Photos: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Essence; Matthew Lewis-ICC/ICC via Getty Images; Sean Drakes/Getty Images; Sean Drakes/LatinContent via Getty Images; Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Essence
5 Artists Essential to Contemporary Soca: Machel Montano, Patrice Roberts, Voice, Skinny Fabulous, Kes The Band
Soca has absorbed various influences, resulting in dramatic changes in its aural identity. Meet five artists whose music remains dedicated to the guiding principle of soca: keeping Carnival revelers energized for extended periods of waving and wining.
Raucous, adrenaline-pumping and oftentimes euphoric, soca has provided the energetic soundtrack to Carnival in Trinidad — the larger island in the twin island nation of Trinidad and Tobago — for the past 50 years. Trinidad’s world-renowned pre-Lenten carnival, which attracts thousands of visitors and was held this year on Feb. 20 and 21, is the most important event on the soca calendar.
An up-tempo derivative of calypso, soca was initially characterized by a meld of Indian instrumentation with calypso’s African-derived rhythms — a sonic representation of the dominant ethnicities in cosmopolitan Trinidad. Developed by the late calypsonian Lord Shorty, later Ras Shorty I, soca was first heard on his 1973 single "Indrani," as sokah, that is "the soul of calypso."
Soca absorbed various influences throughout the ensuing decades, resulting in dramatic changes in its aural identity. From the soulful, funk and disco-inspired early hits to the swaying, orchestrated brass arrangements heard in the 1980s; soca began to feature "jump and wave," crowd rousing, participatory lyrics supported by hyper-energetic, synth driven rhythms in the mid to late '90s. In the mid-2010s, EDM sonics that impacted the sound of soca, while Afrobeats inflections that have shaped the music in recent years.
Whatever elements are introduced to soca, the music is bolstered by a mandate to keep Carnival revelers energized for extended periods of waving and "wining" — a fluid movement of waist and hips. Press play on the Amazon Music playlist below for more essential soca songs, or listen on Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora.
While some Caribbean islands, including Antigua, Barbados, Grenada and St. Lucia, hold their carnivals in the summer months to increase tourism, Trinidad’s Carnival season officially commences immediately after Christmas, similar to New Orleans’ pre-Lenten Mardi Gras. The Carnival season is rife with parties, concerts and musical competitions, all leading up to two days of boisterous, rum-splashed, masquerading street parades, on the climactic Monday and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday.
In Trinidad, preparations for the following year’s Carnival begin shortly after the conclusion of previous year’s event. In the last quarter of the year, soca artists begin releasing music for the following year’s carnival. Meet five soca artists whose new releases soundtrack 2023 Carnival events, and are making great strides towards taking soca beyond the margins of the seasonal celebration.
The OG of the current generation of soca hitmakers, Machel Montano recently celebrated his 40th anniversary in music. In 2022, which included the publication of his biography, King of Soca, written by his mother/former manager, Elizabeth Montano, Machel’s sold-out Soca Kingdom concert at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, made him the first soca artist to fill the prestigious venue.
Many soca fans were first introduced to a precocious, 10-year-old Machel with his 1985/1986 endearing hit "Too Young to Soca" or on television talent competition "Star Search" in 1987. He signed to the U.S. independent Delicious Vinyl in 1995 and released the soca/house hit "Come Dig It," which reached international dance audiences.
Throughout the remainder of the '90s, Montano modernized and accelerated soca’s tempo, fusing it with hip-hop beats, dancehall riddims, and techno effects in an effort to make Trinidadian music palatable to a younger generation. The blueprint yielded numerous carnival hits including "Big Truck," the 1997 Road March winner (the song played the most on carnival Monday and Tuesday) and 1998’s "Toro Toro," which catapulted Montano to soca superstardom. Over the decades, Machel has continued to innovate, winning numerous Carnival competitions including ten Road March titles, by working with various songwriters and producers. His many high-profile collaborators include Ariana Grande, Ashanti, Wyclef Jean, Major Lazer, Pitbull, Sean Paul and Shaggy. Montano has performed at the White House and played the lead role in a film based on his music, Bazodee.
