For Zoe Reeve's first interview of 2016, she was lucky enough to speak to Claudette Peters, one of Antigua's top soca artists. Hear what she has to say about being a female artist in the male-dominated soca industry, her opinion on the rapidly changing styles of soca music and more...
Zoe: So, starting from the beginning of your singing career, I heard that you started singing at church and then from there transitioned to being a soca artist. How was that transition? I imagine that singing in church is very different from singing soca...
Claudette: Yeah, it came from growing up in church and also from pageantry which I did from school days. While entering the pageants, my performing talent was singing, and I was very much encouraged by whichever band backed me up for each performance. Because of that, I was encouraged to come into the hotels and do some hotel gigs, so it wasn't exactly straight from gospel to soca!
I had to do the tourism industry first, which of course involved a lot of genres like RnB and reggae. The only soca that I did then was things like 'Hot Hot Hot'. I was encouraged a bit more by the tourists, but ultimately I was very touched by Alison Hinds.
I didn't know a lot about her before, as I was just starting to get into soca, but at one point when I was travelling to one of the hotels, she was featured on a track which was a ballad. I was surprised because I didn't know soca artists could also sing ballads... I thought soca was always the typical loud and crazy stuff that you hear, and I thought I wasn't the type of person to do that, as I'd grown up singing things like Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton.When I heard her sing the ballad, I was like "wow, she can really sing!" so I thought I should try one myself, and that's how I got into it.
Zoe: Interesting... So when you first became a soca artist, was it hard to put yourself out there into the soca scene and make yourself become well known? I've heard that a lot of up and coming artists struggle to compete against the big names and find it hard to get their name out there, so how did you become so important in the Antigua soca scene?
Claudette: Well actually, at the time, around 95% of the soca artists in Antigua went through the same route as me (the hotel industry), and then everybody branched off. When I started, Antigua was very much lacking of female soca artists, so I was encouraged by a lot of band members. I was mentored by a lot of male artists - of course soca is male dominated - so it was a bit scary, but on the other hand it was easy because there weren't many soca artists.
The whole sex appeal thing was new to me because I had to be whining up on stage, and I had to make sure I went to see shows where Alison Hinds performed to see exactly what I should do as a female soca artist, because she was the top female artist in the industry. I can safely say she played a very important role in me becoming who I am right now.
I eventually met her and she helped to mentor me a lot, speaking to me about the dos and don'ts and she informed me about the names that we would be called as females in the male dominated soca industry. There are things people would accuse us of doing due to being the only female in a band... hint hint!
So at the time there were some struggles we had to go through as a female artist, but I thank God that it's easier now because we have so many female soca artists around that the stigma is not as loud as it was before.
Zoe: Are there any times which stand out to you as the most memorable moments of your career?
Claudette: I was lucky to have quite a few special moments. Some are funny, some are embarrassing... I went through a lot of different things.
I can remember one which I've kept very close to my heart and it's the reason I'm standing here today doing what I do - It's the sacrifices that I've made. Most of my life, I've been singing with bands, so I wasn't the only one experiencing this.
For example, a long time ago I was with a band called Da Bhann when I did a big track called 'Something Got A Hold On Me' with Mervyn 'Sleepy' Edwards who was the top soca artist in Antigua at the time. As a band, we had to go through a lot of struggles. We went to Trinidad to make sure that our music was well promoted, but we didn't have much money or much to eat. We had to make sacrifices like cutting down to one slice of bread for breakfast in order to make sure that our music was heard.
In the end, the band didn't go where we wanted it to go, but individuals are still successful in the music industry such as myself and Kenne Blessin. He's doing a lot right now, actually he's in London doing his reggae album at the moment. I am now able to mentor artists here in Antigua and let them know that they're very lucky if they get one hit that makes them a superstar, but if not, they'll have to go through struggles and keep trying until they make it.
At the time it was sad that I had to struggle, but now I smile when I explain it to other people and I'd no longer describe it as a struggle. When I'm older I can sit on my rocking chair and tell young people my stories and encourage them to keep pushing ahead.
Zoe: Nice. So you mentioned that you mentor other artists now... Does that mean you guys all work together as soca artists in Antigua, or is there sometimes competition between you?
Claudette: Well I'm a very friendly person! I take pride in my country. My island is not one of the high ranking names in the soca industry, but we do have a lot of talented people here. I have listened and I have watched, and I do believe that if I'm able to help any artists here in whatever way I can, then I will do so.
