Once again, it’s on! Carnival season has taken full flight and with it comes a spirit of togetherness and fun! All over the world people are in party mood; getting down at one festivity or another or simply enjoying their summer retreat. Here, we’re all geared up for Notting Hill as well as other Carnivals around the country like Luton, Leeds and the spectacle they are guaranteed to bring. The ‘Soul of the Caribbean’ (Soca) is obviously enjoyed by its dedicated fans all year round but, at this moment in time, it seems to take on a whole new meaning in the UK; a diversified sphere that reaches out and touches people from all different walks of life - a truly cosmopolitan connection. And trust me, da Soca Massive knows how to put on a real show and make everybody feel welcomed!
Never one to pass on the excitement, G MaG has always dedicated its summer edition to the Carnival mantra by bringing you a whole host of hot Soca artists and this time round it’s the turn of ‘Bajan Soca Queen’, Alison Hinds to hold centre stage. With the spotlight firmly fixed on Alison, we also travelled to St. Kitts to check out their annual Music Fest where she tore the place down alongside Machel Montano and others. Watch her nuh, how she ah get on bad…! But… you know the score, the mag always has loads of other genres to bring you and profiling in the R&B arena is the maestros Don-E and Brian McKnight. Squaring off against these guys in the Reggae partition is Jamaica’s ‘jewel in the crown’ Cherine Anderson, Bermuda’s new stir Clinark, Studio One harmony group The Blackstones and the freedom fighter Jah Cure who, recently shook off his shackles! JA’s own Little Hero and the UK’s boy wonders Four Kornerz make good in the Gospel section whilst veteran saxophonist Lascelles James and the smooth Kenny Thomas gets all jazzed up. We also hail Empress Menen with tributes from Queen Ifrika, Princess Menen and Sister Carol.
Elsewhere, the Lifestyle section looks at cultural street wear; there’s an interestingly thought provoking ‘African Comment’ piece and something for the children in the form of a TV Documentary series. But here’s where we gets to really spoil you as on the Competition pages there’s stuff like luxury hotel breaks, albums galore and even a trip to Jamaica to be won…!! Catch us down at the Notting Hill Carnival and watch out for the G MaG Artist Showcase at the end of October but, don’t forget to tune into the ‘Lifestyle On BEN’ TV show on Friday mornings as we continue to crane the mag all up in your spot! Yuh dun know!
The Bajan Soca Queen jams with Juliet Edwards
Photography by Kenny V Passley
THE RISE AND RISE OF THE QUEEN OF SOCA
Alison greets me radiant and fresh-faced in her hotel room as she waits for the make-up artist to get her ready for our exclusive photo shoot. It’s very busy with people milling around her as I go back to the lobby to wait for the appointed interview slot. She was in the UK on a brief promotional visit as she continued on her world tour and with the ‘Alison Hinds Show’, a collection of musicians and dancers that she heads up. But this is no ordinary show - her legendary highly charged performances features great audience participation and entertains riveting Soca dancing competitions. Watch out as she’s billed to appear at the Leeds and Notting Hill Carnivals this August. Here, she’ll be promoting her current single, the massive ‘Roll It Gal’, recorded in collaboration with Trinidadian Soca king, Machel Montano who, was in the UK for the Carnival festivities.
So, the ‘Queen of Soca’ has been reigning for a number of years with hit after hit since she produced her first single ‘Ragamuffin’ in 1986 with the Square One band. After taking a maternity break in 2004, Alison has returned to the top slot as mother to daughter, Saharan. Her girl’s anthem, ‘Roll It Gal’, has set the dance floors alight having topped the charts in Barbados, Trinidad and most of the Caribbean islands. It was also the premier song at the Brooklyn, Miami and London Carnivals last year. The video alone was number one MTV’s Caribbean channel, Tempo for ten weeks! In addition, the song’s popularity continues to enjoy massive airplay in the USA and Europe. What’s refreshing about Ms Hinds is that she has all the business acumen and clarity required to sustain her in this industry. She explains, “I like the theme of empowering woman. So long as it’s woman in charge, the guys are the ones who are going to obey us but it’s a positive message for guys as well”! With these lyrics she gives a positive and liberating message to women:
‘…When dem fly up in yuh face gal... Mek dem know dem place
Numba one inna de race gal... Could never replace
Independent and yuh strong gal... And yuh set de pace
Roll it gal, roll it gal…’
Born in the UK, she mocks in a true drawn out Cockney accent, “yeah, I’m from Plaistow, East London, innit”. Her parents went through a difficult divorce and eventually her mother took her back to Barbados at age eleven. Alison refers to this struggle frequently as the catalyst for her current achievements. She emotively talks about her experiences. “My mother [Marsilla Hinds] supported me from the very beginning; she’s an independent woman, a very strong woman. I saw it with the dissolution of my parents’ marriage and it took strength that maybe she didn’t know she had; strength to leave the marriage and know that things weren’t going well and that this was the best decision for her to make at that point in time. To take me with her to Barbados and start from scratch when she had already established a life and a family here in England, that takes a special kind of strength and a special kind of commitment.
