Rapsonic – a review¹

rapsonicRapsonic, the star-studded rapso concert held at Coco Lounge in Port of Spain last Thursday, Jan 22 was billed as “lyrical, alternative, vibes,” but its true significance was that it placed back on the scene—small as it was however—a reunion of talent that heralded the spirit of the mid-to-late 1990s when rapso’s success was tangible and potentially a crossover to the global music scene. That night was a kind of renaissance. Long, but potentially meaningful in harnessing a kind of rebirth, the audience and artists commended show promoter and a rapso star himself, Ataklan, for this effort and suggested a few more shows before Carnival.

The link between soca (ragga soca) and this second generation of rapso has even been written about in scholarly books:

rapso quote
—Habekost , Christian. Verbal Riddim: The Politics and Aesthetics of African-Caribbean Dub Poetry. 1993, Amsterdam – Atlanta, GA: Editions Rodopi B.V. p.42

In person, to validate that link, were stars of both genres to pack a show with the kind of talent that should have been a sold-out crowd paying top dollar. The devaluation of our talent is a topic for another discussion, but the risk of balancing a high price point with the potential for increased audience numbers is one that promoters take to their peril when the heads are counted.

A important cultural music genre is being ignored or under-served by poor marketing as reflected the paucity of fans at the beginning to hear Rebellious (Joel Clark) or young new talent like TejaTizzy (Mical Williams.) A late start to the show did not help either. A confidence flowed in Teja’s delivery that was replicated by Jr. Soy, another upcoming rapso artist who delivered simple rhymes, innocuous lyrics, great flow. (Second generation rapso didn’t seem to have the bite of first-gen lyricists like Brother Resistance, Karega Mandela, Lancelot Layne.)

Ozy Merrique, formerly of Homefront opened his short set with the ironic and intelligent “Nigerian Money.” We have gotten those spam emails promising riches! Merrique, in my mind is unique in creating a song that uses with finesse the difficult word Chaguaramas, “Perfect Stranger (Shaggaramas)” a song about a stush woman who is more like her social opposite. Funny and brilliant.

A recurring theme or topic that night was the patriotic or chauvinistic refrain, “I’m a Trini.” Mark Hardy, who admitted that he began in hip hop continued this trend. His recent hit with Young Rudd, “Nah Boy,” had an energy that excited the now increasing audience to a frenzy. Andy Venture echoed the midnight robber’s meter and beat to showcase a uniquely Trini flow to spoken word. Chanting over song tracks with vocals and the lack of auto tune is rapso’s enemy so when a capella rhymes are rapped/chanted, there is a respite from the noise that the room didn’t dissipate well. Words are heard, intent is understood.

Rapsonic artists. Back row, l-r: Mark Hardy, Teja Tizzy, Ace (3Suns), Scarface (Asylum Family) KMC, Ataklan, Ozy Merrique, Olatunji. Front row, l-r: Akinde (Kindred), Lazabeam, Omari  (Kindred), AndyVenture. Photo by John Francis. © 2015 by Lime.tt. All rights reserved by Lime.tt. Used by permission.
Rapsonic artists. Back row, l-r: Mark Hardy, Teja Tizzy, Ace (3Suns), Scarface (Asylum Family) KMC, Ataklan, Ozy Merrique, Olatunji. Front row, l-r: Akinde (Kindred), Lazabeam, Omari (Kindred), AndyVenture. Photo by John Francis. © 2015 by Lime.tt. All rights reserved by Lime.tt. Used by permission.

The second half began with Curious Ringo, who provided the most apt description of the night’s raison d’être: “Is spoken word, a oral tradition / To bring it back is the mission.” The connection with the audience was now coalescing in anticipation. Trio 3Suns with Ace, Crym, and Scarface of Asylum Family stepping in, showed why they got international label attention in the early 2000s. The ragga soca rebirth was loud and dangerous that night.

After Sheldon Blackman debuted a Lazabeam produced track, “Love Revolution,” Kisskadee Karavan stars Kindred (Omari and Akinde) made what was called a “historic reunion [to] mash up de place!” Following individual solos, these childhood friends—now, older, without dreadlocks and admittedly plumper!— delivered the hits. “Dis Trini Could Flow” and “Ha Da Dey” still have impact. Producer Sheldon “$hel$hok” Benjamin who died in 2009 was remembered and given tribute as the audience was reminded that the role of the producer can not be diminished in rapso.

The crowd returned in a frenzy at 1:21 am to listen to soca star Olatunji deliver his recent hits. Surprisingly, when the earlier artists sang soca, there was limited connection with crowd. Olatunji provided counterpoint and makes the case that specialization is probably apt. The return of KMC was the pinnacle for many that night. Quoted in the past as saying, “[he] is no longer a soca artiste,” and that “I not trying to big up Trinidad industry—they never supported me,” he began with his soca hit “I’m Not Drunk” and sustained the highest audience energy that night of all acts, ragga soca or rapso, for over 20 minutes. I guess he was misquoted! He told the DJ at one point, “not the EDM [track], this is a soca crowd.” Smart move.

Ataklan, with his mellow flow, closed the show with percussive support throughout by hot producer and instrumentalist Lazabeam (Keshav Chandradathsingh)—Ataklan noting that Lazabeam is the next $hel$hok—eliciting boisterous sing-alongs to his hits, “De Flood [on the Main Road],” “Spanish Fly,” “Carnival Time Again” and “Naked Walk.”

It was after 2:00 am and the music would not stop. An endlessly improvised freestyle “chant-off” with Ringo, KMC, 3Suns, Ataklan, Omari, Mark Hardy ensued. It is clear that the rapso artist community is a fraternity with loyal followers. If Rapsonic was a catalyst towards a rapso renaissance, it was a positive beginning.

  1. A version of this article appears in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspapers published as, “Rapso comes alive at Rapsonic”

© 2015, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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