Journalism can sometimes be easy, sometimes tough – and sometimes just funny, especially when you are trying to reach out for one of Trinidad’s artists, An artist whose tune was getting the most momentum for this years swiftly-evolving Carnival season. As I was feeling active and more than ready to go out on a Friday night, I received a call, the voice on the other end of the line saying "let’s do the interview". It took me just a few seconds to throw my Friday night plans over board, take off my dancing shoes and tell my friends: ‘no drinks for me, Soca Monarch was calling.’ (I guess, they didn’t really understand what was going on) however, I set everything up, placed a bottle of wine next to my laptop (you know, once in a drinking mood...) and called upon Trinidad’s 2016 Soca Monarch Winner: Aaron ‘Voice’ St. Louis. "Let’s do this" (deep sip).
But before heading to the official interview it needs a short recap.
It is another fantastic Friday night and we find ourselves at Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port-of-Spain, waiting on the stage, waiting for the International Soca Monarch 2016 finals. While some artists showed poor, flat vocals, off-paced and out of breath performances, others determined themselves as pure mash up legends and crowd instructors. In penultimate position Aaron ‘Voice’ St. Louis hit the stage, wearing a white and golden coloured suit and starting off his celebratory and progressive song ‘Cheers to Life’, two huge champagne bottles on his side. The crowd road and the young artist sang with precision. Following the trend of the night namely adding a third verse, Voice declared that the results didn’t matter to him, as he wants to spread a message of positivity. Striking up the following easy-catching verse ‘when I wake up this morning’, the crowd already crowned him the 2016 Soca Monarch, proclaiming ‘you’s a winner, yeah!’ Right after the newcomer left the stage the audience kept on singing and made it difficult for the defending Soca Monarch Olatunji Yearwood to turn on Afrosoca mode.
On this auspicious night, the 23-year-old San Juan native outclassed 19 competitors and made his lyrics the most important for 2016 Carnival. ‘Cheers to Life’ had become a feel good anthem, a carnival favourite and one of the road’s most beloved sing-along. The track is based on a Precision Production, namely the groovy ‘Unforgettable Riddim’, that provides us with smooth and powerful up-tempo vibes. On this instrumental Voice spread his purely positive and encouraging message, inweaving a sense of gratitude and a call for hope and happiness that made all masqueraders sing whole-heartedly on top of their voices while following the wining and jamming parts of the song.
I started off the interview with another sip from my bottle of tasty wine. Now it didn’t feel like a Friday night, getting tipsy and ending up somewhere on the road, giving phone calls around 4am and having greasy late-night snacks, but I was ready to explore the simplest and most positive message of this year’s Trinidad Carnival. Cheers – to life! (sip again)
Aaron, it’s a pleasure to have you! Tell me, how are you feeling?
Voice: The feeling is amazing right now. Its hectic, a lot of shows outside, a lot of meetings, a lot of performances local and international and a lot of studio sessions. I’m doing Soca plates like specials on ‘Cheers to Life’ itself and then a lot of projects that I’m currently working on, because I want to start expanding my catalogue, so it’s a lot and then on top of that it’s school, I’m still at university..
You’re still going to university? How do you do that? There is so much coming down on you right now, I guess?
Voice: Yes, yes so. I study theatre arts and media at UWI, University of the West Indies and you know, university alone is difficult, so now that and this is even more time-consuming and challenging. I think, this year for me would be a year of making a lot of sacrifices, kinda like pre-authorising what is more important at the particular time, because like for instance we do any flying, but around the exam times I can’t take any shows. One of the good things about is that the lectures are lowering me and giving me flexibility in terms of classes as they understand what is going on in my career right now. They are all proud of the progress and success of me, I mean this year especially and it’s something new to them, so everybody is all willing to help and see me do the best that I can.
Talking about your Soca Monarch title right now, what is it like to the industry and to the more established artists having an upcoming artist who is taking over the crown? Also Preedy was placed second in Soca Monarch finals.
