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Sizzling Soca competition

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The International Soca Monarch competition on Fantastic Friday lived up to quite heady expectations, with a capacity crowd filling the Hasely Crawford Stadium to hear the best of the season’s performers in competitive concert. It was a show full of theatre, costumes, colour and orchestrated confusion that engaged twenty-seven acts and thirty performers in heated contention for the largest prize package ever offered in the 18-year history of the show. It would prove to be a night of surprising highs and lows and sometimes doubtful choices as some performers lowered lances for a full-tilt charge at the ramped up prize money while others took the incredible opportunity to perform for not just a stadium full of patrons, but the thousands more who viewed the show live on CNC3, and the many thousands more who viewed the stream on the Guardian Media Ltd’s licensee TTENT’s online web stream.

There were definitely show stopping moments, the earliest of them being AllRounder’s age-defying outing demonstrating his “Body Wine” with a wining section young enough to be his grandchildren, and the exceptional presentations of eventual first and second place winners Kees Dieffenthaller and Rodney “Benjai” Blanc. It was the luck of the draw that brought the real action in the final hours of the concert as Neil “Iwer” George, Bunji Garlin (Ian Alvarez), Machel Montano, Destra Garcia and Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez energised the stage and audience in the wee hours of the morning. That part of the competition would prove to set a gold standard for onstage effects and gimmickry as Destra appeared on a four poster bed to be read a story by Errol Fabien, Iwer George arrived on stage from a crane dressed to look like a silk covered aircraft, Machel Montano soared through the air to “trample the stage” and Bunji Garlin would bring a burning man onstage.

But these visual pyrotechnics would ultimately take second place to the lyrical banter that flowed back and forth, as Machel Montano kicked off a verbal war during his performance of Advantage to a choral refrain of “lyrics Machel.” His picong would be answered first by Destra Garcia and then by Bunji Garlin.
It was Garlin’s performance specifically that demonstrated the unique qualities of the International Soca Monarch competition as the performer channelled his chanter roots, his raggasoca background and his mastery of extempo influenced freestyling to deliver a version of his song that was almost entirely improvised lyrics responding to the events of the night. In the midst of this picong and repartee, there was something strong and vibrant reawakening in the heart of soca, something that reached back into the history of the artform and reconnected with the value of melody, the importance of lyrics and the power of the music to not just move a crowd but to make it think.

Congratulations are due to Power Soca Monarch, Machel Montano, making a return to this stage after 16 years and Kees Dieffenthaller, winning his first Groovy Soca Monarch title. As a broadcast, there were few hiccups but much to consider in the way the show was presented for a viewing audience which did not have the advantage of the considerable crowd interaction and engagement to tide them over long pauses like the one that bridged the Groovy Soca Monarch and Power Soca Monarch competitions. As a show, though, this year’s International Soca Monarch competition rewarded its audience with a definitive accounting of all that was best in soca for 2011. Guardian Media Limited is proud to have been associated with this cultural assaying of the most popular music in Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival and to have done its part in bringing this unique and still evolving form of local creative expression to the wider world.


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