Words by Kristal Roberts
Over the last sixteen years, Trinidadian artist Bunji Garlin has clawed his way to soca stardom with a solid collection of explosive ragga soca songs that deliver high-octane energy, but something is a little different about his eleventh album.
Much like Garlin’s other albums, Differentology, released August 12, still delivers pumped up, Carnival-centered tunes, wickedly clever lyrics and the occasional blaring shout hyping the crowd to jump and wave.
So what’s changed?
Garlin, born Ian Anthony Alvarez, is ready to up the ante with crossover success— not just for himself, but for the entire soca movement.
In a December interview with NPR, Garlin said the following about soca and calypso music: “I mean, this is a music that is almost over a century in existence, but yet still you can almost count all our international hits on two hands.”
He’s ready to change that. This Differentology album is his declaration.
Garlin, who is married to fellow soca star Faye Ann Lyons, seems ready to conquer the international stage.
In his Over the Hills track, Garlin proclaims he wants to see his music go over the hills and “See this music rise, rise, rise… I wanna see soca music fly high with the eagle in the sky,” but he’s been slowly paving his way to this crossover crossroads for a while.
His infectious, ever-evolving style captivated fans when he first hit the music scene with 1999’s Send Them Rhythm Crazy, a bouncy dance riddim with instrumentals sampled from the late R&B singer Aaliyah’s Are You That Somebody track.
As his star power grew, Garlin became in demand, working with big-name artists like Busta Rhymes, Red Rat and Bounty Killer.
However, the game changer that put him on the course for crossover success was the 2012 Differentology single, which later became the anchor record for the Differentology album.
The single’s aggressive, nearly militant rhythm blends traditional Trini soca with darker electronic dance music (EDM) undertones, and rests underneath the revved up lyrics, “We ready, We ready” as it builds up to the triumphant battle cry, “We ready for di (the) road”.
Whether it’s applied to partying and spreading the soca doctrine, or simply working hard, the catchy tune has resonated with a wide audience, created a global buzz and found its way into the American soundscape.
The “We Ready” tune was featured on the popular U.S. medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy.
It also became a popular arena anthem for the NBA during last year’s basketball season and Garlin even won a Soul Train Award for Best International Performance for the song in 2013.
Apparently, Garlin was only getting started.
His sheer determination for global domination translated rather seamlessly to his Differentology music video.
Garlin, dressed in full warrior garb, donned a horned Viking helmet and a metal ratchet, looking ready to conquer.
Men and women covered themselves in mud from head to toe, looking prepared to go to battle, ready for jouvert and “ready for di road”.
Recognizing his massive potential to the U.S. market, RCA Records partnered with Garlin’s current label, VP Records to be a part of Differentology the album.
According to Billboard, the Differentology single has already outpaced Kevin Little’s Turnin Me On’ and Rupee’s Tempted To Touch, both of which qualify as one of the few Soca hits to have ever made footing on the international music charts.
That only seems to be further ammunition for a fired up Garlin, whose stage name continues to speak to his determination and bravado —Bunji, because he’s as flexible as a bungee cord, and Garlin, because it’s a gun known for its powerful shots.
His new album mostly stays true to the Ragga Soca sound, straddling the lines of soca and its close cousin, dancehall.
But true to form, Garlin fearlessly dabbles with other sounds like EDM in Differentology, and a reggae/hip-hop smash up in the swagged out West Indian Jungle record.
He warns that he’s built to rumble, so please don’t ever mistake his “humble for weakness”. With a piping hot record, a brand new business partnership and the same vigor he had when he first stepped foot onto the music scene sixteen years ago, his eyes are dead set on the prize.
His mission for the rise of soca music is clearer than ever, and the Viking shows no signs of slowing down.