Voice: Well, I would say it’s an eye-opener for everyone. The more established artists know that they have to step up next year if they want to maintain their supremacy in the Soca industry. Right now, we see a lot of artists coming up and a lot of young artists are even working twice as hard as the older ones, the more established ones to succeed or let’s say be the next Soca Monarch king. So, I mean, it’s all about working hard and I think it didn’t change much in the industry, but it’s just an eye-opener for the artists and an eye-opener for the public that the future Soca is here - not me talking about myself, I talk about young artists on the whole. We all are a team and we are all here for the betterment of Soca music.
Sure. How do you feel about that your song actually moved people and they easily connected to ‘Cheers to Life’? Do you think that it was just right place and right time for a tune like this?
Voice: The feeling couldn’t describe a word. I remember going to parties and seeing people like not even jumping up or not even reacting like a typical Soca song would make you do, more or less and that in itself is a plus for me and a plus for, I would say, Soca music. You know, we generally think that Soca music is straight out a performance music that requires a crowd reaction and I guess, in our culture it’s really like if a thing gets a crowd reaction then you pop in. So I think, this year ‘Cheers to Life’ defy that. Last year, when it was ‘Like ah Boss’ from Machel, it was the perfect fetting song, the crowd was like [sings] dededededdeeedededee… [laughs] and ‘Cheers to Life’ is just different to that. I remember Soca Monarch finals and for like three quarters of the song, 75% of the song the crowd stood and just watched. So it took me part of the season to realise the type of song that I had that until I start seeing people just stretching out their hands and singing. It’s not a jump and wave song, it was more an emotional song of Soca.
Yes. So, I guess, this was your purpose in the first place, provoking some kind of feeling from the audience?
Voice: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that was really and truly the target, that was planned. When I was writing the song, the first line I had was ‘from you wake up this morning, you’s ah winner’ and that kept playing in my mind over and over and over. So I was going along with the song and my main focus was on this, the positivity and enjoying life, cherishing life, celebrating life and giving thanks for life, right? And going down into the song I realised that if I want somebody to listen to the song when they’re not in a party, it will be good, because they probably might enjoy the positive side of the song. Whenever it is in a fete, you know, you come to wine, you pay money to come to wine… that’s just Trinidad and their culture, they need something to move them and that’s what really pushed me to put in the [sings] ‘so right now I feel I could jam down, jam down, I feel…’ So I decided to make it a mixture and the overall concept then moved from just being a positive song, but being a positive song that can be sung anyway, at any point in time.
Definitely! So tell me, what is it like performing that song? Do you focus more on entertaining or the message you want to bring to the people? How do you see yourself in that?
Voice: Well, entertaining is something I’ve been trying my hand at for a couple of years, I always wanted to be an artist. I did songwriting during the time but I mean, being an artist was really my passion, my goal and with being an artist I would say that I see myself as a vessel to motivate the younger ones and show them that there is more to life than just the trivial things. So, I think that’s basically my goal and with that I would just touch on the name ‘Voice’ [shows his shirt].
Alright, let’s go, tell me about your name!
Voice: I actually got the name through that sort of story. The name came from a biblical story when God tells Moses to lead the people out of Egypt and Moses thought that he wasn’t eloquent enough to suit the people, so he called on his brother Aaron. Now, my real name is Aaron, right? And he just called on his brother Aaron to be the voice of the people and to lead them out, pursuit them out, sort of be a leader for the people and that is basically what I saw myself doing. I saw myself being a leader for the younger ones to follow.
And you showed them what is in your opinion really important in life, such as in the introduction video of Bob Marley you used during your Soca Monarch performance. How did you came up with that idea?
Voice: Well, I wanted to play any ‘Jah Jah’-wise in the song, but that was probably the least of my concern. I saw the video a good, good, good while before and when I saw it again like a month after the song was released, I was like ‘yo, this scene is exactly what I’m trying to say in my song.’ I showed it to the guys and I was like ‘we need to use this. I don’t care how it is used, where it is used, but it needs to be used.’ You know, where people were really clinched to was the fact that you don’t really have to be rich in terms of material things to be rich, you know, you could be rich in love, rich in life and that was really the message of ‘Cheers to Life.’ ‘Cheers to Life’ was basically a song for everyone - rich, poor, old, young, in between and when I saw the video I was like Bob Marley captured every single thing I wanted to say in this one line. And funny enough, it was really after the competition that I realised that the same day Soca Monarch was, was Bob Marley’s birthday. I had no idea, no clue what so ever until after the performance.
