three tracks on her brand new album for 2011, ”Welcome Back”. One of them and her biggest tune (in terms of sound) and the record they named the album after gets us started. ‘Welcome Back’ was HUGE! For me, this tune is one which best exemplifies what I mean by Destra’s “harsh looseness”. There is a set form and pattern, but the songs strayyyyyys so much from it that, by its end, you almost don’t know what the hell is going on and I love it! From the intro of the tune (somewhat reminiscent of Fay-Ann’s equally large ‘Get On’ from 2008) and the opening lines to punchline of the tune, this I world class madness at its finest and it’s one of the finest songs, from anyone, in 2011 - Although most surprisingly, it’s not my favourite Destra song this year (more on that later). Next we have another very special tune, but one which was done for Crop Over 2010, the infectious ‘On Somebody’. First of all, that squeaky riddim, the Brass Fest 2 from Dwaingerous, is getting a second life in my eyes, being able to go back and really dig into material like this and what I told you about on Tuesday. This song is just a nice and clever wining tune, but it really comes through as something really significant going on. Meanwhile the only thing of substantiality to any degree is that Destra demands you have a good time when vibing this tune and unless you are a corpse, you shouldn’t have much problem doing what she tells you to. Things then get a bit dark and a bit wild as Destra draws for her first guest on a combination track for the ages, ‘Madd Party’ along St. Vincy Soca ace and Achis Reggae favourite, Skinny Fabulous. Even before I get to the song, itself, let’s just look at the dynamics of this ridiculous pairing. It’s Destra Garcia - A guaranteed winner there - And it’s Skinny Fabulous who’s been on as great of a roll in Soca music as anyone over the past few years. Their styles aren’t too similar, but if you can find some type of common ground where the vibes meet and mix well, then you’re dealing with a potentially great song and . . . Well that’s exactly what they did because ‘Madd Party’ is outstanding.

“Everybody jump around
Get mad inna dis fete and mek wi party
Show me all yah colours
Represent all where yuh from
And mek wi party

Now everybody wave!
Your rag in the AIRRRRR
And wave
Your flag in the AIRRRRR
We getting on bad this year
Cause it’s a mad party affair!”

The song captures the best of both Skinny and his HEAVY moments of brilliance and Destra’s mastery of melody and it is everything I hoped such a link would be and then some! The song begins in a way that wasn’t familiar to my ears and I started to think that I had stumbled into some kind of remix, but that, THANKFULLY, wasn’t the case and when things get going, it’s the same explosion of a song that I knew. MASSIVE!

As I said, this year Destra served up four really really special songs and the remaining two are also featured on ”Welcome Back”. The first, sequentially, is also the next tune on the album and one of the coolest Groovy songs of the year, ‘Cool It Down’. I defer, grudgingly to ‘Wotless’ from Kes as the best Groovy song that I’ve heard this year, but with my bias well intact - It’s not even close. ‘Cool It Down’ was superb and it was effortless and seamless and melodically, just a gorgeous construction as well and a real highlight of Trinidad Carnival 2011 for me.

'We Own It'

And finally there’s the biggest damn surprise on this album or any other in a really long time. Here, I would’ve fully expected to declare the title track the album’s best and, looking back, I can remember thinking it was a mistake for her to draw on a next tune besides it for her performance at Soca Monarch but, Ummmm, yeah maybe I was wrong. That ‘next tune’, ‘We Own It’, has grown on me immensely over the past couple of weeks, even before we got this album, and I now have to concede that the old school vibed song was her best song this year! It’s BEAUTIFUL and if you know my tastes, I’m modern on top of modern - Electric, super-high-powered sounding Soca is my favourite thing in the music - But this tune, which certainly isn’t weak by any standards in its sound has crawled ALL OVER ME and I can even feel it in my hair when I spin it.

“It belong to we
It belong to we
We not coming off
It’s we property!

We go have a time
I giving them vintage wine
Bring police wid horse
If you want to get we off

It belong to we
It belong to we
We not coming off
It’s we property!

