I was curious about the Dutch Soca Lovers, also known as DSL, ever since I first encountered them in 2010 at Berlin Carnival. All I knew about them was that they are a Dutch group of passionate Soca lovers, from all different Caribbean backgrounds.
DSL’s website states, “Our main focus is to promote all the activities that we are doing in Holland, UK, Germany, France and Sweden to promote Soca Music and our Caribbean Culture”.
That is so true and what you will learn is that the Dutch Soca Lovers are one big passionate family crew. They are also your ‘last lapper’s’, your ‘last man standing’, the ‘knights of the round table’, a ‘force majeure’. Almost the pioneers of self-promotion, as literally the DSL grew and raised a profile, seemingly, moving in a large crew and parading around in t-shirts bearing their logo. They are indeed a Super Crew as I don’t know of any others that move in such big numbers. The DSL has the capacity to group in their hundreds, not 5 or 6 like my crew. So Super Crew is the official title that I am giving them, as their fearless impact, energy and power to draw their t-shirt members to follow, is phenomenal. With so little information available and after years of watching them grow, I decided to contact the team to find out more and to meet the creators of this crew. So I was excited to try and learn more about this ‘Super Crew‘ – the Dutch Soca Lovers, and their undeniable force in the transition of Soca in The Netherlands.
The DSL founders
Saira and Bryan are extremely passionate about DSL; whilst it is only comprised of a small team, they manage everything together, hence probably why it works. Saira is known as the “Soca Mama”, but this title is not solely born of motherly instinct to naturally nurture, but because she truly believes in DSL; the passion goes way beyond the call of duty. Her partner of 12 years Bryan D’Soca Lyon also runs DSL and equally as passionate. Bryan is a DJ on the Soca circuit and represents the DSL through his DJ’ing activities, but an excellent and revered DJ in his own right, whilst also ensuring fun and respectfulness is equally shared throughout all DSL members.
“We are DSL, we stick together, we respect each other, we love one another, we support one another, we are crazy and we mash up any party”.Saira Koolman, DSL Founder, 2017
That is essentially their ethos….. welcome to the Dutch Soca Lovers.
The ‘Dutch Soca Lovers’ (DSL) Interview
There is so little written information you all, but everyone knows who you are, know that you are definitely a force to be reckoned with and that you are very well represented when you travel. So this is a chance for all to get to understand who you are and answer all those unknown questions.
So first tell me about you both. How did this all start & what gave you the idea to start-up DSL?
We have been together for 12 years now, but to tell you about how it started I have to explain the origins. Basically, a lot of people migrated from the Dutch, English and French-speaking islands to settle in The Netherlands, in the eighties, in particular, to study. From that generation, there was a group of Trinis and Arubans living in Holland that used to organize Soca parties and Limes in Amsterdam. The late Mr. Warner (father of Joyce Cruden Warner), started Triniconnection carnival group and they would organize a yearly soca fete before Zomercarnival parade. When I came to Holland in 2001, I immediately got involved with my Aruban carnival roots. In 2003. together with my cousin Rossini van Wijk, we started Kingdoms Under The Sun Carnival group, where we promoted our Aruban carnival traditions on the road for Zomercarnival. I had also used to attend several soca fetes in Rotterdam organized by young students and promoters from St Maarten. Additionally, there was also an Aruban promoter who was organizing carnival fetes for the Aruban students, but we wanted more soca, and we knew there were more soca junkies out there.
