Lif Up Yuh Leg An Trample
onest Jon's, a label set up in 2002 by Damon Albarn along with Mark Ainley and Alan Scholefield, is actually shaping up to be a fine purveyor of Caribbean and world music. Any suspicions that this was a vanity label for Albarn to explore his fledgling love for world music have been quelled by some excellent releases, like London Is The Place For Me, a collection of Trinidadian calypso in London, the reissue of Cedric Im Brooks and the Light of Saba, an epic reggae record that willfully incorporates funk, Afrobeat, and jazz, as well as compilations of the early soul sides by the gritty Candi Staton and Bettye Swan. Lif Up Yuh Leg An Trample, an explosive collection of modern and artistic Soca from Trinidad and its neighboring nations, might be Honest Jon’s best release yet.
Soca is the high-tempo hybrid of soul and calypso that developed in Trinidad and Tobago during the 1970s. Over the past few decades, it has integrated dancehall, ragga, R&B, house, and middle-eastern music into its genetic structure while still maintaining the original rhythms and steel band flavor of Calypso. Although artists still include social and political commentary in their lyrics, Soca is very much party music, delivered in technicolor by frantic percussion, staccato horns, synthetic strings, and flashy keyboards. It’s a maximal music, one that pulls out all the stops (Soca is often comfortable at tempos beyond 130 BPM) in order to get you to shake your body. Arrow’s “Hot Hot Hot” is probably the one Soca song every person has heard, and it does provide an easy reference point for the genre, even if Americans are more familiar and annoyed with Buster Poindexter’s version that is constantly played at wedding parties.
So what distinguishes Lif Up Yuh Leg An Trample from the glut of Soca compilations you’d see every year? Basically, it collects recent tracks that are not only filled with the trademark manic energy of Soca, they also happen to be highly developed musically. The latter point is especially distinctive, because it’s so easy for Dancehall and Soca recordings to fall into the pattern where the vocalists ride on one or two digital riddims for the entire song. While there is no denying the merit of this classic vamping structure, the more adventurous side has often gone underexposed.
A good portion of the tracks represented here have also been favorites from the past couple carnival seasons in Trinidad and Tobago. During this season (which takes place annually from December to March,) there are literally thousands of songs released, all rushed out in hope of gaining radio airplay, bolstering record sales, and placing high in the numerous carnival competitions.
After kicking off with a brief percussion piece by the Laventille Rhythm Section (incidentally, the only track with live drumming,) the record is basically one shot of adrenalin after another, starting with Dawg E Slaughter’s self-explanatory “Trample” and Maximus Dan’s punchy, brass-dominated anthem of sashaying, “Soca Train.” Skittery, propulsive tracks from Denise Belfon (“Saucy Baby”) and Michelle Sylvester (“Go Ahead”) are two other highlights that show that women can hold their own in Soca songwriting just as well as the men. A peek into the vernacular of these selections show a cheerful, jubilant vibe that even finds its way into political minded tracks like Andre Tanker’s “Food Fight,” which facetiously compares the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq to a food fight with a side of gluttony. More tomfoolery arises in Timmy’s “Bumpa Catch a Fire,” which has a chant that could be a smirking response to Busta Rhymes’ “Light Your Ass On Fire” : “Me bumpa catch a fire / Me bumpa catch a fire / Bring me water hose / Bring me water hose / Bring me water, Bring me water, Bring me water hose!”
Lif Up Yuh Leg An Trample aims to deliver the best of both worlds: you get the delirious kitchen-sink rush of a Basement Jaxx record along with a series of well-developed songs that leave a smaller chance of listener burnout. Even more impressive is that at only thirteen tracks and under and hour long, it is palatable to the novice and casual Soca fan as well as veteran carnival goers. If you can’t make it to one of those all-night dance sessions in Trinidad or Notting Hill, your portable energy flash starts here.