For Carnival 2023, Machel has released "Never Again," which expresses heartfelt joy towards Carnival’s return and "Welcome Home," a powerhouse collaboration with Trinidad’s Voice The Artist, Jamaican dancehall luminary Agent Sasco and Trinidadian producer/DJ Travis World. He also dropped the thunderous "Shake The Place," a reunion with Destra Garcia (with whom he teamed up with in 2002 for the anthemic "It’s Carnival"). Machel’s 40th anniversary celebrations concluded on Feb. 17 in Trinidad’s capital, and featured an all-star cast of local and international artists including Afrobeats sensation Wizkid; earlier that day, a "Shake The Place" remix dropped, featuring Trinidad-born rapper Nicki Minaj.
Patrice Roberts’ distinctive, raspy, vocal tone and her assertive lyrics have made her one of the genre’s most popular artists. Like Machel, her former mentor, the dynamic Roberts started her career as a child singing calypso and won several national junior competitions in T&T.
While still in her teens, she became the first female frontline singer with Machel’s band, Xtatik. In 2006, Machel and Patrice’s collaboration "Band of the Year" earned them Road March honors, with Patrice making history as the youngest female to attain that victory. She followed that triumph with a succession of hits, from the charming "Sugar Boy," to the scorching "Wukking Up," to a pledge of love on the Afrobeats-infused "Tender."
Alongside a cast of formidable female dancehall and soca artists, Roberts was featured on Nicki Minaj’s October 2022 "Fine Nine Remix" of Jamaican dancehall star Skeng’s "Likkle Miss." Her biggest hit to date is "Mind My Business," which became a social media phenomenon throughout 2022, establishing Patrice as soca’s most streamed female artist.
Her Carnival 2023 releases include a remake of the late calypsonian Penguin’s double-entendre laden "Soft Man," the reflective "Bless This Party" and another vibrant duet with Montano, "Like Yuh Self," a celebration of Carnival wining.
From his runner-up placement at T&T TV station’s "Synergy Soca Star" competition to winning three consecutive Soca Monarch contests (2016-2018) singer/songwriter Voice (a.k.a. Voice the Artist) has emerged as one of the genre’s most exciting talents. Born Aaron St. Louis, the honeyed-tenor vocalist is renowned for his electrifying live performances and writing songs with substantial lyrics that update classic soca’s danceable grooves with a contemporary polish.
Voice’s Soca Monarch victories were in the competition’s Groovy category, which is the music’s slower paced, more melodic strain. Voice’s initial win in 2016, with the motivational "Cheers to Life," made the then 23-year-old the youngest artist to capture the crown. He triumphed in 2017 with the spiritually resonant, autobiographical "Far From Finished" and prevailed again in 2018 with "Year For Love," a timely commentary on spiraling violence. In 2019, Voice bowed out of Carnival competitions, writing on Instagram that he would "pursue different challenges; my biggest goal now is to do my part to have soca become a globally recognized genre."
During the pandemic, Voice's musical releases continued to impress. 2022’s "Out and Bad" prominently sampled the late icon Lord Kitchener’s 1977 jewel "Brooklyn Woman," creating a pulsating tribute to calypso’s grandmaster. With Carnival 2023 now in full swing, Voice’s current singles include a paean to the multifaceted event, "The Return" featuring Barbados’ soca queen Alison Hinds and a stunning tribute to carnival’s persisting soundtrack, "Long Live Soca."
On the intro to his recently released debut album B. A.D. (Beyond A Doubt) singer/songwriter Skinny Fabulous declares, "I am very happy that I am one of the ambassadors of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I was born to do music, I was born to be of something bigger than myself."
While studying in Kingston, Jamaica, Skinny pursued a career in dancehall reggae; when that didn’t work out, he returned to St. Vincent and fused his love of dancehall with soca. He won the 2008 St. Vincent Carnival Road March with the frenetic "Head Bad" — a song characterized by robust vocals, reminiscent of his musical hero, veteran Jamaican toaster Bounty Killer, who is featured on B. A.D.
"Head Bad" created a demand for Skinny throughout the Caribbean, in the U.S. and in parts of Europe. Skinny has written/co-written several hits for other soca stars including Machel Montano’s joyous EDM-infused "Happiest Man Alive" and his diss record (a rarity in soca) "Dr Mashup," aimed at soca veteran Iwer George. Skinny’s collaboration with Machel and Bunji Garlin — the 2019 Road March winner "Famalay" — made him the first non-national of T&T to share that honor.