I think soca artists should love the music and the art form enough to help artists coming up behind you and help them to do well.
Zoe: That makes sense. As a soca artist who's been singing for quite a long time, do you find it hard to keep changing your style of music to keep up with the changes in the genre? As a soca fan, I've noticed that soca is sounding a lot more electronic recently. Do you always try and adapt to the new styles or do you try and stay original in the hope that fans will appreciate that?
Claudette: Well, music changes all the time. It changes so fast, and I think artists should adapt to the changes. I grew up with old school music but I find that soca music is a mixture of everything now. It's a combination of so many genres like hiphop, soul and more. I find that it's easy to adapt because it's just the sound that's changing - the different elements that are used to create the sound.
It's all up to the producer. You can pretty much sing anything, even an old Sparrow track, on the style of music that they're producing now, so I find that it's just the sounds and beats that are changing.
Of course there are people interested in all different genres of music, so you feed the people what they want - You dabble in a little bit of everything. Music is a cycle... It goes round and it comes right back around, so no type of music is ever really lost.
Zoe: Yep. As you mentioned, all types of music now are merging with each other... like we have afro-soca now, and collaborations of hiphop and dancehall such as Drake making a track with Popcaan. Do you think that's a good thing for soca? Do you think it could help to bring soca to the charts worldwide, or do you think that could never happen?
Claudette: Of course it can happen! I think soca is evolving so much that it can be up to par with the hiphop and RnB. Most soca now is not straight soca - it's a cross with another genre. For example, certain soca tracks could be played in a rave club and the beat would be the same as what the ravers are accustomed to. It's a big crossover, so soca can touch the lives of people who love other genres. It's good to embrace all different styles and share soca with folks who aren't used to it already.
Zoe: Yeah. It seems like more and more people are interested in going to the Caribbean to experience Carnival... Would you recommend Antigua Carnival, and are there any other popular events there throughout the year involving soca music?
Claudette: We don't have a particular music festival but we do have a lot going on. We welcome everyone to come to Antigua's carnival from July 22nd to August 2nd this year. There's a lot going on - the Antigua and Barbuda Festivals Commision page on Facebook can give you more information.
At Carnival, it's always crazy on the road. This will be my 16th year in the soca business so I'm celebrating for the whole Carnival season. I just did my Claudette Peters show a few weeks ago, and I'm now gearing up for the Auntie Claudette's Kiddies Fete because I'm so loved by the children so I have to make sure I celebrate with them and give something back to them.
I'm celebrating with a mas troupe called MitzFitz International where I have a costume section of my own, so people can come and celebrate with me. Check the Facebook page to see how to purchase your costume. I can't wait. I now have a brass section in my band, and it's the first ever soca brass band in Antigua!
Everyone should come over to Antigua and enjoy the lifestyle, the food, the drinks and the entertainment. We have entertainment from March going into August, and from this weekend there are loads of things happening every weekend until Carnival is over. There'll be a lot of top artists here too. You can also enjoy the beaches - you'll have a great time!
Zoe: Sounds good! Apart from the great things you've just told me about, is there anything else we should be looking forward to from you in the near future? Any collaborations or any competitions etc.?
Claudette: Yes, the main competitions are during Carnival. I'm the reigning Groovy Monarch of Antigua 2015. It's my ninth crown and I'm entering this year as well - helping to spread the love and spread our music to the rest of the Caribbean and to the world. Myself and the band and the mas troupe will be heading off to Atlanta's carnival, Miami Carnival and Labour Day, and we'll also be going to Europe, so there's a lot to look forward to. Folks can check out my Instagram which is @cpthediva to see exactly what's going on.
Follow her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Claudette-Peters-237023583009236/?fref=ts
Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cpthediva
Follow her on Instagram: @cpthediva
And check out Irie Fire's Fantastic Video Interview of Claudette Peters Here: http://www.carnevalenetwork.co.uk/index.php/videos-2/1161-irie-fire-studio-presents-burning-sessions-featuring-claudette-peters-interview-pt-1
At the time of writing this Zoe Reeve was visiting Jamaica, enjoying her experience while staying there and sharing it with us on her Blog https://travelwithzoe.org/ have a look and read about her reviews of her Carnival experiences written by a professional traveller in the Caribbean!