Soca On The High Seas: Ubersoca Cruise Takes Genre To Uncharted Waters

5 Star Akil kicks off J’ouvert on the Beach with an energetic performance on Bay Beach in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.( Photo by Mikhael Simmonds)

How often do you get to see The Caribbean King of Comedy, Majah Hype and Red Bull Thre3Style 2016 World Champion, DJ Puffy on the same stage? How about a basketball game between soca star Lyrikal and soca ambassador, DJ Private Ryan? What about the queen of bacchanal, Destra, performing with almost 20 other fellow artists in a spontaneous sing-along? Well, this all happened on just one day of the inaugural, Ubersoca Cruise which sailed from Miami, Florida to Ocho Rios, Jamaica last year.

By every indication,the five-day fete on the water will be even bigger and better in 2017.

“We really want Ubersoca to be a staple in the calendar when it comes to soca,” said Ubersoca’s Public Relations and Marketing Director Jodi Covington. “We wanted to recreate the some of the best Caribbean experiences on a cruise ship. Not just the carnival aspect, but also the culture aspect, the food aspect. You know the family and fun aspect.”

The cruise was as much about the ‘culture’ of soca as it was about the music. One could enjoy the dance traditions of the colorfully dressed Bermudian Gombeys and moko jumbies (stilt walkers) as well as the sound of sweet steel pan during signature parties like Midnight Mas, Rum and Music and the Ultimate All White Affair.

The nautical experience also featured live performances from the likes of Kerwin Dubois, Ricardo Drue, Patrice Roberts, Teddyson John, Rupee, Ravi B and Edwin Yearwood among others.

Passengers from across the United States, Europe and the Caribbean came aboard the 13-deck, 965-foot Norwegian Pearl to experience this full cruise ship charter exclusively dedicated to this genre of Caribbean music.

“This was an amazing experience! It showed the world that soca is here.It lives. It breathes and it is a beautiful thing,” said Natasha Andrews, an entertainment consultant who manages Lyrikal.

Last year’s inaugural cruise sailing from Miami to Ocho Rios was arguably largest soca music festival at sea to date. This year, Ubersoca cruisers will sail from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s, Carnival Sensation from November 16th — 20th.

Here’s why you should put this cruise on your 2017 travel calendar.

Waiting on De Stage’

Enthusiastic passengers danced while boarding the Norwegian Pearl at PortMiami, Florida. (Photo by Mikhael Simmonds)

The Ubersoca Cruise is the brainchild of Bermudian entrepreneur Nathaniel Turner. It was his belief that “soca has an energy that is unrivaled by any other music genre in the world,” which propelled him to act in 2015 after several years of considering an all soca cruise. Turner then recruited Covington and fellow entrepreneur Daniel Reece to bring his plan to life.

With the success of Damian Marley’s Welcome To JamRock reggae cruise, which is now in its fourth year, and several other cruises that focus on different musical genres, this trio was optimistic that the support for soca music would be there. Together, they created alliances with top soca disc jockeys, artists and their managers as well as cruise industry professionals to create a one-of-a-kind experience.

“It was a big task because not only did we have to in essence, sell cabins we had to brand it,” Covington said. “It’s a new product. No one heard of us…We had to build trust, build loyalty and develop relationships all at the same time as selling cabins.”

Sure, soca music events have been hosted on cruise ships before, but only making use of a part of the ship or sailing for a few hours. However, a full-fledged, multi-day cruise on a major cruise line was something new altogether and many wondered if they could actually pull it off.

By the time the cruise came around, the 18 months this team spent planning and their strategic international promotions paid off. An all-star line up of 45 soca artists and DJs not only performed but participated in the more than a dozen ship activities scheduled each day.

Phenomenal’ Events And On-Board Experiences

Whether it was the warm welcome aboard by the drumming and dancing of a Bermudian Gombey troupe, laughing out loud at Majah Hype during the theater turn-up comedy show or reciting every word to ‘Stamp Yah Name’ as Ricardo Drue sang and those signature robotic moko jumbies danced in the background, the array of entertainment provided by The Ubersoca Cruise was nothing short of phenomenal.

There was also the fact that you could do Socacize workouts just about every morning, hear soca music playing throughout the ship 24hours a day or enjoy a refreshing coconut water all while sailing off the coast of Cuba!