Skinny is the executive producer of this year’s Spirit of Carnival Project, with four artists recording hit songs on the same transcendent soca beat: Montano ("The Spirit,") Garlin ("Umbrella,") Kes The Band ("Mental Day,") and Skinny’s "Behavior Nothin." Another big Carnival 2023 release for Skinny is "Come Home" a duet with Nailah Blackman, the granddaughter of soca’s creator, Lord Shorty.
Kes The Band
The beguiling, pop-leaning, rock and reggae-infused soca by Kes The Band has a resonance beyond the Carnival space, yet consistently impacts the heart of the celebration. The resounding dancehall/soca fusion heard on "HoneyComb" (featuring Jamaica’s Busy Signal, produced by Haiti’s Michael Brun), the exuberant "Fuh Spite" and the sugar sweet "Jub Jub," are but a few of the Carnival 2023 gems by contemporary soca’s most versatile outfit.
Kes The Band was formed in Trinidad in 2005 by the three Dieffenthaller brothers, Kees, also called Kes (vocals), Jon (guitar), Hans (drums), and close friend Riad Boochoon (bass); Hans has since departed the band, replaced by Dean James; supporting members are keyboardist Mario Callender and DJ Robbie Persaud.
Kes won the 2020 Road March for his vigorous collaboration with Iwer George, "Stage Gone Bad." Some of the band’s greatest songs haven’t won Carnival contests, nonetheless they continue to enjoy widespread popularity. Their breakthrough soca hit "Wotless," the always-appealing "Endless Summer" and the tuneful, Afrobeats-tinged "Hello" are all delights — the latter song surpassing 70 million streams to become the most streamed soca song released in the last decade. Kes The Band will drop their latest album, Man With No Door, in the summer on Ineffable Records.
On Feb. 14, Kes The Band headlined their own music festival, IzWe. Although it was staged at the height of Carnival 2023, the festival went beyond featuring soca acts to showcase the diversity of T&T’s music and culture. "As a band, we have always been a bridge between genres, and we wanted to create a festival to represent that," explains Kes, adding that they plan to tour the festival internationally.
Photo: Trimcity Studios
Global Spin: Patrice Roberts Delivers A Celebratory Performance Of Her Viral Hit "Mind My Business"
Trinidadian singer Patrice Roberts delivers a lively performance of "Mind My Business," a feel-good single about protecting her peace.
For Trinidadian singer Patrice Roberts, there are two pieces to staying free and easy: drinking water and minding her business. At this point in her life, she's no longer concerned with trivial drama from gossiping and jealousy.
"Me and you?/ Me and you have no beef/ I'se the police, and you is the thief/ The people you think is your friend/ Them only they/ 'Cause you have money to spend," Roberts declares in the closing verse of her breakthrough single, "Mind My Business."
In this episode of Global Spin, Roberts delivers a cheerful performance of "Mind My Business." Amping the carefree essence of the track, Roberts effortlessly dances around the stage.
"Mind My Business" is a song from Happy Papi Riddim, a collaborative project between Caribbean DJ Travis World and Dan Evens. The upbeat track went viral on social media early last year, with celebrities like TLC's Chilli and Destiny's Child's Michelle Williams creating videos that mirror the energy of the empowering song.
Roberts is currently on an international tour through North America, South America, and Europe alongside fellow Trinidadian music group A Team Band.
Press play on the video above to hear Patrice Roberts' lighthearted performance of "Mind My Business," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Global Spin.
Obi Asika & SMADE
Photo: Courtesy of Afro Nation
Afro Nation Co-Founders Smade & Obi Asika Talk Festival Origins, Uniting The African Diaspora & Celebrating Diversity
Afro Nation Puerto Rico, taking place March 18-21, is the first-ever American edition of the swiftly expanding event
With Afro Nation Puerto Rico around the corner on March 18-21 (and a second Afro Nation Portugal in July), the fast-growing new music festival is bringing its vibrant energy to the U.S. for the first time. The first-ever American iteration of the fest—taking place beachside at San Juan's Balneario de Carolina—will be the third event in total since its launch last summer.
