By Joey Bartlett. Music in Trinidad and Tobago has undergone somewhat of a metamorphosis. Since the birth of calypso in 1978, it birthed other genres such as kaiso, extempo, rapso, chutney soca, soca, power soca, groovy soca, and in recent years, zess/Trinibad music.
No group is more enamoured and caught up in the rapture of zess/Trinibad music than our young people. In roughly five years, this relatively obscure sound has gone from a subculture’s favourite to commanding the airwaves.
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As a result, in 2020, some of the musicality’s forerunners were invited to the International Soca Monarch to perform their tunes for what is now a historic moment in the legacy of the International Soca Monarch competition.
Difference between zess and Trinibad
Zess/Trinibad music is criticised for its lyrical and overarching message, but what exactly is zess music? Is there a difference between zess and Trinibad? If so, what distinguishes the two?
In an attempt to understand this sector, we sat down with the self-proclaimed minister of looseness, Brian Luces, aka Boidingo.
Given his music’s popularity, with some songs garnering millions of views on YouTube, a slew of regional performances, and perhaps being the first to revive the term “Steamy” in Trinidad and Tobago, Luces’s insight on this frequently criticised cultural phenomenon is welcome.
“There is a difference, zess is more a party type sound with a blend of EDM, house music. As for Trinibad, that leans towards more dancehall, and it is angrier,” the 24-year-old artiste explains.
Mixing music back then started it
One overlooked question remains: From where did this infectious sound emerge?
“Mic men and MC’s laid the template. When you think about CD making back then and how they mixed the music with afrobeats or Latino music with reggaeton, that started it, and from there it just kept developing into what it is now.
“My first hit ‘Bounce’, we found a Brazilian beat maker, reached out and purchased the rhythm, then after I did my thing on it, it became a smash hit,” he states.
The response to positive songs on the airwaves
For as long as music or any form of art have existed, debates regarding whether or not artistes should use their work to spread positive messages and societal awareness have been prominent.
There appears to be a concerted effort to refute this when discussing zess music and the ideas its songs convey.
Although Boidingo may not promote the “gunman” lifestyle in his tunes, he does speak openly about sex and all behaviours that are associated to it, as is clear in his most recent hit “Milk It”, but does he feel the need to be more mindful?
“Almost every artiste, whether zess/Trinibad, has done a positive song promoting peace, and when you look at the views and overall rotation on the airwaves, it is clear people aren’t interested in that. When we do it, nobody listens.” The singer declares.
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‘Many other artistes reached out to me‘
We have already established that the sound is one that has the ear of adolescences and young adults, but does that mean the man behind the music views himself as a role model?
“Yes, I do. So many other artistes who were first fans and wanted to get in the industry would have reached out to me, and now that they are doing their thing, soon people would have to start calling me uncle Dingo,” he states, in his trademark wit and cynicism.
‘Teach children to think independently, it starts in the home’
However, given that he has accepted the label of role model and with lyrics too explicit to cite for this piece, how is he able to reconcile the two?
“Parents need to instill in their children the ability to think independently, it starts in the home, this is just entertainment, it is meant for fun. I mean, I may practise some of what I sing; you know whoopsi, Beat It Like a Drum; just ask a few girls about it, I won’t say which girls though,” Luces declares while cracking up.
“I think parents need to have more open conversations with their children about sex at an early age, and we need to start teaching it in the school system as well. Why are you trying to censor an artiste? That’s your responsibility at home, and if they’re not learning about it at home, then the next institution is school,” he continues.
‘I love my fans and want them to make smart decisions‘
As previously mentioned, Boidingo’s music can be categorised as lewd, and the theme of sex, particularly unprotected sex, makes up the majority of his writing.
With the statistics of new infections being highest among 15 to 45-year-old individuals and the main demographic of zess enthusiasts 13-to-35-year-olds, we had to inquire about the minister of looseness’s views on this:
“Again, we are artistes whose job is to entertain; obviously I want people to listen to my music, but I also want them to be safe as well. Boidingo is a character; I love my fans and want them to make smart decisions,” explains Luces.
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Boidingo’s opinion on Ministry’s decision on the drug PREP
Before shifting gears, we pushed further for his opinion on the Ministry of Health’s decision to not introduce the drug PREP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to the nation as it may encourage promiscuity; a drug that can combat the risk of infection once taken correctly. So, how does the minister of looseness feel about this?
“Everyone wants to point fingers and play the blame game; how many deaths have been associated with drunk driving? How many people have become dependent on alcohol? Ent we still selling it? All I’m saying is if we have ways to prevent it, we should be using it.”
‘Young musicians, have fun, be you!‘
Regardless of the discourse surrounding the music and what its lyrics glorify, its appeal is undeniable, as we have seen an influx in the number of young musicians vying for their big break. As someone who has already achieved significant success in the genre, what should they be focussed on?
“They should keep their head on their shoulders, enjoy it, don’t become too serious, have FUN. Seriousness kills your positivity, BE YOU, chase the dream till it becomes your reality,” he empathically states.
Hoping for zess or Trinibad music to become accepted more locally
With no indication of slowing down, and the public’s opinion on the genre somewhat deadlocked, what hopes does the 24-year-old pioneer have for zess music’s foreseeable future?
“I’m hoping for it to become established and accepted more locally, outside of Trinidad, the music is loved. In a few years, I want it to be as big as afrobeats and R&B but respected the same way as we do Soca.”
Working on first Spanish song
The famed Sangre Grande native known primarily as Boidingo is presently working on his debut EP, “Don Dingo”, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. The project’s release date as well as any potential future writers, artistes, and collaborators are still being kept under wraps.
The former joiner and gas station attendant confessed there is no other job for him but music, and he is currently working on his first Spanish song along with some others, not forgetting the music video he recently shot for his new track “Milk It”.
While you might think the musician is trying to capitalise on our Spanish-speaking populace, you would be mistaken; instead, he is honouring his own Spanish heritage. Along with the new album, he is also ironing out the creases for an impending trip abroad, as he is greatly influenced by foreign cultures, such as Italy, Greece and China, to mention a few.
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