We literally began the search to find people who have a common ground in that genre of music. Back then, we used Hyves to find people and was one of the first and pioneering social media applications in The Netherlands, somewhat similar in functionality to Facebook/MySpace and was being used by two-thirds of the population back then. Bryan would literally go searching for people who identified with the Caribbean or used Soca in their name, contacting them and building a database of like-minded individuals and inviting them to our parties that we began to put on. This was not DSL yet but definitely the beginning. In 2009 the Soca Twins came over for a festival and we were introduced to them, subsequently, we were invited to come to Berlin carnival. The following year (2010), we came to Berlin Carnival, which back then was not very big; and rented a van and 8 of us drove to the carnival. Fortunately, reggae was big in Germany and soca was growing fast thanks to DJ Barney Millah, who introduced soca in Berlin. This was further endorsed by DJ D-One who is Trini living in Holland, Herbalize it for Reggae and Jam Masters for soca, who said that we should go as it’s a nice little lime. We also had friends from France, Sweden and the UK who were going and friends in the UK, in particular, DJ Tate and Digga D
We arrived on a Saturday and went straight to Glow fete with our white shirts. However, it was a culture shock to see a majority crowd of Germans with hardly any Caribbeans jumping to Soca, sporting a Jamaican or Trinidadian accent and jumping with Caribbean flags! We went with our Aruban, St Maarten and Curacao flags; a number of people did not recognise our flags and kept asking where these flags were from. The result was that we all embraced each other, we connected and become friends; we got to know each other through the mutual love of Soca, vibes and culture. On the road Carnival day, it was mostly Germans. The ones from the Caribbean backgrounds were either from the UK, France and our small group from Holland. Once we left, we wholeheartedly decided that we were going to go back the following year and vowed to help promote Berlin KDK. So started our great teamwork with Hendrik, Andre, Benny and DJ Tate from Carnival Fever.
Is Soca vs Dancehall your brand? If not, how are you associated/affiliated with this event?
No, it is not our brand, but we are affiliated with our attendance and we massively support DJ Spiceman and the Spiceland team at all their events in Holland and recently Aruba! Soca vs Dancehall started their fetes in Arnhem in June 2009 and we stared our fete in Amsterdam in August that year. So each month, we would rotate parties, with us hosting a Soca party in Amsterdam and SvD hosting in Arnhem the following month. All the attendees would go to both parties and we started to become a family. The movement then started to grow through word of mouth and people being friends with people who attended both events. As a result, the DSL crew would always turn up en masse to SvD events. In the meantime, Soca Vs Dancehall was growing phenomenally and it became our playground, a chance to meet up, get hyped, network and grow. We started to then request friends from all over the world and take the time to speak to them individually and invite them to the events.
Your t-shirt themes are really dynamic each one better than the last. They are bright and make huge statements. When did you guys start to introduce t-shirts and who comes up with the name/theme/designs?
In regards to t-shirts, the group is asked for their opinion and we go by the feedback, so it’s a group choice. We also always chose a slogan that is a popular song or a slogan that is out. It is a collaboration effort from the members, for the choice of designs and usually resulting from a WhatsApp group conversation.
After the impact of Berlin in 2010, we decided that we were going again for 2011 and wanted to introduce t-Shirts. We had seen a few groups that had names like “Soca Terrorist” and thought that we needed a name to identify ourselves and thus Dutch Soca Lovers was literally born (we are Dutch and we love Soca). The original logo was a combination of the Caribbean Dutch island flags but was eventually replaced with the various designs that you see now, which always represents our unity. Once we formalised the t-shirts, complete with a goodie bag it had a huge impact, as it then felt like the people actually felt part of a crew, a part of something. We became a family and people then started to watch with interest.
In 2011 we took 35 people to Berlin and a number of other DJ’s to introduce into Berlin. DJ Stephen and DJ Nesta were both well-known soca DJs in the US, but unknown to Europe. We invited them to join us in Berlin and to introduce to them all our soca friends in Europe. The DJ’s were equipped to play covering international Soca and this was the year that Lil Rick came over. Having made our first trip to Notting Hill Carnival in 2010, we also returned to NHC that same year and played with Chocolate Mas on the Sunday and Dragons Mas Band on Monday. Once we came back home, we actively decided to ensure that we would spread the word, to encourage our promotion and grow. The following year (2012) saw us planning for three carnivals, Berlin, Rotterdam and London, so set about organising hotels, transport and the carnival package. Before we knew it, it a group was forming with a huge interest level. We travelled to Berlin carnival with a crew of over 100 persons strong. Our biggest attendance was at the Berlin Carnival in 2015, when 350 DSL members descended up Berlin and we had the entire hotel booked.
How are you set up as a group/organisation? Do you have a team?
The organisation of DSL is phenomenal but there is no form to fill in, no website. I grew up in an environment whereby I was organising events and costumes, as my mum was involved so it’s in my blood. Literally, you contact DSL and we will make contact with you. We actually meet each and every single individual that wants to be part of our crew. In fact, it’s not a crew it’s a family! The time is taken to get to know each one, and as said we personally meet each one. You are not just a number in DSL! Everyone feels safe with DSL, you are looked after. You are taught good moral codes such as respect for each other; love and good vibes is wholeheartedly promoted and encouraged. Bryan ensures the boys are taught to respect and look after the women and they look up to him.
