Meet the Caribbean star spearheading a new era of Soca music

The Caribbean marks the birthplace of tons of cultural fixtures that are widely enjoyed around the world, and one of its most celebrated exports is Soca music.

The genre was founded in Trinidad and Tobago by Caribbean music legend Lord Shorty in the early 1970s and has since blossomed into the year-round soundtrack for several Caribbean islands.

In celebration of Caribbean American Heritage Month in June, In The Know chatted with the princess of Soca — Lord Shorty’s granddaughter! — Nailah Blackman.

The 22-year-old, who hails from San Fernando, Trinidad, has taken the Soca industry by storm since 2016 and is ushering in a new era of the music genre to the masses.

“Soca music is the music of the Caribbean,” she told In The Know. “It is a mixture between different cultures — Indian and African, which are the most prominent [cultures] in Trinidad and Tobago, where it was founded.”

By extension, Soca is most widely celebrated during the twin islands’ Carnival season in March — an annual event Blackman dubbed “a festival of freedom.”

“It’s to celebrate freedom from slavery and just expression for us as a people, as Caribbean people,” she added.

Recognizing from early on that she stemmed from a foundation built on the shoulders of the inventor of the powerful and now widely recognized music genre, Nailah Blackman knew from the jump that music was in her blood.

“My grandfather was the creator of Soca music,” she said. “He had 24 children and they all did music. Sing, write, play instruments and that, to me, growing up, was my biggest influence.”

Spearheading a personal initiative for more diverse and unified representation in Soca music, Blackman enlisted the talent of Jamaican musician Shenseea for what marks one of her most viral songs to date: “Badishh.” She told In The Know that, through this collaboration, she sought to bridge the gap created by Caribbean music rivalries while also maintaining a strong stance on female empowerment and partnership.

“Being a woman in this industry is hard,” she explained. “They pit female artists against each other. Only one can exist, and I say no to that. That’s why I found it very ideal to work with somebody as strong, unique and talented as Shenseea because she’s such a trendsetter in her own right.”

While dishing on the essence of their collaboration, the young star said she and Shenseea thought it was “important to blend cultures and show the unity” among the various Caribbean islands — a concept that, historically, hasn’t always been embraced.

“There’s been a segregation where the different islands are concerned and we wanted to basically make a statement that said there’s no segregation,” she said. “We are one Caribbean; we are one as women.”

Blackman added that by working together as Trinidadian and Jamaican women in music, she and Shenseea aimed to demonstrate that all of the genres birthed on Caribbean soil should be collectively appreciated, not picked apart or ranked.

“We made that statement to sort of fuse the genres a little bit, because there’s Soca, calypso, reggae and dancehall and it’s always been this huge separation and we would just be so much stronger if we looked at it as one,” she said.

Heralded as the new voice of Soca, Nailah Blackman has already started raking in international accolades in the four years since her debut. Ranking high on that list is her 2018 BET Awards nomination in the category for Viewers’ Choice.

The burgeoning superstar pointed out that mainstream established international acts ranging from Alicia Keys to Justin Bieber “have done Soca music, but they’re not calling it Soca music.” With her push for positivity, inclusivity and collaboration, we have a feeling she’s the ideal vessel for global and appropriately attributed Soca representation for the new generation.

If you enjoyed this story, you might like to read In The Know editor Moriba Cummings’ essay on how his Trini accent helped him embrace his Caribbean heritage.

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