Nigerian superstar singers Burna Boy and WizKid, American rap kings Fabolous and Rick Ross, Jamaican reggae act Chronixx, Nigerian Afropop songstress Yemi Alade and Trinidadian soca hero Machel Montano are among the headliners for this month's event. Those are just a few of the names within the epic lineup, which has been rolled out in waves over the past four months.
Each Afro Nation fest highlights the biggest players—and up-and-comers—in Afro-fusion, reggae, dancehall, hip-hop, soca and other black-led musical movements. As cofounders SMADE and Obi Asika share, the idea for the event came from what they saw as a lack of representation in the event space for Afrobeats artists they worked with.
We caught up with the two Nigerian-born, London-based music industry powerhouses over the phone recently to discuss their groundbreaking Afro Nation movement. Read on to learn about the story behind this successful partnership, how they're learning as they go, their hopes and vision for the future and more.
The next Afro Nation fest is coming up soon, the first-ever Puerto Rican event. What are you most looking forward to with this one?
SMADE: We're on our third edition now. The first one was in Portugal in August, and then we've just finished the second one in Ghana in December. We're moving on to Puerto Rico next month, which I'm excited about. I'm looking forward to enjoying the beautiful sandy beaches in San Juan and having fun, as we always do. I'm also looking forward to seeing people from different races and cultures coming together to celebrate African music and seeing the unity that Afro Nation brings to people.
Obi: SMADE and I are both Nigerian, so obviously we do these events to give a platform to artists from the African diaspora. We've done Portugal and it was a lot of the European diaspora. Then, we've done Ghana which is more like the brand coming home. But for me, I'm really looking forward to seeing America because we sold so many tickets to Americans interested in the brand, the music and culture, and the diaspora there.
Also, Puerto Rico is a really interesting place because it's America, but it's also the Caribbean. I can't wait to see how people are going to vibe there and what's going to happen. Every festival we've done so far in different places, they all have their own feel. I think that this is going to be a really interesting one. We've literally got people coming from every part of America. I think it's going to be super interesting and really cool.
You've been announcing the Puerto Rico lineup in several waves, and it just keeps getting better! How did you choose who to work with?
Obi: When we kick off the lineup, SMADE and I always have a chat and go, "What do we think? Who do we think our crowd's going to be? What are they going to want to see and be interested in?" One of the reasons why we don't announce everything at the beginning is that we want to read the crowd. We read a lot of the messages, we get a lot of the DMs, have all our team telling us what they hear and we do adapt things on the fly. We say, "Okay, let's add that."
These events are something that haven't been done before. We have such a complex and layered culture in terms of from the east, to the south, to the west of Africa, and obviously all the diaspora as well. SMADE and I were saying, we need to go and do a trip to Angola and go and hang there, understand what's going on, so we can understand what the Portuguese side is at.
SMADE: Also, we research and see the best acts to be on the stage. The platform is a huge one. Our stage is one of the biggest stages in the world for the acts, to be honest. What we try to do is research, look out for people that deserve to be on that stage, both from Africa and the diaspora and everywhere really. There's so much talent.
Obi: It is a bit of a voyage of discovery for us. There's so much talent and we want to include everyone, and we want to include everyone for each destination, but it's a process even for us. We are constantly learning about new music and new artists. One thing that we're very fortunate in what we're doing right now is that there's just so much talent. It's a constantly evolving process.
Our crowd is very active on social media. You have some people like, "Why can't we have this person?" and it's always the same names. But we try and give other people opportunities. SMADE and I were laughing the other day because we can't wait to see a performance, I won't say who it is. We wanted to put these two acts together because when we know when they get on the stage, it's just going to be crazy and make new fans. They might be overlooked on social media, but we know that they will be one of the highlights. We try not to make it about booking the same people at every show. We really want to give a focus for everyone. Particularly in Puerto Rico, we are going to add some local acts but expect that year two, there'll be even more local acts.
It's funny, year one of Portugal, everyone was like, "All you guys are about is West Africa." We are West African, so we're understanding things as we go along. SMADE and I spent a lot of time in France this year, because a lot of French people are coming to our show and we didn't even push it for France that much. It was organic. Then we had a couple of shows in France. It was crazy. We realized the market is massive. So, we were like, "We've got to include more French acts next year."
