Party soca goes tween


Above: Cast and crew at the production of the first video from the SocaKidz album. Kasey Phillips and Kit Israel are front and centre. Photos and artwork courtesy Precision Productions.

Originally published in Newsday for July 21, 2020

Kasey Phillips looked at his eight-month-old boy and wondered what he would be singing when he heard the music he produced.

And he knew that would happen. Phillips and his producing partner, Kit Israel are in the business of creating music that people want to sing along to, not to mention jump, wine and generally get on bad.

Israel already knew it was a problem. He has three children, ranging in ages from one through eight and understood the need to filter pervasive media for his children’s consumption.

Artwork for SocaKidz Vol 1

The result is an album called SocaKidz Carnival Party, with the rather promising title, Volume One.

The songs, re-recordings of songs both popular and less well-known from the production catalogues of Precision Productions and Advokit are tidied versions of the originals, with, as Phillips explained, “all the smut, the wine, the jam down removed, the stuff we really didn’t want children singing.”

It isn’t a new concept.

KidzBop is the market-defining product in the scrubbed pop song category, a collection now up to its fortieth release that also does cleansed versions of popular songs, replacing allusions to sex, curse words and adult concepts with lyrics that children can sing along to without humiliating their parents in polite company.

The catch that makes KidzBop work is that the work is performed by children in the same tween age-group that is most vulnerable to being drawn to adult material by a catchy hook line.

Attractive and inventive videos, live performances and an apparently continuous stream of these innocuous remakes has built a surprisingly robust architecture of innocence out of raunchy top forty material.

The mix of popular music and relatable faces has proven to be a big success for the US brand.

All the music on the new SocaKidz release is owned by Precision and Advokit and the music beds were already mixed and mastered.

Kit Israel. Photo by Kyle Phillips.

All the vocals were re-recorded by three children chosen by Stacy Nurse of Rosemand’s Academy of Performing Art between July and August of 2019.

The songs were performed by Akeela Dillon, Daniel Garavito and Antonio Wade, two boys and a girl between the ages of 10 and 14. The lone exceptions are Can you feel it by Aaron Duncan and Ringleader, sung by Phillips’ niece, Kai Fortune.

“It was amazing working with them,” Phillips said of the Rosemand’s students..

“They came in, learned the new lyrics and they knocked it out one time. They actually did the work faster than some of the soca artists.”

For the first video from the album, a bubblegum cheery group of prancing children dances to Voice’s Cheers to Life under the direction of Steven Taylor, the first SocaKidz separation took effect.

“The singers weren’t the performers in the video, and the performers in the video weren’t the singers,” said Phillips.

Part of the reason was logistics, and part of it is the development of the brand. The casting call for the video sought performers between the ages of eight and thirteen. One successful candidate was just five.

Kasey Phillips. Photo by Olajuwon Scott.

Phillips had been studying the productions occupying the entertainment time of young children.

“I’m not an expert, I had to figure it out so I studied the KidzBop model, I spent a lot of time on YouTube looking at kids content to see what it is like and what colours they use.”

“There are aspects of SocaKidz that are modeled on that, but it’s definitely in the Caribbean space.”

“[SocaKidz] is Caribbean, it’s songs they know, they can see themselves in it.”

“It becomes something reachable. It shows children that they can actually do this.”

“Kids are pure. There’s no politics, there’s no agenda. They just want to do it.”

“So we said, let’s test it, let’s do this proof of concept. Let’s see where this can go.”

“The first response we had was from a parent whose daughter just kept saying, I have to be in that video!”

SocaKidz is widely available on download and streaming platforms but it’s unlikely to appear as a physical product. The most recent Precision Productions compilation album is download only.

“Physical product is not realistic anymore,” Phillips said, “but it might be necessary to get into some channels.”

“The thing is that SocaKidz is the artist, the brand, but it could flex anywhere, we could do nursery rhymes, pop songs with a soca beat.”

Tracklisting – SocaKidz Vol.1

Cheers to Life (Originally by Voice)

Road Trip (Originally by Machel Montano)

Dancing School (Originally by Preedy)

Ring Leader (Originally by Destra Garcia)

Hello (Originally by Kes the band)

Family (Originally by Farmer Nappy)

Alive and Well (Originally by Voice)

Maximum (Originally by SekonSta)

Can You Feel It (Aaron Duncan’s vocal)

Getting on Bad (Originally by Machel Montano)

Thank Mama (Originally by Olatunji)

Alive and Well (Outro) (Originally by Voice)

On SocaKidz

As an album, it’s very much a greatest hits compilation though some of the songs, while zesty, couldn’t really be described as hits.

That’s a consequence of the traditional Carnival season, which floods Trinidad and Tobago with more music in a very specific genre than the limited market can sift through.

Add in the national tendency to gravitate to market-leading personalities and the songs they are programming for success and there’s a lot that gets left behind on the way to the Road March.

For many of these songs, the SocaKidz project is likely to represent a useful second shot at popularity for music that’s well suited to the spirited energy of children.

The vocalists deliver spirited performances that speak well of their training and nascent skill, but new ground isn’t being broken here.

The sales pitch is straightforward.

Vocals from young people over music thats exactly what the originals delivered with lyrics that won’t raise an eyebrow.

What’s missing from the mix is exactly what the first video delivers. The clip features a brisk medley of four of the songs, offers children getting on wild, if not bad, in an environment that’s age-appropriate and bubble-gum pink to boot.

I’m old-school enough to want to evaluate music without visuals, but the SocaKidz experience won’t be complete until the intended audience can put videos of performances delivered by young artistes on YouTube loop.

From there, the opportunities to grow the brand will probably be driven by children screaming at the top of their lungs.

Phillips and Israel are tossing creative gasoline on a youthful fire with this release. Where the blaze goes from here is going to be interesting to see.

SocaKidz Vol1 is available for download and streaming here.

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