Edwin Yearwood, his voice is too sweet! From his earliest hit ‘Pump me up’ in to ‘Home sweet home’ this year, his voice is nice, real nice. If you have been into soca for more than five years or you know your soca musicology, you know the great influence that this man has had on soca in Barbados and on the genre as a whole .
Edwin has had major hits with the major band Krosfyah such ‘Sak Pase’, ‘In de middle of de road’, ‘Yardie’ and arguably the biggest, ‘Pump me up’. In 1995, he completed a triad by winning three titles on the Barbados carnival scene; 1995 Calypso Monarch, 1995 Party Monarch (repeated in 1996 and 2004) and 1995 Tune of the Crop Monarch (repeated in 1997). He was honored by the city of Boston in 1996 when he was awarded the keys to the city by the Mayor’s office. Trinidad bestowed on him one of their highest music honors in 1997, giving him the award of Best Song for the smash hit “All Aboard”.
It continues. In 2001 at the Kadooment Festival in Barbados, Edwin doubled with Khiomal Nurse also of Krosfyah and made history in Barbados by winning the Road March title with a slow jam entitled ‘Sak Pase’. He continued to have hits such as ‘Road Jam’, and ‘Not Missing me’. One of his most significant international achievements has been winning the ‘World Soca Monarch Title’ from a field of the best soca artists worldwide. There is no way I could pass up the opportunity to find out more about this Bajan Legend.
You have been doing this for over twenty years now, what keeps you going? I just have a passion for soca music and to push it as far as it can possibly go. Whatever I can do to help. I am not in the position to be called the young boy anymore but at the end of the day if I can help any of the youngsters, I will do so. Soca represents more than just a nation, it represents the entire Caribbean. When I started out, being a soca entertainer in the Caribbean was not seen as a viable career option. It was our goal as a band to show the rest of the world that it can be, that there can be soca artistes and soca bands that can maintain a presence, not just for financial gain but to bring the Caribbean closer together with music. That’s all we have been trying to and to continue to do.
When I hear Bajan soca, I know it is Bajan Soca but for me to describe exactly what it is, I can’t do so. What you think are the essentials of Bajan Soca? I am just like you, I don’t think that I can describe it. I know there is a uniqueness of it and it may just come down to the culture and the way we phrase our words. Like we would say ‘you all’ instead of ‘allayuh’ and some phrases have caught on over the years like ‘bumpa’ and ‘wuk up’. So we have that level of exposure but outside of that I don’t think Bajan soca is that different. So many different artistes are coming together from so many different Caribbean islands now to work together. In fact you have to be careful soca doesn’t belong to the rest of the world now because people are now calling it something different and use soca beats. But it is good that Barbados was able to play a part in soca.
I am just thinking about your unique sound. When people hear your voice they know that is Edwin Yearwood. Well I got lucky because I have a unique voice. It may not be the best voice but I always thought that outside of being Bajan or any other nationality, that you should feel the music to an extent that you put your own stamp on it. And I always thought putting a little soul into soca itself helps and you feel it a lot more.
People have said you are gospel soca. Would you agree with that? Not at all. I think Gospel is not a genre, it is a subject of music just like love is but you can still sing about ‘heal the world’ in the same form so I don’t take to calling it gospel as such. But I will say that for me, I will say that I like to stick to our roots as close as possible, which encompasses God is important. I always thought it was important to put some positiveness in the music.
I have read that you think of yourself as an introvert. How do you manage that with Edwin Yearwood the star? Because you have to put yourself out there as an extrovert; on the stage, meeting your fans, doing interviews such as this one. Is it particularly difficult? No. And to be honest I don’t enjoy being a star or being popular. I just wanted to sing. When I was a lot younger and I first started to work, I was doing work that I did not want to do, like lifting heavy boxes and packaging shelves but I had to do it. And that is the approach I took to my shyness. I said you know what, this is my voice, this is what I want to do so let me just get up and have to do it. So I see it as doing my job. I can still be Mr Shy off stage, that is my personality. But when I get on stage I do what I have to do.
