cannot help but note
the brilliant new directions in which he continues to steer
Calypso. In Movin Up, King Wellington forges even
further ahead with his highly successful calypso experiments
create a distinctively different Calypso sound that is entirely
researcher Dmitri Subotsky takes a fresh look at the development
of Calypso into Soca.
The creation of soca is almost always credited to Garfield
Blackman, Lord Shorty (later Ras Shorty I), with tracks
such as Indrani, Endless Vibrations and Soul Calypso Music
being identified as landmark tracks in the development of
the music. Others dispute this and names mentioned include
Lord Nelson (Garrot Bounce), Shadow (Bass Man), Maestro
(Savage) and even Eddy Grant (Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boys).
I have personally never been comfortable with any of these
My first real exposure to soca music was on the airwaves
of Londons radio stations in 1987. My views on what
soca music was (and indeed should be!) were essentially
formed from what I heard that year.
I had read about the beginnings of soca, and in particular
the significance of Indrani, but it was many years before
I actually heard the track, and when I did I was most surprised.
By that time I was reasonably familiar with calypso from
the pre-soca era and was expecting to detect the key elements
of what I knew as soca music in this famous track. In all
honesty I heard nothing that I recognised as soca. Certainly
its use of Indian instruments singled it out as an interesting
experiment, but I really did not feel that it was the missing
link between calypso and soca that I had been led to believe.
I rather felt the same when I heard Endless Vibrations and
Soul Calypso Music; they were certainly very different musically
from most other calypsoes being recorded at that time and
their lyrical content left one in no doubt that Shorty was
trying to experiment with music, but to me they just did
not have a soca sound.
I did not give the matter much further thought until in
2005 my colleague John Child invited me to join him in a
discussion of the origins of soca for a BBC radio documentary.
My views on the subject had not really changed and, although
I did not at that stage have an alternative view, I was
not prepared to tow the Shorty line.
I tried to think of what records I had heard from the early
to mid-70s that stood out as being different, and
my mind was drawn to two particular albums by the same calypsonian.
Examining his prior work led me to believe that this man
played an important part, if not the most important part
in the development of calypso into soca. That man was King
King Wellington (Hawthorne Quashie) made his recording debut
in 1966 under the name The Cisco with a track celebrating
the PNMs victory in that years general election.
He emigrated to the US in 1967, initially living in Manhattan
but subsequently moving to Boston. Whilst there he studied
music, including a period at Berklee College of Music.
Wellingtons first recording in the US was released
in 1969/70 on his own Plek label. It was his commentary
on the moon landings, entitled Moonwalking. The track was
notable for its prominent bassline - an earlier indicator
of things to come. Listening to it again, this track seems
years ahead of its time.
In 1970/71 he recorded approximately ten tracks for the
Strakers label including Mango Vert, Mod Squad USA
and Treat Your Woman Nice. However the most significant
of these recordings was New Calypso Music. According to
King Wellington, speaking to John Child and me in 2006,
That was the first time a calypso was made with the bass
soloing. Calypsoes in those days were four verses. I chose
to make three verses because I wanted to leave space for
the musicians to improvise. That was always my intent.
Soul singers like Arthur Conley, Jerry Butler and Otis Redding
were the popular singers in Trinidad. Calypso was sort of
pushed to the side. I thought if we join calypso with soul
music we may generate some sales.
In 1973, King Wellington had possibly the biggest hit of
his career with Steel & Brass, just missing out on that
years Road March. Later that year he recorded his
debut album, Who is King Wellington, which was initially
released on Plek (dated 1973) and then received a wider
issue on Charlies Records for the 1974 Carnival.
Art DeCoteau, Ed Watson and Ron Berridge arranged the vast
majority of recorded calypso in the early 1970s, but King
Wellington used a different arranger, pianist Orville Wright,
a Trinidadian whom King Wellington had met at Berklee (and
who was later Chair of the Ensemble Department there for
many years). Further, the big band had been replaced by
a smaller, tighter, group of musicians that included Michael
Toby Tobas on drums (who later performed on Shortys
Sweet Music) and King Wellington himself on bass.
The whole album sounded very different to other calypso
of the time, particularly in its use of prominent bass lines
and percussion. Also notable was the extended instrumental
jam at the end of More Woman.
The album included several re-recordings of tracks originally
recorded just a couple of years earlier, and when directly
compared, the change in the sound is marked.
King Wellington called his music of the time Rusofunk, and
he believes that if that name had stuck to the modern form
of calypso, then he would be recognised as its creator.
His second LP, Movin Up, was released for the 1975
Carnival, the same time as Lord Shortys Endless Vibrations
In the title track, Wellington proclaimed, pretty
soon the world will see and know how much soul we have in
we calypso. The standout track on the album is, for
me, the extraordinary Mighty Stone and Dem Calypso Jam,
a bizarre funky effort that I am unable to compare to any
Dave Elcock wrote of the album at the time: You cannot
help but note the brilliant new directions in which he continues
to steer Calypso. In Movin Up, King Wellington forges
even further ahead with his highly successful calypso experiments
create a distinctively different Calypso sound that is entirely
King Wellington has in recent years been managing the Kaiso
His 2006 song, The Problem Is, was amongst the more highly
regarded calypsoes of the year. When I contacted him last
year, expressing my desire to speak to him about his contribution
to the development of soca, he initially seemed shocked
and reluctant to talk. For some reason, credit has been
assigned elsewhere and his works have almost been written
out of history.
In any genre of music, it is virtually impossible to put
a change in the sound down to one person, but listening
to the music of King Wellington today and putting it in
its historical context can leave one in no doubt as to the
significance of his contribution.
The influences of American soul and funk, giving space to
the musicians, the prominence of the electric bass, the
extended instrumental play-outs and the move away from the
big band sound are all key elements of early soca, and they
are evident in the recordings of King Wellington more prominently
and earlier than that of any other artist.
This article is not in any way intended to denigrate the
works of Lord Shorty and others, but to bring due credit
to an unsung hero, who in his own words did not want to
toot his own horn.