Rihanna is fly. Rihanna is beautiful. Rihanna is becoming quite sexy. I say becoming, because compared to Alison Hinds, the reigning queen of soca, Rihanna is still not yet a woman (despite her newly acquired penchant for voguing in fetish gear). Alison Hinds has that grown and sexy thing down pat, and she’s been one of the Caribbean’s most popular entertainers for over a decade now. She was the pride of Barbados back when Rih Rih was singing Hero in school. In case you’ve never heard of her before, allow me to introduce you to the amazing Alison Hinds.
Born in England, she moved to Barbados at age 11. From then, she was steeped in soca. According to Wikipedia, she joined the band Square One in 1986, and played just about every hot club and fete in Barbados and the Caribbean islands en route to fame and fortune — dropping hits like One For the Road in 1992. Square One’s star was rising in Barbados, but not throughout the island archipelago just yet. In Trinidad, the first I heard of Alison Hinds was with her monster hit, Raggamuffin, in 1996. That song won Alison Hinds her first road march victory at Crop Over — the first time a woman had won the honor in Barbados. Raggamuffin was a certified hit throughout the islands, and ushered in what Trinis referred to as “The Bajan Invasion.” After that, everyone waited with anticipation to hear what Alison and Square One was about to drop next. Her commanding voice became like a rally cry for the party to kick into high gear. She singlehandedly changed the face of soca and paved the way for the younger generation of female frontwomen to come. As she says in this feature in Vibe magazine — “Several female soca artists have told me, “You inspired me so I could do this too.” I feel like I’ve had a huge impact on young Caribbean women.” She really has. Her combination of strength and sexuality has become a blueprint for the genre. Every up-and-coming soca starlet dreams of being Alison.
After Raggamuffin, Alison’s career took off like a rocket. It was hit after hit — DJ Ride, Iron Bazodee, Togetherness (that is the workout jam right there!) and my favorite of all favorites — the song from Suriname that Alison made an international hit, still a sure fire party starter all these years later — Faluma. Alison sings it in a Surinamese dialect called Sranan Tongo, and language aside, you probably won’t be able to get it out of your head once you hear the chorus. (I also find it hilarious how English-speaking Caribbean people will try to sing along when nobody has any idea what the lyrics are besides “faluma ding ding ding.”) Faluma became a huge hit in random and unexpected countries — apparently it was number one in Guatemala for an unprecedented 49 weeks!
Alison is a soca star and her music is party music. So of course she’s sexy and sometimes scandalous, but she’s never nasty. She’s very aware of what her individual audiences want — peep this video where she explains the subtle differences between Barbadian and Trinidadian audiences. In that interview, Alison also promises to stay true to her Caribbean roots on her then-upcoming solo project. “I am a Caribbean woman at the end of the day so I have to stay true to my roots and to who I am and what I am about,” she declares, and as an island woman, that makes me happy. That means that Alison is not only aware of her strengths, but it also means her strengths are in her roots. She will never forget where she comes from, lose her identity and move wholesale into the lucrative grips of hip hop or R&B. If and when she does, it’ll be on her own terms, repping the islands to the fullest. In that interview (which is also featured online at Jouvay.com), Alison dismisses the rumors that she was splitting from her band, Square One. That was in 2003, before her solo album dropped, and before she had her baby girl Saharan in 2004. Now Alison is a solo artist, and her crowning achievement is Roll It Gyal, which she released in 2005. Here’s the video, which is H-O-T.
Now Roll it Gyal might take some of you by surprise — there are definitely more scantily clad, gyrating women than you might expect from the typical Afrobella musical feature. Don’t let the images fool you into thinking this is a hoochie mama video. Behind the in-your-face sexuality, there’s a refreshing message. Here are the lyrics. This is the bridge —
“Go to school gyal and get your degree
Nurture and take care of your pickney
Gyal you work hard to make your money.
If you know you smart and you sexy
Never let them abuse you body
Show it off gyal and let the world see,
Roll it gyal, roll it gyal.”
Check it out for yourself and tell me what you think.
Listen to that beat, her flow, and the message. She’s got the whole package. Now tell me why this song never made it on to like, MTV Jams or 106 and Park along with the rest of the crap? It dropped in 2005, but to me, this still sounds fresh, it’s just as sexy a video as anything you’ll see on the charts, and the message is positive and empowering, rather than degrading. (The song came out in 2005, and there’s already a watered down remake by J Status and Rihanna).
Alison is now almost 40, and she lives on a horse farm with her family in Barbados. I definitely think she’s got a lot more steam left in her engine, and many more hits to come. Alison says she’s willing to do anything to take calypso worldwide, she dreams of putting together a Vegas style theatrical soca show. I know she’s got the talent and the determination to do it. I’m just waiting for like, Kanye or Timbaland to holla at Machel Montano for a track, or for Gwen Stefani (or, hello Rihanna) to duet with Alison on her next album or something. It might take a little American A list star power to get the ball moving, but calypso definitely has a shot at international success. With a woman like Alison Hinds flying the flag, we can’t miss the mainstream.
Alison Hinds is a strong and sexy woman of color who is unafraid to blaze trails and be herself. No wonder she’s Afrobella of the Month! Congratulations, Alison! Keep on doing you and making us island women proud.
If you love what you’re hearing, treat yourself to her album, Soca Queen.