Maximus Dan Interview

Maximus DanWährend des Notting Hill Carnivals 2004 ist es uns gelungen, mit einem der außergewöhnlichsten Soca-Künstlern aus Trinidad ein Interview zu führen. Er spricht über seinen Hit “Soca Train” und die Schwierigkeiten, die Künstler in der Soca-Industrie haben. Da es im Netz kaum Interviews mit Maximus Dan gibt, haben wir es auf englisch belassen.
We are proud to present an interview with the soca artist extraordinaire, Maximus Dan.

First there was Maga Dan, than Maximus the Gladiator came up. How did the change come?

Maximus DanWhen I left school in 1995, I decided to have music as my sole and only profession. I choose the name “Maga Dan” based on physical structure – “maga” means slim. But that was at the age of 16. Since then my body has developed..
But what caused me to really change my name: I didn’t want to be like anyone else. When I went to Jamaica as Maga Dan to record “Do you see what I see” on the Filthy Riddim, which was done by Main Street Rec., it went pretty well. But when I came back to Trinidad to release this song, with Soca as the main music coming out of Trinidad, a lot of people didn’t give me the credit that I felt I deserve. So I was a little bit frustrated. I decided to make a local contribution, meaning: singing Soca, but doing it my way, the Ragga-Soca form, which is a mixture of Reggae/Dancehall and Soca.
But what made me change the name was in 2001. I went to Canada and saw the movie “The Gladiator”. I was totally impressed by the movie, the storyline, the character, and that basicaly inspired me. When I came back home, I decided to undergo a change. I was already a vegetarian, I just grew the (dread-)locks, stopped trimming. I started focusing more on reality, started doing Soca, people usually don’t hear.
Because Soca is basically party music, a lot of jumping, a lot of wavin, and the message behind the music gets lost. I just wanted to be the youth of Trinidad who comes on stage doing something different. And I felt that with “maximus”, which means “greatest”, everybody knows that Dan is a General, a boss. I wanna respect. I wanted that respect on stage and off stage as well. I worked a lot with school children, went to school and talked to them, try to uplift them, try to tell them the story of my own, why I have to struggle to make it, and if I can make it they can make it, too.

Would you say you do a “rastafari Soca”, or is it more in the Calypso tradition?

Maximus DanIt’s a mixture of both, cause “Soca Train” is actually a remake of a song by Gypsy, and that is more traditional Soca. What I wanted to do is transform that traditional vibe to modern day, what is going on now. And the song itself is about what is playing in the Soca industry and what needs to be improved. It’s a little bit of both, because when people hear me, they hear a lot of spirituality in the music also it’s formated for the party so they can enjoy inna di same time.

I often have the impression that artists in Trinidad don’t get any support by the government or other institutions like in other Caribbean countries. Is this also an issue in “Soca Train”, or do you talk about the politics going on between artists, studios and radios?

It really doesn’t deal on the government. The fans, the people who support Soca music, need to know what artists are going through. So I speek of the shortcoming of the Soca business. Everybody knows about the positives of the Soca business. But people don’t like to pay attention on what needs to be improved. Maximus DanSo I spoke about my move from reggae music to Soca music. When I got into the business, I met a friend who told me that he was very careful. Cause you never know.. people who you think are your friends, they not really looking on for you, they looking on for them and they just play a game with you.

In the third verse I spoke about artists going behind your back and try to negotiate a price [for a show] that is fitting for them. Say if your price is a little more expensive, they would go and tell the promoter “why is he charging you so much when I can give you this price”, and the undercutting process starts. And on the end of the day it’s only the promoter who benefits because his only idea of promoting is getting more for less. More for less and make a profit – and you are not making anything. And I said that artists in Trinidad are not getting nearly what they really deserve in terms of salary. But eventually the government has to try by law, by constitution, pass bills in order for the artist being protected. Not just on piracy, also artists being payed. And they need to be payed.
Maximus DanI think in Barbados there is a law stating that you cannot pay an artist lower than a certain price. Being an artist – that’s this man’s job, and there are minimum wages for every single sector. Let there be that for music.
A lot of these things people need to know about in order to respect the artist and respect the artform. As a child if you are doing something wrong and your parents come correct you, it’s not because they don’t like you, it’s because they wanna see you improve. Same way – I am trying to talk about things which needs to be improved.