Sometimes we need to push our customers to new things. You don't have to worry about maybe someone doesn't speak the language, because with music you can feel it. When people are on stage, even if they're singing in Spanish or Portuguese or French, we don't actually see an issue in mixing everything up. It can be quite powerful. It's not a worry for us if we think it breaks those barriers.
It sounds like it really keeps growing naturally as you meet more people and explore different scenes. Do you have any plans or ideas for future locations this year or next?
Obi: Yeah, it does. We've already confirmed another location for this year that will be announced in another month or so. We want to always let people focus on what's next. Right now it's Puerto Rico and Portugal, but yeah, we've got another really great location.
SMADE & Obi onstage at Afro Nation | Photo Courtesy of Afro Nation
Looking back a bit, can you tell me a little more about what inspired you to start Afro Nation together?
SMADE: I think Obi and I, we noticed a lack of representation of our acts. We know how talented they are and how much work they put into their music, but we weren't seeing them on the big stages. So Obi and I came together and we were like, we're just going to do it ourselves. We didn't even think it was going to be this big.
Obi: It's exactly what SMADE said. I'm a talent agent and he is a promoter. One of the things you do as a talent agent is headline shows in order to get your artists on big stages at the festivals. We struck up a partnership quite quickly, because SMADE is incredible. He was selling tickets for Afrobeats where all the big promoters weren't able to do it. We both obviously had a passion for this music, this genre, the culture because of our background. We struck up a partnership and we started having real successes, selling big tickets in London.
It wasn't really translating to the major festivals booking the acts. They wouldn't give them what we perceived as the respect they deserved, and I know a lot of these guys, they're my friends. It was like, "Obi, man, we just got our heads around hip-hop a few years ago, and now you're telling us to put these Afrobeats acts and give them serious, high up billing? We started off as a rock festival." They were also like, all those Afrobeats fans, they won't come to the festivals. They don't buy tickets. Everyone said it's not possible and I was like, how can we be selling out the O2 Arena with WizKid or SMADE selling them out with Davido, and then you're telling me that they can't play this?
"At our events, all the fans are very passionate. It's more than just going to a festival. I feel like it's the pride in their heritage and their culture and in their identity." - Obi Asika
We were just like, "Look, we're just going to do ourselves." And when we did it, it just felt—we weren't expecting it. We just wanted to prove a point, and within 24 hours, all the tickets were gone. People decided to buy a flight, buy a hotel, buy the ticket and go to another country, all for their love of Afrobeats. That's not small, it's a real commitment. I think that's why at our events, all the fans are very passionate. It's more than just going to a festival. I feel like it's the pride in their heritage and their culture and in their identity. It's driven us to keep going. We're having so much fun with it.
It's a very unique situation. Our people are everywhere in every part of the globe and the fans are everywhere. The biggest thing is if you just went on the norms of our industry of music and you say, "Oh, this person isn't on the charts or that person isn't signed to that label," but Afrobeats doesn't actually move to that. One of the things, obviously the success of Wizkid, Burna Boy and Davido, all the younger guys coming through is now shining a light on that in the records world. In the live music world, I think Afro Nation has shocked a lot of people that this crowd will buy tickets in advance and [pauses] I don't know many festivals that most of the crowd are female. In Portugal, we had 85 percent female.
The crowd at Afro Nation Portugal 2019 | Photo Courtesy of Afro Nation
That's so cool.
Obi: I tell you, they are really amazing. Watching, I felt, "This is girl power going on." It was crazy. We'd never seen anything like it. It's a very powerful statement. It was a very unique festival. [Afro Nation] is such a positive event and is very special to us. We're very proud of it.
When you think of Afro Nation, what song comes to mind?
SMADE: For me, it's Fela [Kuti], any sound that comes from the legend Fela. Because a lot of these new acts now and the ones that have done great, from Wizkid to Davido to Yemi Alade to Burna Boy, when you see them on stage, that right there, for me, is Fela. That reminds me of Afro Nation. It's not just in West Africa alone. If you look at the highlife artists or the dancehall artists in Ghana, Shatta Wale, Stonebwoy, the way they present their performances and all the stuff that they do on stage just reminds me of Fela.
From your perspective, what you think real diversity and inclusion looks like in the music event space?
