Soca music is a genre of music that originated within a marginalized subculture in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1970s, and developed into a range of styles by the 1980s and later.
The term soca (initially spelled sokah) was coined in the 1970s by Trinidadian musician Lord Shorty , who sang calypso, a type of Afro-Trinidadian song style characterized by storytelling and verbal wit. According to Lord Shorty, the new music was meant to be a fusion of calypso with East Indian music, a reflection of Trinidad’s two dominant ethnic groups. Others, however, have explained the term soca as a contraction of “soul calypso,” emphasizing the music’s connection to African American and Trinidadian traditions.
It was initially developed in an effort to revive traditional calypso. Its popularity was flagging amongst younger generations in Trinidad by the start of the 1970s due to the rise in popularity of reggae from Jamaica and soul and funk from USA.
Soca is an offshoot of kaiso/calypso, with influences from Latin, cadence, funk and soul. Soca's development as a musical genre included its fusion with calypso, chutney, soul/funk, Latin, cadence, and traditional West African rhythms.
Soca has evolved since the 1980s primarily through musicians from various Anglophone Caribbean countries not only from its birthplace Trinidad and Tobago but also from Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Grenada, Saint Lucia, US and British Virgin Islands, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Guyana and Belize. There have also been significant productions from artists in Venezuela, Canada, Panama, the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan.
Soca music was used for dancing at Carnival and at fetes, soca emphasizes rhythmic energy and studio production—including synthesized sounds and electronically mixed ensemble effects—over storytelling, a quality more typical of calypso songs, which are performed for seated audiences.
Although soca is sometimes considered to be a subgenre of calypso—owing to the historical relation between the musics and their common association with Carnival—the two traditions differ in a number of notable respects. In practical terms, soca functions primarily as music for participatory singing and Carnival dancing, while calypso is more closely linked with performances for seated audiences in “tents” (indoor theatres). Indeed, the genre names calypso and soca formalize a distinction between tent and road (where Carnival dancers parade) that dates back to the 1910s, when singers first began to perform for paying audiences during the weeks leading up to Carnival.