On her latest release, Sokah, Nailah Blackman is giving more than a passing nod to her roots.
At a time when soca music has become the sound of the Caribbean and is filtering into the music of global artists such as Drake, the granddaughter of the late Ras Shorty I, creator of soca music, the 19-year-old is reminding everyone where it all began.
And in doing so, she is taking her family’s legacy on her slim shoulders as she looks toward international superstardom.
Sokah, spelt the way Shorty originally did, features Len Boogsie Sharpe on pan and Mungal Patasar on Sitar and will be among seven songs on her first EP of the same name.
The title of her song and album signifies a passing of the baton from her grandfather to her mother and now to her.
“This project is so close to my heart because my mother, Abbi Blackman, when I was a child, had her own brand, she would make crochet bags and clothes and sandals, she had her whole brand which she called Sokah which was the original spelling that my grandfather created and it had the influence of the soul of calypso, which is where they got the SO and the KAH which as the East Indian influence which is divine in Hindi.
“When they changed the spelling my mum never let go of the old spelling. I am into fashion as well. I sew and design my own outfits and two years ago my mum said she is getting older and she doesn’t want her brand to die and she wants me to take it and make it my own. So I was hell-bent from since then that Sokah was going to be my brand. Now I am in the soca arena doing Sokah, my first album, my first EP, has to be so meaningful,” she said, revealing that Sokah will also be the name of her band.
Blackman will launch the band and EP on her 20th birthday on December 2 at a concert called Sokah Origins on San Fernando Hill.
The entire Blackman clan, including her uncle Sheldon, who lives in Norway, is expected to be at the event.
“The whole idea of Sokah is educating people about the origins of it, ‘cause a lot of people hear soca music and they love it and they have no idea where it came from or what it means or who created it or anything like that and I really want to bring awareness to that by making it my movement,” she said.
Blackman said though she sang soca and calypso in school, she was turned off by the fight down and crab in barrel behaviour that competition brings so she tried to stay away from it.
“I hate competitions,” she declared, revealing that her producer /manager Anson Soverall forced her to do Soca Monarch this year for exposure.
“I believe if I am a professional in what I do the music should speak for itself,” she said.
Reflecting on her life since she burst out on the Carnival scene with “Workout”, a collaboration with Kees Dieffenthaller, Blackman has maintained a busy schedule with gigs all over the country and a strategic release of two singles: “Baila Mami” and “Badish” with Jamaican singer Shensea.
She credits Soverall for her rise on the local entertainment scene and her transition from an acoustic singer/songwriter.
“It definitely was part of a carefully designed strategy made by my manager/producer Anson Soverall. He had a vision of what was his plan to make me a household name and he knows exactly what to do to keep me going,” she said.
“I went to different studios, different producers and I said I want to do Soca cause I felt it was right being the granddaughter of Shorty and they all said it would spoil me, everyone tried to discourage me and Anson was the first person I went to that said ‘let’s do this, I know exactly what to do to make you popular’,” she recalled.
The first strategy was to get Blackman a good song with someone who was popular and they started the songwriting process in October last year along with fellow artistes Xone and Mical Teja.
Blackman said she expected the song to be big as it was full of life.
The follow-up song, “Baila Mami”, on the Parallel Riddim, was also big and again she credits Soverall for that song since she wanted to go in a whole other direction.
“I wanted to come out with a pop summer song and he was no, you need to come out with a local soca/dancehall/pop song that will make you international but local at the same time.”
“I took it hard at first but I was like Nailah you are trying to pay some rent so I went back to the drawing board and I asked myself what do you want and I wanted people to know my name so what’s better than having a song with a title that rhymes with your name,” she said, noting that Soverall helped with the structure and also wrote the bridge. Preedy completed the song with an addition to the chorus.
Everything she has done this year has been setting the stage for Blackman to launch her career internationally and she revealed she has caught the attention of some big labels. She also has plans to perform more abroad with European gigs already booked for 2018. To aid in those goals she approached Lorraine O’Connor to manage her as well. Connor has worked with the likes of Machel Montano and Calypso Rose.
“Anson and I have a three-year goal and we believe that by the end of the three years I will be an international star,” she said. “I want to be an international superstar. I am an international superstar, the world just does not know it yet.”
By Laura Dowrich-Phillips