SMADE: Honestly with this, it's hard to define because everyone's got a different perspective of what equality looks like. However, right now in the music industry, I think we are heading in the right direction although we still have a long way to go. There needs to be more recognition of all types of genres.
That's the beauty of Afro Nation. Even though the most [focus is on] Afrobeats and African music and the culture, we also infuse the Jamaican acts. Like in Portugal, we had Busy Signal, Buju Banton. And there's the different genres, there's your Afroswing, soca, bashment, reggae, and then Afrobeats. There's also hip-hop. We bring everybody together as one on our stages. We had acts from the U.S., the U.K. and then also from the Caribbean and Africa. Bringing them all together to celebrate the African culture and music in Portugal was a great experience and feeling. The way everybody just connected, I felt like it was part of it.
Obi: I really agree with what SMADE said. To be honest with you, as we said before, it's ever-evolving. As an event and as a brand, we are constantly learning about new genres and what different parts of the world are listening to. It's just about trying to push the envelope. There's a lot of people involved in Afro Nation, from all different parts of the world, putting the show together. We're a very diverse brand and company, but we're always trying to do more. We all have to strive to include everyone and just give everyone an opportunity to do their thing. I think we're a very diverse event. I don't think there's many events that have French, Portuguese, Spanish and English speaking artists.
At our first couple of events, we were very aware that we didn't have enough female acts. There's a lot more female acts for Puerto Rico, and that is something that we have to check ourselves on a little bit to make sure. You just can't be lazy with it. Sometimes, you have to just take your time and find new acts. Maybe if your first choice wasn't available, take a risk on a younger act or newer act. It's important.
What is your biggest hope, for the next five or so years, in connecting the African diaspora through music and entertainment?
SMADE: My biggest hope is to connect and to use this platform to unify not only the Africans in the diaspora but also for other races as well to also experience and know the African culture. I'll give you an example. We just finished Afro Nation Ghana, and we had people from different races and different culture come down to Ghana. We had [Jamaican act] Popcaan buy a house in Ghana, and shown interest in Africa. We have people that never ever thought they would be in Africa celebrating, leaving their homes, or coming with their families to celebrate in Africa during the festive period.
Obi: Yeah, you were right, SMADE. It was crazy, wasn't it? We'd see the tickets sales and be, "Russia?" Russia, Australia, Ukraine…
SMADE: Right. It was amazing. This is what Afro Nation is doing. This can bring unity amongst everyone, every one of us. I hope the generation coming behind can also be inspired by the growth of the industry, and we can have many more superstar talent like Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade. And even the French-speaking and the Portuguese—there's Afro Portuguese now. From Afro Nation Portugal there are people trying to connect with the [Portuguese] culture, people going back home to check their DNA and all that stuff. This is what we're doing. This is what Afro Nation stands for, unifying.
Obi: I know for me, to be honest with you, I've got two real hopes. I want more, like SMADE's saying, of all these young artists coming through. I just want them to get through and become superstars, so we can have more headliners to keep pushing the industry forward. Now, in Europe anyway, every festival is booking Afrobeats, so half of our job's done. We want to see more commercial festivals booking Afrobeats. Those like Coachella, Reading and Leeds, Lollapalooza, we want to see them booking these acts. That helps the whole machine of it.
We got Ghana done and we're very proud of all we achieved because it's very difficult, as there's no infrastructure of the industry. Ghana is an amazing place. A lot of things work in Ghana like the roads, the airport. It's a safe place, it's super cool, but the entertainment industry, they've got lots of artists but there's no festival. You can't just call up someone and say, "Oh yeah, bring me this fence in and bring me this sound." It was really tough and we really put ourselves on the line because it's very expensive doing these events. But, we came through it, we produced something that we're proud of but we want to build it. We want to help keep building the African entertainment industry, because there's so much potential, there's so many acts.
Afro Nation Portugal 2019
Photo: Andre Machado /Mai Magazine
Afro Nation Puerto Rico: Patrice Roberts, Beenie Man, 2Baba, Afro B & More
The four-day music festival features global artists making waves, highlighting the biggest players in Afro-fusion, reggae, dancehall, soca and more
Following this summer's sold-out Afro Nation Portugal, the 2nd edition of the fest will make its North American debut beachside in San Juan, Puerto Rico, March 18–21, 2020.
