Toronto-based soca artist Ms. Paige’s past, present and future is firmly rooted in music. Born Ashley Natasha Paige Johnson to six-time Juno Award nominee Debbie Johnson, she also counts crooners Ed and Angela Johnson as her grandparents. (Ed. Note: Trinidadians and Tobagonians of an older era will remember this pair fondly.)
While some Millennials disdain the success and career path of their forebears, Ms. Paige is strongly attached to her heritage. Music is in her DNA, as she told Share in a recent interview.
“There was never a moment in time when I didn’t want to do music professionally.”
Ms. Paige’s upbringing was arguably typical of that of singers’ children: she played in her mother’s recording studio and dressing room, and her favourite toy was, unquestionably, a microphone.
But her childhood wasn’t all recreation. At five, she learned to play the piano and wrote her first songs. At 10, she did three recordings for David Suzuki’s Amazing Journey album and then three more for “Sesame Street”. And it was the dabble with the latter, which Ms. Paige now describes as that “one little bite of the studio”, that solidified her interest in pursuing music seriously.
In 2004, she added soca to her repertoire. “I may have been born and raised in Canada, but growing up in my house was a little bit of Trinidad,” she said. “Why not do something different and incorporate my family’s heritage from Trinidad with my passion for music and R&B?”
By fusing R&B and soca, Ms. Paige is certainly an international artist. Her past shows have included gigs at Toronto’s Rivoli and the Caribana ‘Carnival In Yuh Backyard’ event, as well as Trinidad & Tobago’s Independence Day celebrations.
Regardless of genre, writing is key to her craft.
“As a songwriter, when you’re singing and people are singing along to the lyrics that you’ve written, I don’t know, I can’t explain it. It’s almost surreal.”
She cites Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey and Edwin Yearwood as musical influences, the latter for his use of double entendres, a mainstay in soca. “I find that he really infuses the use of double entendres into his work which, I think, is the backbone of calypso and soca music,” she said of Yearwood.
Ms. Paige has a positive view of soca’s place here in Toronto, which doesn’t come at the expense of a lack of place in Trinidad. “I think that Toronto is the mecca for soca,” she said. “I mean, yes, it originated in Trinidad and that is the heart of soca, but when it comes to supporting musical artists in this genre from all over the world, I really think that Toronto hosts a lot of the tastemakers for the success of the genre and we really are building our own artists now.”
Toronto has a vibrant music scene, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get exposure. “People often think that the city where you’re from is the easiest place to break and get the support, but really, you have to prove yourself here regardless of whether you are from here, when it comes to soca,” said Ms. Paige. “Because, as I said, I believe that this is where all the tastemakers are and regardless of whether you’re from here or you’re from foreign, you gotta come strong.”
While soca is indeed a popular style, outsiders often relegate it to specific events and times.
“It’s unfortunate that soca is often seen as a seasonal genre, and that’s definitely something that I would hope to have an impact on changing, especially with combining the two genres,” she said. “I think that it makes for an eclectic style that can really be brought to the mainstream.”
And, as Ms. Paige says, when it comes to changing the conventional ideas of soca, you gotta come strong.