From I first joined Square One as a teenager, you know that a lot of parents would be saying, ‘that’s not a real job, do you really want to do this? You should go to college and you should study’. She knew that I loved to sing; from primary school I used to come home and sing almost everything. There were people out there telling her, ‘how could you let her in a band’? That’s the faith she had in me and that helped me to go at it with my all; make my commitment to the band and all the sacrifices to do all the things I had wanted to do in order to achieve. There’s no one else like my mother who has influenced me, for sure”. This message echoes throughout the lyrics of ‘Roll It Gal’. Alison recalls one of her early and most memorable experiences during her professional career. It was also her first overseas trip to Suriname with the band, Square One. “It was packed out; the show was transmitted live from the stage to the radio and TV throughout Suriname. The response of the audience was like that of a Rock concert; the atmosphere was electric, it was all of that! We also got to see a lot of the country. We had to have about six or seven bodyguards to travel with us everywhere we went. In Suriname, they have people who live in the interior, completely away from civilization. We had the opportunity to visit a village that was probably two or three hours out of the city and met with the Chief then got permission to come into the village. It was so wonderful. They loved the music and they got their drummers and their kids to do a dance for us and we did our performance for them in return”.
Alison has a strong repertoire including Gospel, Reggae and R&B but, there’s no doubt that her strength and success comes from Soca music. As lead singer of the band Square One, she achieved unmeasured success but, there’s no mistaking that her raunchy live stage shows with audience participation adds that extra spice to her performances. Her most popular hits are ‘Ragamuffin’, ‘Twister’, ‘Togetherness’, ‘DJ Ride’, ‘Fireworks’ and ‘Aye, Aye, Aye’. Most notable is ‘Faluma (Ding, Ding, Ding)’ taken from Square One’s ‘Full Bloom’ album, the most successful song in the Caribbean during 1999 and 2000. Amazingly, it topped the Guatemala charts for nearly fifty weeks! “I am just starting to write and co-write songs. I am directly involved in everything in terms of the album for sure; from the inception, in terms of putting everything together and, of course, singing. So obviously, I am very much involved in this particular set. I did my first album with Square One; now this is my own solo album, my own efforts”.
Surprisingly, Alison does not single out any one artist as being her major inspiration. “My independent spirit comes from my mother. I watched her work and struggle to provide for me and for her; to make sure I had everything that I needed, not necessarily everything that I wanted; to keep me in school and keep me fed. Watching her and the way that she conducted herself gave me that inspiration in my business”. Alison is a determined woman. After two years, she returned to the stage as a working mother with a daughter, Saharan. “You definitely look at the world in a different way when you have a child. You zero in on a lot more social issues because these are things that have the potential to affect your child’s life in the future so, you can’t help but look at social issues. Things that are affecting kids definitely are things that are affecting generations as they come up. I have always been a person who conducts myself well on and off stage and I just want my daughter to be proud of me’’.
Choosing songs that give out strong messages about womanhood and being confident about your body, how much of this is the real Alison Hinds? “What you see on stage is just one side of me. I am also a working mother, a disciplinarian and a wife dealing with the challenges that may come my way. I try to balance what’s important and I have strong support from my mum, grandparents, my husband (Edward Walcott) and managers (Van Gibbs) and road manager (Dexter)”. She travels the world frequently but says, “my home base is definitely Barbados. I am always happy to be home as I always miss my daughter; I can spend some time with my mother and husband. He’s very capable, a very good father. All that comes together and helps me to be a better person on stage and I can give my all. When I come off stage, I can deal with the other facets of my life like drop my daughter to school but, also when I come to England, my dad and brother are here”. With the band Square One, Alison was the first woman in Soca to achieve several accolades - she was the first to win the ‘Road March’ in 1996 for the most popular song on the road for Carnival. The following year, she won the ‘Party Monarch’ competition. “It felt very good to be written in the history books for Barbadian music and also in terms of the Caribbean Soca music. Also as the first woman to be really out front leading a band having major hits, being able to command audiences and really be a force out there; I know that I have influenced a lot of people. Young girls and more female artists have come out over the last five or six years”.
The new solo album ‘Soca Queen’ is due out and she tells us what it has to offer. “For long time fans, I have re-done a couple of hits, ‘Togetherness’ and ‘Roll It Gal’, a positive anthem. There’s one called ‘Thunder’ which I really love and there’s one ballad that I think is going to be a good mix and blend of me as a Caribbean women”. She adds a special message for her long term fans. “Thanks for your support since I was in Square One and now for my solo career. I was off the scene for two years, before and after having my daughter, you have embraced me fully since my return. I am very thankful to those hardcore fans for giving me their support, the new fans and those to come’’.
Alison’s achievements in this business must not be underestimated. She has managed to maintain a longstanding and loyal fan base with upstanding messages of empowerment, bringing about confidence and hope. With all this then, we eagerly await the development and release of more self-penned or co-written songs. Surely, we will hear more from this radical sister, championing all that is woman and that’s exactly what we should expect of our Caribbean Queen!