For soca artist Kerwin Du Bois, success had always been a communal affair. Writing and producing award-winning songs for Kes the Band and Machel Montano and collaborating with a slew of artist, Du Bois' accolades were garnered in the names of international performers while remaining apart of the support staff. That is, until Du Bois broke out on his own with 2012's Bacchanalist, a sweetly-spun soca jam that placed second in the Groovy Soca Monarch. Focused on the top spot, Du Bois followed up with this year's "Too Real," an ode to sexy 'bumpas' everywhere, snatched the Groovy Soca Monarch title from returning champ Montano. Known for his layered harmonies and slow wine-ready melodies, He's minted a signature sound that stands out from the endless stream of songs that flood mixtapes and DJ sets each carnival season. We spoke with Du Bois about his solo success, making the tricky transition from producer to performer and why soca music is the cure-all medicine for all your troubles.
You’ve written award winning song for other artists and established a strong name as a producer. Was it difficult to step into the performer role? Du Bois: It was at first because that's not my forte. It's not where my love and my passion lies. My passion lies in the creative element of the music. Going onstage, people expect you to do certain things. I want to keep a clean status, I don't want to be known as someone who's taking off their clothes, wining and all that. I don't want to be vulgar. I want to keep it clean. I just want to get on stage and have a good time. I was a bit hard at first but after I grooved into it and I became a little bit more brave, interacting with the crowd and having a charisma with them.
Oftentimes when I listen to soca mixtapes—which tend to be a 60-minute blend of songs— its only after when I go back to track list that realize that all the songs really stood out were yours. What makes your sound so distinct and special? I try not to sound anything like what we've heard before. Soca is not a just-come genre. We could easily fall into the trap of sounding like something or somebody we've heard before. I always try to bring a different sound, something you've new and differeng but something you can't deny. There's the balance with the musical side, the production and the melodic side. Once you have that chemistry and that union, it's a wrap.
The sweetness your voice and your sense of melody is a running theme that's present in all of your songs. What's your history of musical training? I started singing from primary school. Then I moved up to high school and I sang in the choir and all of that. So I guess I was born with it. I never really had any formal voice training. I try to stay in key because there's a lot of people who can sing but they're tone deaf. So when it comes to harmonizing, they can't do it. In all my songs I do all of my harmonies. You'll think I have three or four people in the booth with me when I'm recording, but its just me alone singing all these different parts.
As the current Soca monarch, are you still looking to collaborate in the same way you had before or are you just focusing on your career solely right now? That will come. With collaborations the scales have to be balanced. I can't choose the wrong people to do the right songs, or the song will become unbalanced and all of that. But I'll definitely be doing collaborations. This year alone, I did "Welcome to the Carnival" with Maximus Prime and "Lockdown" with Lyrikal. I'm still into the collaborations.
Did you think that "Too Real" would be the breakout song for you this year? No.
What were you betting on? Nothing. Nothing surprises me in Soca. You can have a great song here but when you put it out to the DJs and the general public they can think different. For me, I was on songs like "Forget About It," "Press Ah Button", because that was written by some other guys and I co-wrote it. When "Too Real" came to me, I was like "Mmm I don't know." I wasn't feeling it and I wasn't going to record it. But I said "Leh we do this." I didn't know it was going to be like this.
How does it feel to have the ladies go wild every time you sing about their "bumpas"? What's the craziest thing a female fan has done to you during a performance? I love my female supporters and I appreciate their support. As far as the craziest thing a fan has done, it would probably be trying to slip her hand up my pants while I was performing or it could be the time during a breakfast party when a fan jumped on stage and pulled me on top of her bumpa. *laughs*
Since winning the Groovy Soca Monarch title, you've released one new song, "Partyak," in time for Crop Over. In creating music for the year-round carnival calendar, do you tailor your sound to each island's vibe? Everything is about a vibe, I create music based on energy, so sometimes it is difficult to release for a particular carnival. As it stands I have a number of songs which were released in 2013 – 2014 which are still picking up steam as I tour the different carnivals. When I create music, I always try to do it in such a way that all the islands can enjoy it with a message or storyline that is relatable.
What's it like to perform for NYC crowds during Labor Day? Do you find that they differ from audiences around the world? To be honest, everywhere you go the audiences are different which means different vibes. In NYC the energy is always loud and genuine, the patrons come out to party and they give their best which means you have to give your best at all times. The NYC crowds remind me of Callalloo (a traditional Trinbagonian dish), there are so many ingredients mixed up in there that when you taste it you cannot help but love it.
What's next for you? We on some world music vibe right now. That's my intention. The carnival is easy. It's easy for me to go to another country that loves soca, but there's a world out there that's dying to hear what soca can really do. My whole aim right now is to just give soca it's rightful place because we've worked hard for years and I think we deserve some kind of recognition worldwide for our efforts.
What still excites you about Soca music? It's the only music that could takeaway a down moment for you. You could've gotten into an argument with your loved one or somebody could give you bad drive on the road or you get a ticket from an officer, but when you reach here with a drink in your hand and you hear a soca song, you don't have a choice but to just forget about it, to wine all that away. That's the beauty of soca. It just takes you away from certain moments and puts you in moment you want to be in. That's what I love about it, the energy and the vibe.