The four-day music festival features artists from around the world making waves on a global scale, highlighting the biggest players in Afro-fusion, reggae, dancehall, hip-hop, soca and other black-led musical movements. As the press release states, the new event was "founded on good vibes and #BlackExcellence."
In addition to GRAMMY-winning King Of dancehall Beenie Man, other Jamaican acts on the first-round lineup include 27-year-old GRAMMY-nominated reggae prince Chronixx, reggae/dancehall singer Kranium and rising dancehall queen Shenseea.
Afro Nation Portugal 2019 | Photo: Samuel Martins
Nigeria's rich, diverse Afro-fusion scene are headliners Burna Boy, 2Baba and Patoranking, as well as singers Rotimi and Teni. South-African poet and singer Busiswa, who is featured on Beyoncé's Lion King: The Gift album, will also bring heat to the fest.
One of Trinidad's First Ladies of Soca, Patrice Roberts, will also perform, as well as rapper Afro B, a leading force in U.K.'s rising Afrowave sound. Ghanaian dancehall artist Stonebwoy rounds out Afro Nation Puerto Rico's initial lineup, with "loads more [artists] TBA."
The ticket pre-sale opens Thurs., Nov. 7 at 9 a.m. EST, with general sales opening up the following day. More info on the fest, as well as the email sign up for pre-sale tickets can be found on its website here.
Photo: Recording Academy
Watch: Ashanti Talks "Getting Back To R&B Roots" On New EP | Up Close & Personal
The GRAMMY-winning songstress also talks about going independent, staying humble, her Y2K "Foolish" era and more
GRAMMY-winning R&B songstress Ashanti was just 21 when she released her debut, No. 1 hit single "Foolish" in 2002, and she's been unforgettable ever since. The sultry, can't-help-but-sing-along bop served as the lead single for her powerful self-titled debut studio album, which earned the emerging star a GRAMMY for Best Contemporary R&B Album at the 45th GRAMMY Awards.
Fast forward to 2014, when Ashanti released her fifth studio album, Braveheart, her first release on her own label, Written Entertainment, which she launched in 2011. Now, 18 years since she first rocked our worlds with her fire feature on Ja Rule's "Always On Time," Ashanti is still ready to serve up more.
For the latest episode of the Recording Academy's Up Close & Personal video series, we sat down with the stylish New Yorker to learn more about her next project, what that first rush of success felt like for her, going independent and more. You can watch a portion of the conversation above and read the full interview below. You can also visit on our YouTube page for a longer version of the video, as well as for other recent episodes.
So you recently dropped "Pretty Little Thing" featuring Afro B, along with the music video with so many fierce looks. Can you tell us a bit about that song and maybe your favorite look from the video?
Thank you! My new single, "Pretty Little Thing," that I did with Afro B was such an awesome experience. I shot the video in the Keys in Miami and it was so cool because the reason that I did the song was I just dropped a collab swimsuit line with PrettyLittleThing, and it just made so much sense. You know, how music goes with fashion, and I said, "Hey, we need a new record. Let's put it in the campaign." So we shot a video, we shot a commercial and the synergy was just amazing. It all came out so organic and the vibe of the song matched the line. It's Afrobeats and the vibe of the swimsuit line is very exotic and global, and very island-y. Everything had an amazing synergy, so I was really excited.
One of my favorite looks from the video; [pauses] there was a really cute looks! I like my look with the horse and the braids and the one with the zebra/snake print chaps. My sister actually designed the collection, and we had the bathing suit and we were sitting on Jeeps with the same print.
Earlier in the summer you released another upbeat jam, "The Road," with Machel Montano. Where was that video shot? Was it as fun as it looked?
It was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had. I actually went out to do Machel Monday and Carnival in Trinidad, which was my first time, and it was life-changing. I had so much fun, I don't think I've ever partied like that in all my years. [Laughs.] It was an amazing, amazing experience and I just found a new found respect for soca music.
I had a show in Trinidad a few years ago and we did a remix to one of the biggest [soca] records, which was one of Machel's, "Like Ah Boss." We went back and forth on Instagram and he's like, "Much respect. Thank you for showing so much love. We need to do something together." Fast forward, that turned into a FaceTime call and then a studio session. And then we recorded this awesome record and then we performed it for Carnival and Machel Monday. We actually shot the video with Director X in Trinidad while Carnival was going on. So those were real moments, that wasn't scripted. The beach part, yes, but the stuff on the road was all organic. It was really cool.