What is it like to be with such a professional team as Full Blown Entertainment and to work as a songwriter?
Voice: Well, I have been writing with Full Blown Entertainment and this year would have been my fourth year, but these guys, Kory and Kevon Harts, have done some amazing work even before I entered the company officially. They had already written ‘Mr. Fete’, ‘Vibes Cyah Done’, ‘Bottle of Rum’, ‘People’s Champion’ for Benjai, and ‘Fog’ for Machel, right? And the year I entered we worked on ‘Too Real’ for Kerwin DuBois, last year we wrote ‘Like Ah Boss’ for Machel Montano and well this year it is ‘Cheers to Life’. So it’s actually five Soca Monarch titles in a row we have been within and I mean, being with a team like Full Blown Entertainment, I think that they really strengthen my capabilities/possibilities of being a great Soca artist. So, well, I’m not gonna say I could have the best song every carnival, but I could see myself being relevant for a couple of years and that’s the goal: really to be relevant, to expand and do new things in terms of not just Soca music but being a Soca artist expanding.
You mean like going internationally?
Voice: Going internationally, yeah. I’m working on some stuff, it’s not total Soca, but it’s actually a blend, so I work with some international artist and trying to get that pop flavour and fuse it with Soca. I’m working on some Reggaes, working on some African music, which all may have little, little, little influence of Soca, would it be in the style of writing or in the instrumentation of the music.
Alright, so tell me – what can we expect from you in any time soon?
Voice: We were working on some Crop Over and I want to release something for St. Vincent Mas too, Vincy Mas, more than likely. I think, heading into Trinidad Carnival next year I would have these two or three Soca songs outside already, bubbling. Also, I’m going to be in most of the Carnivals this year. We head to St. Vincent and Barbados, then Bahamas, New York, Grenada, Miami, Labour Day...
The whole package!
Voice: [laughs] Yes, yes, whole package. Nah leave any shows out. I mean, what I said is that this is what I signed for, this is what I dreamed for and it’s not even like a job to be right now, it’s just like having fun.
Well, as you said, this is something you dreamed for. Can you disclose a small recipe how you made your dreams come true?
Voice: Hard work, hard work is what you need to make your dreams come true. Sometimes you may not believe in dreams, but dreams do come true as I have seen that to myself this year. Last year, we had a project to be released with myself and some other established Soca artists, not writing but performing and the project wasn’t released again and it’s like, you know, you put all your eggs in one basket and then it just drops [claps]. It was like a real, a real breaking point for me in my career and I told the guys ‘yo, this is not making sense. I don’t mind songwriting and I will stay in school, but I don’t want to be an artist anymore. I don’t want to be a Soca artist anymore.’ I’m telling you, this is one year ago and I guess it’s more than determination. Probably just God giving me the time and letting me know and then you know it’s your time and once it’s your time, it’s your time, you can’t stop it. Even when they ask me about the inspiration from to write the song, honestly, when I think back it’s nothing really let me to say or write ‘from you wake up this morning, you’s ah winner.’ So, I always give thanks and praise to God for giving me the talent and creativity to be able to write and to sing a song like that.
Alright, so that was last year when ‘your basket dropped’, but after the success how do you deal with it now? You know, working hard and then it doesn’t pay off?
Voice: Well, now for me, I would like to say there is nothing such as failures anymore. I don’t think that anything has failure, you know, anything that doesn’t go my way, doesn’t happen the way it supposed to happen or the way I wanted to happen, I just gonna look at it as preparation, as preparation for future success.
Wow. Okay, one more question to go. I want to refer to a part of the lyrics of ‘Cheers to Life’: how would you imagine life if we didn’t have Soca?
Voice: [laughs] I don’t really think it would be life, I don’t think it would be life. It’s hard, it’s difficult to even think of, because it’s something as we’re born into, the whole nation of Trinidad and Tobago, you know, it would be totally, totally, totally different. It’s just like taking candy from a child, it’s your culture and when you’re culture is not really there you start to lose a part being. So life without Soca music, in my opinion, [laughs] is not really life. It’s life, but it’s not life.
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