Who run things?
As you can see, the front of DSL is myself (Saira), Bryan who is a DSL DJ (he is also the biggest party animal in DSL) and Kira is also part of the team. It’s a crazy machine but we work it out between ourselves and we never get it wrong. When we have a batch of t-shirts in, it takes an entire day to sort! However, we also have a big group of people behind us to support, inspire, advise and educate us so in turn we can do the same with our own DSL family and be a role model to other crews in Europe. For years we have been helping and advising leaders of other crews like Marius (French, Kiss & Wine), and Dhana (German Soca Junkies). I am proud to see how the French Soca Crew, Swiss Soca Crew and Swedish Soca Vikings are growing.
Are you are a crew? Or a movement, an organisation or just one big extended family?
We started off as a crew but we are more than that. We are a family, with a vibe. We bring the personal touches for each and every member. People in essence still want to be supported, to be looked after and feel part of one big family and we even survive this craziness as a couple. Even on the way to Berlin carnival we have pyjama fete on the bus, everyone comes in their pyjamas and it’s such a party. Needless to say that all the major Soca artists know about DSL crew. DJ Stephen baptised the flag and Machel has a collection of DSL flags and Bunji and Faye Ann have seen DSL representing, many times here and Belgium. Machel and Bunji even dedicated a freestyle to DSL at Busshead concert in London this year. I always give a t-shirt and rag to any artist that we meet.
How do you organise such a large group? You guys always come out in large numbers, I mean well over a hundred people sometimes.
It’s a lot of repetitional work, to be honest; and from January, the details and prices are sent out to the DSL WhatsApp group, repeated every month on the 20th. An email/text is then sent to the group, which also provides them with details of all the events that DSL will be attending and what is going on so that people can plan their events, vacation time and budgets for the year. We do have a large number of students, & single parents so we need to give them the time needed to save and manage which event they are going to. We actually believe that a Facebook event page is not needed as we are a big enough to organise without those methods, which you can see. The people come in force because they want to, to meet new people and because the vibe is just crazy. Whilst it is crazy, we still ensure safety and will send tips and tricks in regards to dress, alcoholic consumption etc for every trip. We also do not like to lose people and encourage all persons to ensure that they make contact with us or someone, to let them know they are leaving so we are assured that everyone reaches safely and is ok.
What the crew dynamics? Is it only young people?
There is no one under the age of 18 and the average age of the crew is around 20 – 40+ years and goes up to 68 years old. There are lots of siblings, couples, twins and also a family of three generations in this group, which makes it quite special. However, to note is that 60% of the crew have children, a lot of the young people are students or are single mums. We are also happy to announce that we had our first DSL wedding and baby!! A couple flirted on the way back on a coach from Berlin Carnival three years ago, the following year before Berlin Carnival they got married and the year after was a baby. Literally a DSL Berlin Baby!
How do you communicate with all your members?
Mostly via WhatsApp. Email is only used for general information
How often do you guys go out as a crew? Is it a weekly thing or just when a large event like Berlin or NHC carnivals.
We promote all soca related events in Holland, whenever there is a soca fete or Caribbean festival; we make sure DSL is there to represent and support soca, especially at Soca vs Dancehall. During the summer we go in large groups to Berlin Carnival, Notting Hill Carnival and the Antilliaanse Feesten in Belgium. During Rotterdam carnival, we welcome all our soca families in Europe to come and join us at the home of the Dutch Soca Lovers. Through the years we’ve attended many soca fetes in London, Paris, Geneva and Dortmund. Since this year (2017), we also attended the first edition of the Ibiza Soca Festival and Geneva carnival. We also travelled as a member of the FECC (Federation of European Carnival Cities) to Surva festival in Bulgaria, Strumica carnival in Macedonia, Rakovica carnival and Sabac carnival in Serbia to promote Aruba and Caribbean carnivals. We actually introduced soca music to these traditional European carnivals. We have also presented carnival shows at Vakantiebeurs in Utrecht, which is one of the biggest tradeshows in Europe.