Ubersoca’s Public Relations and Marketing Director Jodi Covington answers questions from an engaged audience after the Talking Soca Panel. This panel featured Ravi B., Destra, Majah Hype, Ricardo Drue, Kevin Lyttle, Barrie Hype and DJ Puffy among others. (Photo by Mikhael Simmonds)

The Ubersoca cruise had something for every soca lover or learner, every hour of the day — literally. For me, although I have been ‘chippin down de road’ in Carnival costumes as a masquerader since I could walk and listening to soca music for over 25 years, I must say that there was just something special about being able to have a drink, break bread or just lime (hang out) with the artists and DJ’s who create and play my favorite genre of music.

Speaking of food, Ubersoca Cruise organizers also worked with Norwegian Cruise line to ensure that foods like jerk chicken, rice and peas and curried chicken were incorporated into the menu at some of the restaurants onboard. Attendees also had the opportunity to compete in sports tournaments, test their skills in soca bingo or take the soca DJ 101 tutorial while the ship was at sea.

The Gombey Evolution Troupe parades along the dock in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Gombey tradition, born in Bermuda, traces in heritage to back West Africa.( Photo by Mikhael Simmonds)

When we docked in Jamaica, J’ouvert on the Beach was one of the highlights of the trip. In the spirit of the traditional pre-dawn street party which takes place annually during Carnivals around the world, feters created a scene of people covered in red paint and powder on Bay Beach, as Kes and 5Star Akil performed their hearts out.

“I feel this is the next evolution of soca and Caribbean culture events,” said cruise-goer Will J, who flew to Miami from London to be a part of the inaugural experience. The self-proclaimed Carnival junkie said that in his opinion, this cruise is a natural progression for Caribbean entertainment and he will definitely be back on board this year.

The distinct array of onboard activities on the entertainment schedule were thoroughly enjoyed by artists and DJs alike. “I think it’s an excellent opportunity for all the artists to come together because we don’t really get that time together,” said Trinidadian soca songstress Patrice Roberts. “It’s like a little mini-vacation for us because we’re touring and giving the fans what they want. Now we get to give the fans a little of us, but still enjoy it with the fans while liming and having a time.”

Many other performers shared similar sentiments and remarked that they don’t often get the opportunity to unplug and come together as a collective.

Unforgettable’ Connections and Collaborations

Beyond the seamlessly produced events or the big names onboard, there was a great sense of community fostered on the cruise. That, and a collective excitement from attendees about working together as purveyors of soca music and Caribbean culture in general to take the genre to the next level globally.

“Whether you came on the cruise alone as some did or with a group of friends, everyday onboard the cruise the vibes were nice and it felt like family,” said Dharrion Newton from Brooklyn, New York. “Music brings people together and it’s about time that this music, sweet soca is on this pedestal.”

“I never thought that in all of my years of doing soca that I would do something like this, so we have to thank the folks of the Ubersoca Cruise who had the vision to bring soca on something like a cruise. It is a blessing and a huge accomplishment in the soca music industry,” said veteran soca DJ Back To Basics.

As the soca music industry continues to grow, the creators of The Ubersoca Cruise say they want it to be a pillar supporting the genre’s expansion and the overall appeal of Caribbean cultural experiences, not only to the region and its diaspora, but to cultures around the globe.

Soaked in red paint, these Cayman Islanders take some time off to pose for the camera during J’ouvert on the beach in Ocho Rios. (Photo by Mikhael Simmonds)

“The power of Caribbean cultural experiences lies in that palpable positive energy,” said Covington. “Packaging it in a cruise environment makes it available in a way it couldn’t be accessed before, and as a result we’re able to put soca artists and DJs where they haven’t been previously and introduce them to new audiences and destinations.”

From fetes to food and the feeling of family, The Ubersoca Cruise encapsulates the essence of several Caribbean cultural experiences nicely wrapped in one. It is poised to become a staple event for those seeking a truly unique cultural experience — Caribbean style. And, according to Covington, this year will indeed be even better and full of many surprises.

“We like to stay tight lipped about what we have in store for Ubersoca cruisers,” Covington said, but noted that “passengers can expect an increased entertainment lineup, several brand new events, and a beautiful new destination, as we take the Ubersoca energy to Cozumel, Mexico”.

For more information on the Ubersoca Cruise, visit www.ubersocacruise.com.

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Melissa Noel is an award-winning Guyanese American journalist based between New York City and a Caribbean island near you. Follow her on Twitter @noelknowswell .

Mikhael Simmonds is a native of Trinidad and Tobago and currently works as a multimedia international journalist in NYC. Follow him on Instagram @miksphotos.