Soca Superstar Kes Breaks Down Five Favorite Tracks From First Album in 10 Years: ‘It’s Time to Position Ourselves in a Global Way’

Last year, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of hip-hop with months of star-studded concerts, awards show tributes, museum exhibitions and more – but that wasn’t the only genre commemorating its golden anniversary in 2023. Soca – which Road March-winning Kes frontman Kees Dieffenthaller describes as “happy music, a young version of calypso… a mixture of Afro, Indian and ‘world’ beats in one place” — also celebrated its half-century milestone.  

To kick off the next 50 years of soca’s evolution, Kes has returned with its first studio album in ten years, Man With No Door. Inspired by a man who litter lived in a house with no door – whom Kes met while wandering around Trinidad and rediscovering his favorites places on the island – the new LP is a manifestation of that man’s energy. “He just lives free,” he says. “I felt like that creatively at the time. I am the man with no door. I want to create this world based on that experience.”

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The new album marks something of a renaissance for Kes. The band officially formed in 2005, and have for nearly two decades provided some of the most dominant Carnival anthems of the young century. From instant soca classics like “Wotless” (2011) to breezier tunes like “Hello” (2017), Kes’ singular sound and vibrant live show has lifted the band to international stages such as Essence Festival and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and collaborations with this likes of Wizkid and Snoop Dogg

Soca, of course, is infused with live instrumentation at its core. Although the genre has recently began to shift towards a producer-first bent, Kes remains steadfast in its commitment to upholding the legacy of live playing, especially in their studio recordings. “It goes back to the tradition of it all,” he muses. “In a band, you get to understand how different people play the same instruments differently. There is something very powerful about actually witnessing what that is, rather than [getting it] off a computer. Live instrumentation also give a unique blend and mix. You can’t play the same thing twice, it’s a fingerprint unique to that time and air. We can from that live world and that’s a big part of our entire act. I feel like there is a hidden language that is translated to people through live music.”

Although Man With No Door marks Kes’ first studio LP in a decade, they did release We Home – a joyous live album that reimagines the band’s catalog – during the pandemic (Aug. 28, 2020). During the same period, the band was also working on several singles that would eventually become part of Man With No Door. “Doing We Home was therapy,” Kes reveals. “I felt like I was closing a chapter in my creative life where I pay homage to the last decade of music that I did. [Doing] We Home while creating new music felt like death and a beginning at the same time. And both are glorious in their own way.” 

The new LP recruits a flashy list of guest stars to execute Kes’ “application” of soca across different styles and sonic traditions, including Shaggy, Queen Omega, Busy Signal, Dwala, Tano, J Perry and Michaël Brun. While Kes is most excited about “Rise Up,” a collaboration with fellow Trinbagonian Queen Omega, whose music he calls “powerful,” he also highlights his work with J. Perry and Michael Brun, noting, “We experienced freedom because of [Haiti]. I just really wanted them a part of the Caribbean of my experience musically. The language barrier and history have kept a lot of us apart, it was important for them to be on this record.” 

For Kes, Man With No Door is part of a concerted effort to usher in the next era of soca. Despite the genre’s storied history, its global crossover appeal has been somewhat limited, due to its allegiance to single releases timed to the Carnival season calendar. “We as a genre need to diversify all dimensions,” proclaims Kes. “Get some more energy outside of just the Carnival calendar situation, and step into Billboard and step into different venue spaces and create collabs that bridge gaps. It’s time for us to really position ourselves in a global way, and I think creating bodies of work is very important [for that].” 

“Everybody listens to soca. There’s that one soca song that caught someone’s ear that influenced the next studio session. We all know that,” Kes says. “[Soca] has provided the world with a particular energy that only it can provide. And there’s still so much of the word that is yet to discover it.”  

Keep reading to find out the stories behind Kes’ five favorite tracks on the band’s brand new Man With No Door album, told in his own words.