Do you think that as a crew that you have bargaining power with promoters? By this I mean are promoters contacting you or do you decide collectively where you are going and take it from there?
Yes, it’s two-fold. I used to contact promoters for any Soca fete but now that Bryan is a DJ and if booked, they know the DSL crew will come. Promoters also know that the DSL is a lively, fun bunch, a massive crew and they come – it will always be a party. Also, we are the vibes, we are the party crew, the moment we step into a club we start the party, we don’t leave until it finishes. We don’t come with 10, we come with over a hundred – we are the party animals, so the promoters love us.
Apart from your own, Berlin and London, what other carnivals do you represent?
In 2017 we went to Ibiza and the Geneva carnival for the first time that year. We have known the Geneva soca team for a while and said that we would support them, so this year, for the first time Geneva bought a truck on the road. Around 15 DSL members along with a number of other crews around Europe attended the Geneva carnival. It was nice as key people from each country were there to support the Swiss crew. For the Zoomer carnival in Rotterdam you can really see the unity of DSL on the road because within DSL we have 5 bandleaders: Kingdoms Under The Sun, (Rossini van Wijk), Triniconnection (Joyce Warner), Blends Carnival Group (Claire Lune van Arneman), Caribbean Love (Rita Pieternella) and Small Island Unity (Kyle Brown). We all work together and support each other, to promote more soca on the road for Zomercarnival. We are together during the fetes, and on the road and we all participate in our own mas bands. On carnival day DSL is spread out all over the road with these 5 bands, amongst our soca families from Holland and abroad. As such, it is my mission to start to promote European carnivals as the soca phenomenon is growing. Sadly, we have not been to Trinidad carnival yet, despite calls from major Soca artists such as Machel, Destra and Bunji.
What difficulties have you experienced as a group and by that I mean any catastrophes, last-minute lets downs?
Almost every year in Berlin someone ends up in the emergency room, mostly from girls with bruised ankles or knees from too much wotlessness at fetes, or the parade. We call these ‘Casualties of War’.
Are you guys sponsored? How do you make money?
This a hobby, a passion, no real money is made. We are not currently sponsored like many are thought to believe. In fact, in the early years, we plowed in a lot of our own money into the trips. However DSL is not a business, it is not about profit or making money and if profits are made it is literally to cover our expenses.
Have you ever thought about becoming a proper organisation with membership since your popularity is expanding
We don’t want to become an organisation, as I feel you lose touch and we personally like the one on one contact. This is why we don’t have a membership, this is why DSL works.
So just how do you join ‘DSL’?
There is no membership fee to join DSL. All you need to do is contact me (Saira), Bryan, Kira or anyone who already is part of DSL crew to order a t-shirt, hoody, bag or rag. However, once you put on a DSL t-shirt, you are expected to be more approachable to other DSL’s, so feel free to thief a wine, get wotless, misbehave, but no stush behaviour because DSL fete hard and rep hard everywhere we go!
Finally, what is this all about – is there a message?
We just respect each other, we promote unity, we are crazy, loud, proud of our backgrounds and of the love for our culture. Respect is stressed and the boys have a sense of responsibility to be the protectors of the girls and ensure that the girls are not harassed. We are a family and the need to look after each other is paramount and we hope reflected. I also provide a spiritual message before each trip just to ensure that they leave their worries behind, to come have fun, be safe and make friends. Most people do not know each other from the start but always come back as a family. A balance is reflected in the group with the elders and with the young to encourage respect levels for all and ensure that all are looked after. We have a one on one connection with each and every member. We even ask that all persons collect their goodie bags from our own home and it becomes a liming event with Bryan making Jonny Cakes as a lime event for goodie bag pick up.
The interview had been set against a backdrop of sweet heavy Soca sounds at the Soca vs Dancehall event in December, the bassline had been pounding through the room. However, you have now managed to gain an insight into the origins of the DSL, who runs the organisation and how they operate as a crew. You will have also learned that the formation was literally from the love of soca. A yearning for a soca scene to form in The Netherlands, to represent the passion. Lastly, you would have also learned that the DSL is not a membership or a Ltd company; they are essentially a crew, a ‘Super Crew’ – The Dutch Soca Lovers.