When you dip your toes in the sand on any of the beaches off Galera Road in the northeastern corner of Trinidad it is hard not to be enchanted by the mystic blue water at the edge of the Caribbean Sea. The natural beauty of the West Indies is mesmerizing and the islands of Trinidad and Tobago are no exception. This end of the island is called Toco, a village named by its early indigenous inhabitants, and it marks the point where the Caribbean and Atlantic meet. The Atlantic stretches for as far as the eye can see and beyond Tobago, well beyond the scope of vision, lay the United Kingdom nearly 4,500 miles away.
The British have a long history in Trinidad and Tobago dating back to 1889 when the two islands became a single “royal” colony. In the years that followed a labor movement was organized, unionized and radicalized that set the foundation for formal independence, which would inevitably come in 1962. While the indignities of the colonial era are well documented, Britain and its former colonies also have a rich but less-known history of collaborative musical exchange. In Trinidad this dates back to at least 1948 and represents the cultural plurality that came to define the post-World War II era. Aldwyn Roberts, a Trinidadian singer who went by the stage-name Lord Kitchener is an early example of one of the island’s top calypsonians looking toward London for both fame and commercial recognition without foregoing his Caribbean roots.
Today’s world is more integrated than ever before and advances in social media and communication technologies have drastically changed the way that cultural industries like music are shared. When artists collaborate they no longer have to travel thousands of miles to log studio time and popular musical styles have shifted as a result. Eóin MacManus from NPR writes, “Fast forward through decades of Notting Hill Carnivals, punks making roots-reggae records, plus the 2 tone ’80s, and we arrive at the Caribbean’s biggest influence on contemporary British music: the cross-pollination of acid-house raves, West Indian shebeens and sound-system dances which begat jungle (aka drum & bass).”
While the islands and U.K. have maintained a dynamic musical relationship over the past 70 years traditional genres like reggae, calypso and soca have given way to a number of different styles of contemporary dance music. Sub-heavy bass with a touch of rhythmic soca has come to replace the steel drums and harmonic vocals of our grandparent’s generation. One of the noteworthy young acts that embody the transatlantic tradition of making culturally distinct popular music is the producer duo: Jus Now.
Resident Advisor describes them as, “the vibrant and exhilarating fusion of Trinidadian Soca rhythms with the sub heavy sound of the UK Underground.” These two make music that can bruk up the Carnival and shake the dancehall. One half of the duo is Sam Interface, hailing from Bristol – the UK’s drum & bass mecca that gave rise to legends like Roni Size and DJ Krust. His partner is crime is LAZAbeam, a Trinidadian producer and respected percussionist with a number of big remixes to his name. Both artists have a deep passion for good times and UK bass music, but after Sam spent a month in Trinidad and experienced the island’s Carnival celebration their shared cultural respect gave way to an official collaboration.
The duo most recently teamed up with Feel Up Records for the Cyah Help It EP, which released on October 23rd. It has since earned a spot on the iTunes top 20 Electronic Songs list and caught the attention of a number of music publications in part because it has big features by Caribbean heavyweights like Bunji Garlin, Olatunji and Kerwin Prescott. The title track blends Garlin’s rhythmic patois with London “grime queen” Ms. Dynamite’s sharp flow. But what makes it a dance floor killer is the multi-layered production that walks the line of “UK Funky” inspired bass music and uniquely Afro-Caribbean percussion. Even though a number of other artists like Lil Silva and Redlight have strong ties to both the U.K. and Trinidad, the music that Jus Now is creating stands on its own and is versatile, innovative yet hard to describe.
The five-song EP draws inspiration from around the world and LAZAbeam pointed out to Fader, “There are elements of Trinidad, Brazil, India, Africa, and of course the U.K.—[all] cultures we’ve been in close contact with over the last couple of years.” It is not a sound that is easily pigeonholed and while tracks like “Culture” (with Coreysan) have distinct components of dub, one drop and roots reggae they manage to flawlessly slide in tribal-sounding percussion as well. It is thoughtful music and defies the misconception that dance music has to be predictable and repetitive. There are some loose similarities to Major Lazer, but Jus Now seems more apt at capturing the Carnival spirit without the theatrics. It is incredible how both artists manage to effortlessly match two musical styles that were born thousands of miles apart without losing touch of what makes genres like “jungle” and “soca” distinct.
As cultures become more integrated and the world more globalized artists are in a unique position to keep the aspects of their culture they cherish the most alive. For Jus Now and those with roots in Trinidad and Tobago carnival remains one of the most important cultural celebrations and they chose to bring those vibes worldwide. Their music celebrates the best aspects of the UK’s underground club culture and island pride making it a welcome addition to Trinidad and Britain’s long history of crossing the Atlantic to make new music.
To stream or purchase the EP click here.