Alison Hinds: Born Wit it

By :- Janette Brin

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By Carlie Ester

We’ve crossed paths before, and though I’ve been a loyal subject my whole life I’ve never quite had an intimate moment to sit and chat with the Queen of Soca.

I was raised on mix tapes with the Proclaimers proximate to Red Plastic Bag, “Volcano” consecutive to “Hooked On A Feeling” and “Faluma” toasting the grand finale before the tape clicked and rolled to side B. With such a genre rich diet of music, today I find myself sitting on a wooden bench beneath a canopy of palm trees in metropolitan Barbados, eager for an audience with one of the region’s most prolific entertainers. There’s anticipation – will she be dressed sharply to a T, with full makeup and stomping heels? Will she have an entourage?

She is nothing of what you expect and all of it at the same time, dressed in a flowing silvery top and jeans, hair carrying subtle highlights of blue, oozing regal confidence. In her first gush of breath she apologizes - “Sorry I am late – I was helping my daughter with her homework.”

In this split second the castle walls come crashing down, and I am face to face with the real Queen: a mother, wife, friend.

She’s won all kinds of accolades, some which celebrated this song or that album, others that measured the seismic contribution she has made to music and culture, including a citation of excellence from the city of New York.

She’s birthed and raised a beautiful daughter, now 9 years old, and has been married to the love of her life for almost a decade.

She is an industry veteran with over twenty years experience, yet she attacks every carnival season as lustfully as it were her first. After all, music is really all she’s ever known. Soon after leaving secondary school, Andy “Young Blood” Armstrong inspired a sheepish but talented Alison to enter the Richard Stoute Teen Talent contest. It may be hard to envision, but the teenaged version of Alison was so quiet you would neither see nor hear her. Like a pearl still clammed up inside her shell, Andy helped to crack her into shape, choosing songs and attending rehearsals. Though she didn’t place first, she was a finalist and as soon as the curtain dropped on that contest Andy invited her to join Square One. Yet to blow the candles on her eighteenth birthday, Alison had already made the finals in a major local competition and joined what would become one of the most memorable soca bands to hit the club scene and the world.

Performing with Square One coaxed her out of her shell, polished her and presented her to the world as the princess that would one day take the role of Queen. Nowadays of course, she’s known for her indomitable command of a stage, her bumper rolling capability and ability to stir a crowd. It comes as no surprise when she says she prefers the stage to studio any day. “You have the band, the excitement of the audience, the loudness, you step on stage and when everything works on stage it just works so perfectly… When everything comes together it is the best feeling in the world….When you finish it’s like you finish on a high.”

When Square One hit the club scene, soca music was on a serious high. In Barbados, Ali and the band were booked at the hottest clubs (such as Pier 29, the original Warehouse, Apple Experience, Reggae Lounge, Coach House and the main staple: Ship Inn.) The After Dark club was like the anchor of St Lawrence Gap for her, but she confesses cheekily: “I wasn’t even old to go in After Dark…I was singing and I was not old enough!”

Square One also got major props when they were booked as the backing band during Barbados’ Crop Over season for the Untouchables Tent. As a tent accustomed to hosting mature musicians, there was some cynicism when the youngsters led by Andy and Alison were booked. “We had a point to prove. We stepped on the stage and from night one right away through we made sure we had everything nailed, on point. We won over all of those people who thought that we were too young.”

This was just the beginning. Once, a wealthy Swede who decided to host a “Caribbean themed” party for his birthday flew the entire band to perform at a lavish palace for him and his illustrious guests…who included the King and Queen of Sweden. She lists off other European countries they toured like an atlas.

But one of her most notable career tokens has to be the song that follows her everywhere she goes. This is the song that was phonetically memorized by every Caribbean person alive in 1998, the track that was replayed on every mix tape in my own home…

Faluma ding ding ding...

Sung in the language of the Saamaka tribe in Suriname, the song represents the fascinating diversity of the Caribbean. Alison chronicles learning “Faluma” on her first trip to Suriname. Whenever she ventured into a new territory she’d try to learn the most popular local song. In Suriname, it was “Faluma”, and even though she had no idea what the language was she learnt it off of the phonetics. “When we did that performance in Suriname people lost their mind, the show was completely sold out…people to the rafters…They also had it live on TV and they also had it live on radio so it basically went all over Suriname. When we performed that song, they couldn’t believe it. They couldn’t believe that an English speaking, Eastern Caribbean band would be able to perform their music for them.”

The cheers in the intro to “Faluma” are a legitimate recording of the real people who were at the concert the night that she first performed the hit.

That was then, and her performances are just as powerful now. Her fans dubbed her Soca Queen for a reason, and she takes that responsibility very seriously. Alison keeps in touch with her fans from all over the world with facebook, twitter (@AlisonHinds) and instagram.

Soca may our bread and butter in the Caribbean and Alison our Queen, but it’s still a sub genre globally and a microcosm in the multibillion dollar music industry. Though this is the genre that took her to world, she expresses comfort, even a desire to step outside of that box. Having already done a couple of reggae tracks, namely “King And Queen” with Richie Spice, she knows as an entertainer, she can’t limit herself to just soca. To expand her horizons, Alison is currently promoting her fashionista debut with a hot new “Born Wit It” tee shirt line, as well as her acting debut in the Barbadian produced psychological thriller “Two Smart”. Playing a complex character undergoing emotional ups and downs, this film will showcase Alison Hinds in a whole new spotlight, and it is scheduled for release in Barbados in early 2014.

We know that whatever changes come to Alison Hinds throughout her life, from becoming a mother to blossoming into a fearless entertainer and actress, one thing is certain: she was born wit it.

 

 

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