THE POWER COUPLE OF SOCA
It is with serious justification that you could term Fay-Ann Lyons and Bunji Garlin the power couple of Soca today. Think of them as the Caribbean equivalent of Jay-Z and Beyonce, perhaps.
Both artists were enjoying successful solo careers prior to connecting personally and getting married in 2006. Since then, both have continued to thrive musically, with Garlin in particular increasing his international profile. The couple have a young daughter and call Trinidad home still.
It is a major coup for the TD IRIE Music Festival to attract both Lyons and Garlin for performances in Toronto this year on Saturday, August 1st at Fort York, Garrison Common, near Bathurst Street and Lakeshore Blvd. They have both appeared at IRIE in previous years, and their talent as charismatic performers is sure to thrill concertgoers.
In an interview with WORD a couple of years ago, Fay-Ann reflected on what she’s learned from her husband:
“From him I’ve learned you have to be true to yourself, stick to your guns and believe in what you’re doing,” she notes. “When he first came out people had a problem with the way he sounded and how aggressive his music was. He said ‘this is who I am. I’m a lyricist, not a jump and wave person.’ And it paid off for him. To me that showed a level of strength.”
Lyons has also been criticized in the past for her own aggressive brand of soca, but her style has influenced many younger female soca artists. “Now the women are coming out and doing a little more aggressive form of soca, as opposed to where it was more nice and feminine before. That is since I started doing mine, which is more aggressive and energetic,” she says.
Another soca superstar Fay-Ann learned from was her father, Superblue. “He taught me how important it was to write your songs. If you are able to write, there are many benefits. You don’t have to wait for somebody to get an idea to give to you. You can feed yourself in terms of music. Plus creativity-wise it helps you develop as a person. You have to pay more attention, to what is going in the world, what’s the new slang, what’s the new trend. Another thing is that if you can’t write for yourself, you won’t always find someone that understands you. You have to shop around and find a bunch of different writers. That process makes me uncomfortable, so I decided many years ago to start developing my writing skills. Seeing people like something that you came up with is its own reward. To come up with an idea that people around the world like simultaneously, that’s no easy feat.”
You can bet the trophy case in the Lyons/Garlin household is overflowing now. Back in 2003, Fay-Ann first took the coveted crown in the Carnival Road March. She repeated that achievement in 2008 and 2009, and in 2009 she was also crowned International Soca Monarch, Groovy Soca Monarch, and International Soca Monarch: People’s Choice, making her the first artist to win that soca ‘triplet’ of titles that year. Lyons has also won multiple COTT, NACC and SAO Awards for her hit tracks (tunes like “Get On,” “Heavy T,” and “Miss Behave”) and songwriting ability.
Bunji Garlin (birth name: Ian Alvarez) first made a real mark in the soca scene back in 1999, via his catchy Ragga Soca single “Send Dem Riddim Crazy,” and the hits have kept on coming ever since.
In 2000, he won the Young King title and his first Soca Monarch and Ragga Soca crowns in that year. He has gone on to take home many more trophies in the years following. In 2009, Bunji placed second in International Soca Monarch competition (with “Clear De Road”). The winner?: his wife, who won the crown for “Meet Super Blue”!
A key to Bunji’s sustained success has been his willingness to come up with material that draws upon reggae, hiphop, r ‘n b and dancehall elements, not just conventional soca. In a 2014 Rolling Stone interview, he cited some of his influences: “Latin, zouk, reggae, soca, calypso, pop, drum-and-bass, techno and house.” In the early phases of his career, his style was defined as ragga soca.
Garlin has shared the stage with such reggae stars as Sean Paul, Beenie Man, Shaggy and Elephant Man, and has collaborated with Freddie McGregor. As his profile Stateside has grown, he has even been invited to some major EDM (electronic dance music) festivals, alongside the likes of Skrillex and Diplo.
Garlin scored a real international career boost when his track “Brrrt (Marchout Riddim)” was placed on the best-selling Grand Theft Auto 1V soundtrack. In the last couple of years he has scored major hits with the tracks “Differentology”(2013) and “Truck On D Road” (2014) (featuring A$AP Ferg). Garlin won the 2013 Soul Train Award for Best International Performance for “Differentology” (his biggest international hit to date), and the album of the same name reached No. 6 on the US Reggae Albums chart. “Differentology” was later remixed by EDM stars Major Lazer for their popular free EP Lazers Never Die Vol. 4.
Proof of Bunji Garlin’s new star status in the U.S. came when he was the subject of a major profile in Rolling Stone last year. The RS writer caught Bunji in action on a VP Records yacht party on the Hudson River, and came away impressed. Here’s a sample of that article: “The whirlwind begins. Bunji gets behind the mic and plays his latest smash, “Truck on D Road,” changing the words to refer to a “boat on the sea.” He enters into a genuine freestyle that describes the vessel and raises the room’s energy level. He drops “Differentology,” the breakthrough track that has appeared everywhere from sporting events to Grey’s Anatomy, from Port of Spain fêtes to global EDM festivals, and when he reaches the song’s chorus, a resounding “We ready for the road,” the sing-along is so loud that it can almost be heard back on shore.”
That kind of excitement is sure to be generated at IRIE fest when both Garlin and Fay-Ann Lyons take to the stage. We can’t wait!