Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Dance Party: The Superstar of Soca

I admit, with a bit of sheepishness, that I had not heard of the musical style called soca, until the man who brought it to international attention died this week.

Alphonsus Celestine Edmund Cassell, MBE



He was born into a musical family on the tiny island of Montserrat. By the time he reached his teens, he was already well-known as a local performer, but it was the unexpected arrival of Sir George Martin, the famous producer of much of the Beatles music, which changed his life. Martin picked this small island in the Caribbean as the home for what became the AIR Studios, which attracted internationally known musicians eager to record in the peacefully lush surroundings. From 1979-89, Montserrat hosted musical talent from around the world, which inevitably brought attention to the local music scene, in particular, soca music. This homegrown hybrid of calypso, soul, R&B, and salsa was in essence created by Phonsie (as Arrow was known to his friends), and was irresistible.

Arrow began recording his music, and was soon an international figure. His singles charted many times in Great Britain (Montserrat is a British territory after all), and in the U.S., he had several dance hits, starting with "Hot, Hot, Hot."

Arrow was also a humanitarian who worked tirelessly to help his island's inhabitants through two huge disasters. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo destroyed most of Montserrat's 70 square miles and flattened 90% of the island's structures; as a result, the international music community fled and did not return. Since 1995, the island has been plagued with volcanic activity which has forced the capital city, Plymouth, to shut down permanently.

Major rebuilding efforts continue at the north end of the island, out of reach of the Sourfriere Hills volcano, which continues to spit toxic ash and lava.

For this week's Dance Party, please enjoy a music video starring Arrow, performing his soca hit "Groove Master," which hit #23 on the Billboard Dance Chart in 1988. If you are sitting at your desk while listening to this tune, prepare for some involuntary chair dancing:

Alphonsus "Arrow" Cassell died Wednesday from brain cancer at the age of 62.