Caribbean Beat Magazine

Skinny Fabulous: “You have to pay attention to your hook”

Gamal “Skinny Fabulous” Doyle, five-time St Vincent soca monarch, on the importance of a catchy song, the short lifespan of a hit, and what makes Vincy mas unique — as told to Tracy Assing

  • Skinny Fabulous. Photograph by Jaryd Niles-Morris 540i,

I grew up in Lodge Village. All my roots are from the Leeward coast of St Vincent, Chateaubelair. Most of my significant childhood memories are from there, given that every chance my mom had, that’s where we went, to be with family.

After I left secondary school, I did community college. Then I went to the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. I did media and communications. I graduated in 2010.

In between, I worked at a call centre as a supervisor, trying to sell credit cards. Then I worked at a radio station, NBC, which is the St Vincent National Broadcasting Corporation.

I was an announcer, so I had a one-to-six shift: read the news, prepared the sports package, all of that. The show was called “One to Six in the Mix with Skinny Fabulous”. But that’s not where the nickname started. My friends used to actually call me “Tin Beef”. The joke behind it is that I was very skinny at the time. I am still very skinny.

So the name Skinny Fabulous is because I am a magga man.

I started out with dancehall. Even before I went to Jamaica as a student, I went there to try to link with some of the producers. Back then I worked with a group called Daseca: Craig and David Harrisingh and Serani. I pegged my dreams on that Jamaican trip, and it didn’t really work out — because you quickly get that slap of reality. If you are not a Jamaican it is extremely hard for you to get that dancehall respect.

But when I came back to St Vincent I thought maybe the best approach was to fuse my lil’ love for dancehall into a genre that would be readily accepted by my geographical space, which is Vincy, Trinidad, that whole circuit. So I started doing soca, but very rough, very aggressive soca. Which I still kinda do, but I am a toned-down soca artiste now compared to the rough, edgy Skinny Fabulous I once was.

The first year, what I would consider my “buss” year [2008], I don’t think I have felt that level of excitement within myself again. I haven’t gotten a repeat of that. That was the first year that I won the St Vincent Soca Monarch title, with a song called “Head Bad”.

In terms of my popularity in Trinidad and in the region, perhaps 2013 is one of the better years. But for me, in terms of my accomplishments, I think nothing can beat that first year that I got a hit song, that I was able to travel the region and the US and parts of Europe.

For the eleven professional years that I’ve been doing music, I’ve written all of my own material. I only recently started writing for others. I spend a lot of time in the studio. That’s what persons don’t realise. To come up with one song, that one hit song is probably a product of many other songs that weren’t so successful. And some persons get lucky and they go in and do one song, and that one song catch.

I think artistes around the world, it doesn’t matter what genre they doing, they now have to pay attention to hooks. The music is so fast-paced right now. A hit only lasts a few months, if that long, these days. By the time you like one song, there’s another hit song to follow that, to erase that.

So you have to pay attention to your hook. You need on that first play, you need persons to fall in love with your tune. A catchy hook will force you to find melodies.

I used to concentrate a lot on lyrics and the hardcore metaphors and those punch lines in lyrics, but now I try my best to fuse lyrics with a very catchy hook, so it is easier for persons to accept it and like it.

As a Vincentian musician, I have produced the largest quantity of music for the season for the last six years. Some artistes in Vincy are accustomed to releasing one or two songs. I would probably do about five or six in that time.

2012 was the year of “Six Thirty” and “Monster”, which we remixed with Machel [Montano] as well. This year, was “General” and “Behaving D Worst”.

I from St Vincent, you know. That mean I rough. The good news is, I have figured out how to turn sweet melodies while maintaining that aggressive-type partying. Yeah, show me your worst behaviour!

Vincy Carnival is very different to Trinidad and Tobago — the mecca of soca music. You can’t go around the fact that [Trinidad’s] is the biggest Carnival. But Vincy Mas now, our Carnival — when we touch the road, we touch the road to party hard, and persons who come from the rural side or who just not into the party scene, that’s the time you see those persons come and behave the worst.

We also have a thing called rural carnival, where the whole big truck and all that scene starts from the countryside, they have their own route to come into town, and by the time they reach into Kingstown, that’s it — madness. If you take a bird’s-eye view of revellers behind a truck on a Carnival Monday, it might be easy to mistake it for a riot. We don’t party pretty and chip down the road normal.

I guess I am now stuck in a mindset that can only view a crowd as a potential workspace. So it’s hard for me to step back from being a music provider to being a spectator.

I think Vincy mas is going to be very good this year, considering that consistently we have been producing songs that are being accepted outside, and there’s a new sense of pride from Vincentians towards their own music too.

They are no longer shy to be in a soca party, and say, yes, I am from St Vincent, and we bad. We have ting.