The Toronto Caribbean Festival, most commonly known as Caribana has been taking place for over 50 years. This festival is the largest carnival in North America, generating millions in income to Toronto yearly. Since its introduction in 1967, this festival has been a staple in the city’s summer culture. People from all over the world flock to Toronto to see the parade, its path begins at the Exhibition Place and travels along the iconic Lakeshore Boulevard. Carnival is a celebration of culture, music, and art with beautiful costumes, cultural traditions, and music that is native to the various Caribbean islands. Caribana allows people from the diaspora to celebrate and connect to their culture while living abroad.
The driving force of carnival is the music. As you approach the grounds you can hear the speakers blasting soca music before you even see the parade. The costumes and parades are enchanting but soca is unique — it has a way of energizing you. Benjai said it best in his song “Phenomenal”: “Soca does give me meh powers, make me jump and fete fi hours … it’s a wonderful feeling!” Created in Trinidad, soca was introduced to the world by Garfield Blackman. It has been a staple within carnival culture for many years and is constantly evolving. There are two main types of soca music that you will hear at most parties and on the road during carnival time, groovy and power soca. Every year soca artists release songs that they hope will be ‘the song’ of Carnival. There are competitions held to honour the best soca song of the Carnival season and it is always exciting to see who will come out on top. Songs released each year really define the season. Hearing certain songs take revelers back to memories of the road and the events leading up to Carnival season, and prepare them for the biggest party of the year.
After consultation with friends and much deliberation, I have come up with a list of 7 Carnival essentials that we all have on our soca playlists. These songs remind us of Carnivals in the past and get us excited about the Carnivals to come. It was incredibly difficult to make a list of only 7 songs since there are so many amazing songs every carnival season. I wish I could highlight songs from each year! The songs on this list represent all of our favourite Carnival moments and the aspects of carnival that we all love and are proud of.
- No Behaviour – Cloud 5
This song hails from Grenada, with a strong Jab Jab influence. It reminds me of Caribana 2016 — you could hear it everywhere during Carnival time! The infectious rhythm and upbeat tempo invigorate carnival-goers, empowering them to own their space and make the “whole place shell down.” The song alludes to a dark side of carnival found amidst the oil and chains of jouvert morning. As if possessed by some other entity (call it the “jab jab jumbie”), revelers let go of all inhibition, submit to their repressed urges and embrace the bacchanal. “I got no behavior when I’m under the jab jab fever.”
- Wotless – Kes
That feeling of pure joy: sweat dripping, heart beating, waistline turning, and yuh just doh business. Yuh wotless! It is the attitude everyone has during Carnival season. No worries. No shame. It’s a vibe when that soca hit you, the confidence take over, and you free to get on bad. As Kes sings in the song, “Right now ah jus wotless, and I don’t really careless, my girlfriend she go get vex, my family go send text.” During Carnival time everyone can be calling and texting you, but you are having too much fun to care.
- Pop Ah Bottle – Machel Montano
Time to “pop ah bottle” with your true friends! This song is about having a good time with great friends. It celebrates the friends that come out with you and are always down to have a good time. “Ah here with my friends and them. We partners straight to the end!” Those friends that have your back till the end… they basically family. When this crew step out to the fete, nothing can’t stop their vibes!
- Its Carnival – Destra ft. Machel Montano
Ever wonder why people seem to be doing the absolute most on the road? They jumping, climbing on trucks, and getting on bad. Well, Destra and Machel have the answer for you — it’s Carnival! “Is madness everywhere. Carnival is ah true freedom; make a noise or ah joyful sound and jump up in de air!” Carnival is about freedom: freedom from oppression, to express yourself on your terms, or just to have fun. Whatever your reason, it really doh matter — it’s Carnival.
- Savannah Grass – Kes
Sung by popular soca artist Kes, this song encompasses so much about Carnival culture and the season. It is about celebrating as one. The “Savannah,” Trinidad’s largest open space, is a cultural hub that comes alive during Carnival time. “I want you to find your way,” he calls everyone together, “everybody on stage … When the rhythm beating in town, see we jumping on the Savannah grass!” It is the place to be Carnival Monday as all the bands cross the Grand Stand. Ask any Trini and they will tell you; “It’s just vibes. If a foreigner came to Trinidad it’s pretty likely they would end up there.” The Savannah Grass represents all island people coming together in such a special way.
- Bend Dong for Di Hmm – Krome & Nassis
This would not be a soca essential list without Dunnery Segment music. This style of music is native to the island of St. Lucia and has recently gone international. The fast-paced beats are infectious and once these songs come on the whole party is hyped. “When you wine is that I like; bumpah causing fight … You have a coca-cola shape but girl you taste like sprite.” It doh matter what the song is saying; when that vibes hit you, you gon get on bad!
- I am Soca – Patrice Roberts & Kerwin DuBois
I’ve already said a lot about soca music in this article. If you still don’t quite get it, well, go listen to “I am Soca.” This song encompasses everything about the feeling one has when listening to soca music. Soca is personified to give the best description that I’ve heard yet: “I am the rudeness on yuh face, I am the riddim in yuh waist … I am the jumbie in yuh heart, I’m the reason carnival start. Tell them, I am soca!”
Within Carnival and in the hearts of Caribbean people, soca is truly the spirit of the celebration. It goes beyond just music to tell stories of who we are. It is a representation of unity, togetherness, and celebration and, during Caribana, it is a taste of home.
For my Soca lovers and Carnival goers, what are your Soca essentials? Follow our spotify for an extended play !