Thinking about you as a singer and you as a writer, which one brings you most joy? I’d say writing because I am really not interested in being the focal point of attention. But in writing you are able to hear my message, whether it is good, whether it is bad, whether it is reflective, positive or negative, it is my expression. It is how I feel about it. And the beautiful thing about music is that at any given time in the world, someone will feel it, whatever it is. Someone might break a toe, hear a song about how painful it is to break a toe and think, ‘I can relate to that’. For me lyrics is important in bringing people together.
What inspires you to write? Do you have a certain way or thing to do? I don’t have a particular way. A melody just comes to me and depending on the mood of that melody I will go with the flow of what I want to write about. Some times the melody will feel a bit sad or a bit vibrant and happy and I will go with that and start looking for themes. Or sometimes we can be on tour laughing a lot about something or at some joke and that will influence a song. So it is not a particular set way. I am always writing. I am still learning and still in a position of becoming.
What do you make of soca of where it is at at the moment? Soca is always evolving. There is no yardstick to say this is the start or pinpoint of soca music. It has always been something without laws. Calypso has unwritten rules, there is meant to be political satire about it. Soca doesn’t have those boundaries. So as a result, it will always grow and have other influences. There is nothing wrong with that. But soca needs to be owned collectively by all the islands. If that is done, there is nobody in the world that can take it away from us.
As a band, you guys have been doing this for so long, you have seen the changes in the music and the music industry, the increase of social media etc. Have you as a band had to adapt a lot? Yes you always have to adapt to promote yourself. I remember when we first got into it, the internet was just starting to come up and the biggest thing was just to have a web page. It is part of today’s culture and it is always important to adapt.
You’re here for the Golden Jubilee for Barbados. How important is that to you? I think it is very important for everybody. If I could be on every stage around the world to celebrate the 50th anniversary independence I would be there.
And what can we expect from the show? It’s about the 50th anniversary. It’s about a golden age, a golden generation that would have handed over what was fought hard for, for Barbados to be independent. They have given us a platform to build on. It will be a reflective night, a night of serious celebration for reaching 50 years. I am proud of it. I wasn’t there at the beginning but I am thinking when I go on that stage, I am representing my mum, I am representing my grandmother the entire generations. So I will go out there and make Barbados proud.
What’s next for Krosfyah? We are doing some collaborations with artists in Africa, in Toronto and Colombia. The main aim is still for soca music to be recognised globally. It is one of the least respected and paid genres and we want to play a role in altering that perception. It needs soldiers to continue to push it, to push as hard as possible. And we as soca lovers need to support it from a unified standpoint. For example reggaetón. There is a support system of people for reggaetón. Latinos all over the world bought into it and supported it. The Grammy’s saw that support, saw the amount of money it generated and said let’s get into it. We as soca people, we support our individual islands music and fetes but we won’t go to other islands’ fetes in great masses. There is so much separation that the volume for selling, the sales pitch for it to go a little further is not there. There is a general awareness of soca, so much so that other genres are using elements of it. However, it is not going across because there is not that collective financial support. They are not seeing the numbers to support it so it is not going as far.
What does carnival mean to you? For me it is more or less the glue of the Caribbean. It is one of the few times outside of independence festivals that so many people come together. You can have at any point in time almost all nationalities in one country represented at a carnival. The music and the carnival is the last thing we have to hold on to that keeps us together without prejudice. It’s important.
And there you have it. Edwin Yearwood. The shy, quiet man who does not like the limelight but continually comes out of his comfort zone to share with the world his beautiful gift of song and lyric. He and the rest of Krosfyah continue to battle on to have soca be recognised on the international stage as a individual unique genre, worthy of respect and acknowledgement, rather than being used as a musical harvesting ground for the masses. Edwin is considering the next generation of artistes and what he can pass on to them and this in itself is of extreme value. There are those who chase the popularity and fame. And there are those like Edwin where in spite of his reluctance, popularity and fame chases him. What he chooses to do with this fame is to fly the flag a little higher, a little longer for soca. Sergeant Major Yearwood, soldier on.
Edwin will be performing at the Golden Bim Celebration concert tonight in London at the Hammersmith Town Hall.
For more information on Edwin Yearwood and Krosfyah, please visit Edwin Yearwood on Facebook, Twitter and instagram. Krosfyah on Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, itunes.apple.com, www.allmusic.com. Many thanks to Bim Photography for the images.