The Jimmy October Project | Snapshot

“New Calypso” is how twenty-four-year-old Jimmy October describes his genre-bending music — a sound that feels like “home” to listeners in Trinidad and Tobago but also appeals to international audiences. Laura Dowrich-Phillips learns more

  • Jimmy October, musical genre-bender. Photo by Olajuwon Scott, courtesy Jimmy October
  • Photo by Olajuwon Scott, courtesy Jimmy October
  • Photo by Olajuwon Scott, courtesy Jimmy October
  • Photo by Olajuwon Scott, courtesy Jimmy October

As he tells it, L’shun Emmanuel — better known by his stage name, Jimmy October — fell in love with music at a very young age. “It was my first love, basically,” he says, recalling his childhood in Sangre Grande, east Trinidad. “I would always sing with my mom when I was growing up, and that’s really how I realised I had a voice, and that this was something I could really do.

“My influences are sort of spread out between genres, because I listen to so many different styles of music, and I feel connected to different artists for different reasons. So it ranges from Frank Ocean, Kanye West, PartyNextDoor, Drake, Kid Cudi, to Bob Marley, Protoje, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Machel Montano,” he says. 

Having discovered his voice, October decided music was his destiny. “This is something I was chosen to do. It’s a part of my purpose, it’s a part of why I’m here on earth. As a youth, I started making R&B at first and then hip-hop, and now I’ve coined a sub-genre which is New Calypso. I’m more into genre-bending and doing whatever feels right to me, and not thinking about creating within some box that they try to put me in,” he explains. 

“I’m trying to evolve every day, and pull from different experiences in my life and the things I enjoy and the things that are in front of me. That’s the core of where the music comes from. So it’s not me thinking if I want to do a hybrid of genres of whatever. It’s art to me. It’s how I express myself.

“I want people to know that my music is gonna change as time goes by. It’s not always gonna sound the same. It’s going to depend on where my mind is at, and what I’m feeling, and that’ll cause the sound to evolve as I evolve. It’s just the way it works,” he says, describing himself as half-art, half-human.

In the music world, Trinidad and Tobago is known mainly for soca and calypso. But in recent years, younger artists have been taking the influences of those genres and fusing them with hip-hop, R&B, rock, and soul to create a hybrid but distinctly Caribbean sound.

From Nailah Blackman — with her new EP The Reel, which blends soca with Afrobeat and pop — to producer David Millien’s Soundwave genre, incorporating a variety of percussive instruments, this new generation is experimenting and bending genres in an attempt to find a sound that will stick in the ears of global tastemakers.

Jimmy October, now twenty-four, is one of those artistes, rapidly evolving into a singer operating outside traditional parameters, as he pushes the envelope. And his efforts are paying off.

An early break came in 2014, when he was invited to perform a spoken-word poem as an opening act for Machel Montano’s Carnival spectacular Machel Monday. Other gigs began to materialise, and then October caught the ears of US EDM (electronic dance music) DJ Steve Aoki, via the DJ trio Bad Royale, who spent some time in T&T working with various artistes.

October collaborated with Aoki on the track “On Time”, released on his album Kolony on the Mad Decent label in July 2017. October appeared in the “On Time” video using footage shot in Trinidad, and digitally transposed into a cloudy dreamscape. He also impressed Jamaican reggae star Protoje, whom he performed alongside at his New Wave event in Trinidad in 2018. October subsequently signed with Protoje’s label In.Digg.Nation Collective and Delicious Vinyl Island, the new Caribbean music imprint from iconic rap label Delicious Vinyl, for his debut EP Vacation. That EP introduced fans to October’s sound, dubbed New Calypso.

“I was doing this interview a while ago to prep for a song release, and one of the questions was ‘What do you call your style of music?’ That’s when I decided to share with the world that I called my music New Calypso,” October says. “That’s just something I came up with since I was creating Vacation, because it’s what I feel like that sound feels like. It feels like home.” 

Vacation was produced by Tano, the producer behind “No One” — the single that got T&T singer Kalpee a distribution deal with Sony Middle East — and this year’s Kes and Shenseea single “Close to Me”, among many others. October says Tano is half responsible for the New Calypso sound, which they created together.

“He had known me when I was rapping, and he asked what my island type of music would sound like. I had the beats for Vacation for months . . .  If it feels a certain way to me, then that is what it is,” he says. 

October has been pushing himself to make music that feels like “home,” but not singing only about Trinidadian or Caribbean references. He is making music for all people, all colours, all races, all cultures, he explains.

Operating outside the soca industry is no easy task for T&T artistes. It takes determination, consistency, and hard work to build a following and get the attention of event promoters. 

“If you make soca music, and your aim is to perform for fetes for Carnival, then you have this entire festival and list of events and also attention of people that’s waiting to receive music — because everybody is hyped about the entire thing,” he says. “It’s a bit different [for me], because I’m the one responsible for actually building energy up and creating that anticipation in the fans to feel connected and be ready for new music. I don’t see it as just a con, but I kinda see it as a pro as well, because that helps me actually organically build a fanbase of folks that care about my music and about me as an artist.” 

And when it comes to an international market, he thinks there is a level playing field for all. “The world is paying more attention to Caribbean artists than we may actually realise, and I’m not just talking about one particular type of music. “On Time” [from the Steve Aoki album] was a song that was a mixture of EDM and hip-hop. It actually shows we can do the stuff we want to if we believe and push ourselves to really get it done, without thinking about what the limits are, but focusing on the long-term goals.

“I’m really trying to bend genres and create music that can represent who I am, and give that to the world. That’s it. Success follows the hard work.”

October says he feels it’s about time to put out another body of work, and then do shows and performances around that new project with his band, making the whole thing an experience. But if you’re dying to know what else he has up his sleeve, you need to link with him on social media — that’s where he prefers to give his fans first dibs on whatever he’s doing.

“I get a lot of fulfilment from communicating to my fans in my own way, so they can really feel more closely connected. So I’ll just say to whoever is reading this — turn those post notifications on, and be ready.”