Did you get some feedback by people who felt that you are talking about them in “Soca Train”?

I don’t care about what they say, because most important the message has to be said. A lot of foundation Calypso artists said to me “Maximus we like what you did, we could tell it was an effort, it was well planed, well thought of and you took your time”. Cause I had that song for 2 years, and I worked on it, so they could tell it was something that was well put together. And also the younger who didn’t know the original song, went back to hear the original.
I think the industry is going back, not going back in time but research the music to realize how far it has come. And there are a lot of things which need to be listened to in order to improve.

It’s hard to get all the old classic Soca albums. Most of them got lost with the switch to the CD age.

Yeah, a lot of people just backup their records or sell them for nothing.

Iwer George just founded a Soca radio station, in order to push Soca music and to pay back foundation artists.

Maximus DanI am glad that he got a radio licence, that he could push the music in order to help us in terms of copyright, because the more the music is being played in the country, the more money is generated for us. What I don’t like is that he received a community licence, not a national licence.

That means?

That means that it only has a certain range. He’s reaching his own community of Point Fortin in South Trinidad. What I thought is that he should have received a national licence in order for everybody to hear the music being played. I support local music 100% no matter. It just doesn’t need to be Soca necessarily, because a lot of us sing R’n’B, a lot of us like to experiment with the HipHop thing.

Soca comes from Calypso. Please tell me, why Soca still is Calypso or why not.

Soca is different from Calypso. From a very basic point, Calypso is a lot slower than Soca, it was much more musical, meaning a lot of brass, a lot of arrangement, it was much more extravagant at that time. Now it’s basically drum and bass, less instruments, much faster, harder to bring melody, harder to dance to. And that is why ragga-Soca was formed. For the people who want to dance, want to listen and learn. Even thou when elder people say that they don’t understand what we are saying. But we’re making an attempt that the musical reach becomes as full as it was 20 to 40 years ago. We’re jumping on a party for 45 minutes, jumping jumping.. If I go to a fete with my girlfriend, I want to dance with her.

Maximus DanWith Kevin Lyttle and Rupee, the major music industry choose two non-Trinidadian artists to represent Soca. How do you feel about this?

I don’t really look on which island a man is living or what island he is from, as long as he is representing the Soca music. I am really glad that he is representing the West Indies and Soca music. A lot of people promote seperation. The only way to go forward as an industry, as a region meaning the West Indies, is to teamwork.

I also work at a Soca online shop, and it’s really hard to get all the albums, because there is no distribution. Most albums you only get from the artists themselves.

That’s one of the reasons why the music has not gone as far as it could go. For example you like a particular song, you go to the store and you cyan get it. But when you go on the street, someone has it for 20$ [TT$]. And the artist gets no money outa that. That’s why we don’t make a honest living.

So where’s the money coming from?

Massive behind the truckPerformances.You have to make sure that in the two months january and february [carnival season]you do your best. Even if you do your very best in this two months does not mean that you have a good year in terms of touring.You have to prove the foreign promoters, coming to Trinidad the last two weeks of carnival that you could mash up a crowd in New York, Atlanta or London. That is how hard it is. Last year you could be the biggest thing, this year your music is not that good to the public and they drop you like a hot potato.

That’s even harder for the traditional artists..

Exactly. Because if they are not in the game, if they are singing in the Calypso tents, where the audience come out to appreciate that kind of music, they don’t have a future after carnival. A promoter would not look to hire them unless the name is Black Stalin, Sparrow or Baron. These guys more or less sing about things which stretch further than carnival.

Is there a chance for Soca to go 12 months a year?

Ehhm.. phew..

.. that’s the direction right now.

Maximus Dan on the truckBut artists also need to know that they have to make the contribution.I’m not saying to ignore carnival, but when you’re writing the music, try to make something that stretch further than carnival monday or tuesday. Make the music timeless. Speak of topics the whole world could listen to and appreciate. Also don’t be afraid to go into the studio and record something after carnival. Try to be as consistant as possible.

Thank’s a lot for the interview.

Interview by Martin Stahl, pictures by Johannes Kückens, Mathis Kückens and Martin Stahl. Licenced under CC.