Lawd, I feel to play Mas
I feel to shake up meh as-
The great Lord Kitchener say
‘We on the road on Carnival day’
We starting it from Jouvert
It’s time to play Mas again
Whether sun or pouring rain
They goh have to jam we off
Like it’s the first time we cross -
The Savannah Stage
The Savannah Stage
The Savannah Stage
The Savannah Stage!”

Lyrically the song is top notch (which I, apparently, just didn’t notice before) and it does go a long way with me that the song contains a moment, when she does the countdown and says “start jumping, start jumping, start jumping, jumping, jumping . . .”, which sends my daughter into a frenzy and I’m generally not very far behind.

(already 2200 words + and still have eight songs to mention)

Buried in the middle of ”Welcome Back” is a sterling trio of Pan/Calypso pieces which usually aren’t my favourites, but I find myself (as I get old as hell - I’ll be 30 now in about four months and a week) enjoying them more and more these days and being that they’re from Destra definitely helps. The first of the three is also my personal favourite, ‘Rewind’, from last year. I didn’t give this one a proper bit of attention in 2010, but with a year past it, it sounds EXCELLENT and just a tune which flourishes lovely after its beginning. ‘Surrender’, another track for 2010 is also very strong and one which is just now starting to grow on me and finally is the tune for 2011, ‘Calling Meh’, which is also a big tune and one which presses the gas just a bit more than the previous two with the huge horns (and I should mention that the first two tracks featured on Faluma’s Calypso compilation, ”Something Special” last year as the latter does on ”It’s Showtime”, both of which are available now).

Just before that trio is the completion of another of another strong threesome of tracks as ‘Cool It Down’ is chased by two more sweet Groovy sets, ‘Feel To Wine’ and ‘Feel Like Wukking’. The former, which features Super Jigga TC (a good artist with an absolutely horrible name, but one to watch out for because he has some very nice songs) is the better of the two, but ‘Feel Like Wukking’ is not to be missed either, although if you can make it through listening to that riddim and NOT singing ‘Neighbour’ in your head then it’s probably because you don’t know what the hell I am talking about. There’s also the very fun ‘Proppa’ which is from Crop Over and it is another outstanding selection. I will say that this one may need a bit of time, so don’t just spin through it once and declare it ‘too much’ for you because it sounds considerably less and less complicatedly agitated a few listens down the road and I really really like this song. I don’t like it, however, as much as I do like ‘Middle Ah De Road’ which features Destra alongside Adidj . . . Swappi. It’s another fun one and one with a bit of a different quality about it which helps the album in itself. FINALLY, the penultimate track on ”Welcome Back” (the aforementioned ‘We Own It’ closes things up) is Destra’s big tune from last year, the overlooked ‘Fireworks’. I liked this song when I first heard it and I think I enjoy it more having not heard it in quite some time. It’s a beautiful song and leading into the genius which follows it, it’s part of a wonderful ending to the album.

'Feel To Wine' featuring Super Jigga TC

The “something missing” I mentioned several days worth of reading ago is the fact that, as far as I can tell, this album is Destra’s first which doesn’t feature a kind of ’Gospel excursion’. She almost always includes at least one such song on her albums (the Gospel song is to Destra, as the Country song is to Lady Saw), but that isn’t the case here. What does that mean? Probably not a damn thing, but I’m a nerd and I notice these things.

Overall, you shouldn’t have had to wait all the way to this point to figure that I love this album and not only because it’s Destra - “Welcome Back” is very good. Like I said, she strung together such a solid streak of music not only for this season but going back through last year as well and you see the results. Here we have a Soca album which doesn’t contain any remixes or road mixes or anything like that and it still manages to check in at a healthy thirteen tracks and she certainly could’ve managed to stretch that to sixteen or so if she wanted and perhaps even twenty if she did include the mixes. It’s simply a matter of Destra putting her best foot forward. I’m not going to go back and compare it to the other albums, but I will say that it stands very decently compared to even my favourites, a group which it now joins. So while it may be ridiculous to proclaim someone the ’Queen of Soca’ - I’m a fan and I don’t mind being ridiculous and for whatever it's worth, I'm giving the title to Ms. Destra Garcia - For me, The greatest to ever do it.

Rated: 4.5/5
Krazi Music Records/COTT
CD + Digital


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