By Aminta Kilawan-Narine, esq.
I met Richard Ramsundar over 20 years ago when he first moved to my block in South Ozone Park, Queens. A kindergartner then, Richard was strong-willed yet pensive at times. I recall his mom playing “Doh Hold Meh Back” on repeat for Richard as she drove us home from school each afternoon. Despite being surrounded at school by people who didn’t look like him, Richard had an affinity for Caribbean music back then. With business smarts like his father, Bhola Ramsundar, and a winning personality like his mother Debbie Ramsundar, Richard has made a name for himself in the past few years as “Di Soca Analyst.”
In November 2016, after returning to the U.S. from a year of living in China, Richard was going through a rough patch. During his spare time, he’d meet with his friend Kendrix over drinks and have deep conversations about soca music. “Soca seemed to be the only thing that uplifted my mood,” said Richard. One day, he texted Kendrix and jokingly proposed filming their conversations for YouTube. Kendrix thought it was a good idea. Di Soca Analyst was birthed in Richard’s mind at that moment. A YouTube account was created. Richard and Kendrix filmed the very first video the following week.
Richard believes “there is this strange highly exaggerated stereotype of everyone from the Caribbean being Jamaican that simply does not define us correctly.” In fact, a 2014 Washington Post article presumed we all “speak like Bob Marley” There’s also racial and gender tensions that stem from a “beautiful but difficult history,” as Richard puts it. His goal? “To finally be able to bring people together with a common love for music and understanding of culture through education in a light-hearted, humorous and entertaining way.” What started out as a project purely for fun progressed into a movement of people who shared the same vision as Di Soca Analyst. A YouTube channel transformed into a podcast, Instagram and Twitter account. Di Soca Analyst’s followers became more like family.
Richard’s passion for soca music perhaps stems from a need to retain his cultural identity. He genuinely loves the musical genre, which spans many different islands and countries. Richard pointed out that even Japan makes their own version of soca music. This love for soca didn’t always exist. “Growing up with Guyanese parents, chutney music and very specific soca songs like Krazy’s “Nani Wine” have always been a part of my life but I did not really understand the true meaning of the music and culture.” In elementary and middle school, Richard was the only person of color in his class. “I experienced various forms of racial discrimination and in order to fit in, I chose to forsake all forms of my Indo-Caribbean culture and heritage. Things became so bad, that I was ashamed to tell people I was Guyanese and even began to dislike my own culture. Those earlier years of my life were difficult as I was trying to figure out who I was as a kid becoming a teenager,” he said.
When he began high school, Richard met his first group of Caribbean friends. They were integral in helping Richard find his culture. Richard’s first Caribbean friend was Indo-Trinidadian. “To be honest, I didn’t even know what Trinidad was back then. What stood out to me was that he had the same skin color as mine and his parents cooked the same food as mine. Meeting him and my other Caribbean friends lifted the feeling of isolation and shame I felt for so long.” Richard started listening to dancehall, chutney and soca music. He began going to more West Indian and Caribbean parties. “I immediately fell in love with sounds and vibes when the music played at parties. I began listening to soca more and more,” he said. He became the one who always had all the latest soca music, sometimes even downloading songs the day they released. After meeting DJ JEL, co-host of Di Soca Analyst, and DJ Lovaboi, soca became not just a genre of music, but a lifestyle. The bonds Richard made because of soca are what keep him hooked.
When I asked Richard whether he thinks soca music is demeaning to women he mentioned that Ras Shorty I created “sokah” to unify African and Indian men and women of the Caribbean by harmonizing music from both their cultures. Yet, in Caribbean culture, various forms of gender inequality and discrimination present themselves. Richard feels these forms of discrimination seeped into soca music, a male-dominated industry. “There are more songs now more than ever telling women to ‘wine and bend over,’” said Richard. “Now, understandably, this dance is a part of our culture. It is a dance meant to express sensuality and freedom. However, I feel there must be a balance of music and not an oversaturation of hypersexualized wining songs. Artists have to be much more creative and conscious when creating soca music if they want to be successful and truly use soca to bring people together.” said Richard. He cited artists like Voice, Teddyson John and LFS Music who demonstrate that “socially conscious” soca music is possible.
Richard believes men need to be properly educated “not to feel entitled to women’s bodies.” Men “should not use the lyrics of soca to justify wrongful actions against women,” he said. “We must work together to create a culture of respect towards women.” To Richard, soca has the power to uplift. He indicated that it’s the most uplifting genre of music he has ever heard. “The high tempo and upbeat sounds genuinely raise energies within people and make them feel good.” Richard said. “I’ve seen parties and events totally change once DJs start playing soca music.”
Richard initially used the art of photography to document his travels but upon his return to America in 2016, he began photographing for professional purposes. “I think there is a lack of truly creative and artistic photographic images that accurately portray Caribbean people. I chose photography because I genuinely want to create iconic and memorable images of soca artists and the people within my culture.” Among Richard’s proudest moments thus far have been photographing and meeting Kes from Kes the Band. He is also proud to work alongside soca artists who recognize, repost and credit his work including Machel Montano, Rupee, Bunji Garlin, Charly Black, Shenseea, Nailah Blackman, Patrice Roberts, Preedy, Marzville, Turner, Mr. Killa, Linky First and many more.
Richard’s favorite soca song of 2018? Full Ah Vibe by Voice and Marge Blackman. His favorite soca song of all time? Far From Finished by Voice. His work allows him the chance to travel – the biggest event he’s covered this year was a Machel Montano concert in Trinidad. Richard’s short-term goals are to continue growing his photography business and Di Soca Analyst while spreading his love for music. He is also considering going back to school to get a Master’s in Marketing and using the skills he learns to help Caribbean businesses. Richard’s long-term goal is to use his platform to truly unite Caribbean people and put an end to negative stereotypes, violence and gender inequality. “I want the world to know who we really are and I want us to be proud of everything our culture has to offer.”