For years, the annual Soca Gold compilations have been the source for the latest and greatest soca music. If you are looking for what's going on in soca today, Soca Gold 2010 is a great place to start.
Soca, the dancey offspring of calypso, is essentially party music, custom-made for carnival. As such it resists attempts at critical listening. If you are thinking about it, you are missing the point. It similar to pop folk from other countries, like Bosnian turbo folk or Bulgarian chalga: a mixture of folk elements with digital production and a pop sensibility. Like all dance music, soca is best enjoyed in the moment, and no doubt is a much more religious experience a few drinks in on a sweaty dance floor. The hyperactive beat and simple lyrics don't necessarily translate as well in the harsh light of day.
This disc compiles 16 tracks from the world of soca. Rikki Jai and Problem Child with Ravi B. both offer up some Soca Chutney that with a heavy East Indian influence. Interestingly, both songs, "Barman" and "Ah Drinka," are about men whose excessive drinking causes problems in their relationships. Brit Donae'o's song "Party Hard" has a winning stripped-down beat that compensates for it's vapid lyrics.
Some of the best songs here are ones that most explicitly reference calypso, including Alison Hind's raunchy "Gimmie De Juk Juk," Patrice Roberts' "Work It," and Machel Montana's "Wooeeii Gal Wooeeii." That said, the hip hop/dancehall bent of Peter Ram's "Tattoo Farm" and Fadda Fox's "Staggerah" are nice takes on the genre. Roy Cape's "Huntin" and Jamesy P.'s "Ants In Yuh Sugar Pan" are so high-energy that they almost sound like they are being played at the wrong speed. Gyptian's hit "Hold You" is included, remixed with a soca beat for those who like their music less frenetic.
The album comes with a DVD of music videos and live performances. The DVD helps, especially the live performances, because they allow the viewer to experience soca in its proper element. The videos range in production values from economical (Rikki Jai's "Barman") to flash (Donae'o, Gyptian). Again, I was reminded of the chalga videos of Planeta's stable of artists like Malina and Gergana, which all featured beautiful women in tiny outfits hanging out in mansions and riding in fancy cars. It ain't high art, but it gets the job done. As an added bonus, there is footage of carnival, and of the cover model's photo shoot.
For fans of soca, Soca Gold 2010 is a nice collection of recent hits. For the curious, it's a good starting place. After listening to the music and watching the DVD, I don't know that I'd call myself a fan, but even I have to admit that the genre has an irresistible charm.