I know a lot of your fans are hoping this new music points to a new album. Can you tell us anything about what's happening on your next project?
I'm very excited to be releasing more music. I think just for me, I'm at a point where I want to try different things. I love Afrobeats, I love reggae music, I love soca music. And as an artist, you want to fulfill your creative energy, you know? But I'm definitely getting back to my R&B roots. [Laughs.]
I'm very, very excited about the new EP, I'm working on it with Metro Boomin. We have some amazing records I'm very, very excited about it. Some amazing other producers and some writers and I'm just really excited about the new sound. You know, there are a couple of things that I'm talking about that I've never talked about before. And some people are going to be like, "Oh my gosh, did she say that?" I'm excited about it.
Recently there's also been some talk about a The Inc. Reunion tour maybe happening in the future. Would that be something that like you'd want to be a part of?
I know that there's been some talks about it. I'm not really sure what's going on right now, but we'll see. [Laughs.]
In 2011, you started Written Entertainment and went independent, which is super cool. I'm curious what that transition meant to you?
What led me to go independent? I had offers from seven majors at one time and it was really hard to sit, you know, me being Libra, and be like, "Okay, what should I do? Where should I go? I don't know what to do." And at that time the labels were offering 360 deals, and I'm just not a fan of that, that's not my thing. So I made the very bold decision and scary decision to go independent.
And just as an artist, that has had success—I'm very humble—and I've had relationships to be able to make phone calls and, you know, strengthen my partnership with iTunes/Apple and things like that. So I think it's beneficial when you own your masters. It's a digital world, you know, at the touch of a button you can expose your music to millions of people.
So I think just learning to trust myself, learning to be motivated to say, "Hey, your future is in your hands and your destiny," is really important. You have to kind of be in the driver's seat and know what's going on. It's very hard being the executive and the artist.
I feel like at some points I would be in the studio and I'm like, "I want to stay in here all night. You know, I want to record for five days." And the other side of me is like, "Yeah, but who's going to pay that bill?" So you have to be like the exec and the artist and still be creative, you know? So I think it was a really great decision now and I had so many of my peers calling me like, "I should have did that when you did it and I'm doing it now."
And then when you were 21, your first single "Foolish," along with your features with Ja Rule and Fat Joe, were huge hits. What did that initial success feel like for you?
The initial success of "Foolish," "Always On Time" and "What's Love?" was just really weird for me because I didn't know. I would always ask like, "Is this good, guys? Are we doing good?" I really didn't understand it. And it's weird because I'm a humble person, and even back then I was a little naive, you know. We were making history and we were on the top of the charts and everyone around me, all the guys are like, "Yeah!" and I'm like, "Oh, so this is a good thing."
So it feels good to later understand how much it meant and how pivotal it would be in my career, even now. You know, to be there and performing these same records and getting the same exact reaction, you know, years later from younger crowds, you know? So it's really, really, really a blessing and it just goes to show you, like, when you're working hard and you're creating meaningful music, that stands the test of time.
Yes, they still hit hard.
They still rocking, baby! [Grins.]
As you've navigated the music industry, who have been your biggest mentors and role models?
I'm just a huge advocate of women empowerment. Just being a young female in this very male-dominated industry it's just so hard sometimes to garner that same respect. And still respect yourself and go in and be focused on music and not be distracted by other things going on.
My mom has been a huge inspiration to me. It's weird because I grew up watching her in a business suit, with a briefcase, going to work and it was very different from what I'm doing in my career. So I think the path is just being a very powerful, strong woman going into the workforce. And that's kind of the same mentality that I have. I have been inspired by women before me to open up the doors.
That's awesome. What would be your piece of advice for a young person that's trying to get into music and not really sure where to start?
I would say, it's way easier now than it was for me. You know, you can upload yourself on YouTube and end up on "Ellen" or "The Voice" or and all these other shows that are kind of catalysts. I think you have to be very determined, I think you have to be motivated, you have to have a thick skin and you have to have an incredible drive. Not everyone is going to like you. You're definitely going to get rejected before you get accepted, and as long as you're able to maintain your expectations, you should be okay.