Orin: ISM’s vital to Trini-Caribbean soca partnership—just ask Mr Killa!

“[…] Another response I took issue with was ‘let the market decide’ whether ISM survived or not. Some of those sentiments came from folks with a UWI education paid for by the state.

“T&T as a society decided that access to higher education wasn’t going to be according to means. It attached a value to widely-accessible education, and didn’t leave everything up to the market.

“That is the greater good argument, but let’s be clear. It’s about re-imagining ISM as something popular and self-sustaining, not about throwing millions in state funds at a bad product…”

Mr Killa performs in his successful 2019 International Soca Monarch campaign.

The following guest column on the value of the International Soca Monarch was submitted to Wired868 by Orin Gordon, a media and business consultant who can be reached at orin@oringordon.com:


There were a few feel-good moments in the past few days of this carnival season.

The first was a much-shared video of two people costumed as Moko jumbies waiting for a traffic light to change—normal normal—and then traipsing daintily on the pedestrian crossing. It was beautiful. It charmed us and seemingly united everyone in love and appreciation of T&T culture.

The others occurred on Sunday night at the National Panorama semifinals. On the stage, Exodus nailed an old classic, ‘Tourist Leggo’, from Antiguan King Short Shirt. Pan renditions of old calypsos sound startlingly good, and the consistent Exodus delivered.

Moko Jumbie stilt walkers from the band Moko Somokow parade through Port of Spain during Carnival.
(Copyright Maria Nunes)

On the greens, Nailah Blackman and Skinny Fabulous raised pores and lifted spirits in leading a crowd singalong of their song, ‘Come Home’—one of the frontrunners for the road march title.

Fusions have always been a part of carnival: traditional/historic and modern; old and new; pan and calypso; pan and soca. The most notable fusion for me at Pan Semis was Trini and Caribbean.

Skinny has become an indelible part of the T&T carnival fabric, and hardly anyone notices that he’s Vincentian. No one vibing to ‘Come Home’ really cared.

In a report on the return of power soca by journalist Laura Dowrich-Phillips for online outlet Loop News, Skinny made clear that Caribbean artistes had an influence in its revival. That’s so in large measure because T&T has made it easier for Caribbean artistes and producers to work here.

Soca star and Vincentian Gamal “Skinny Fabulous” Doyle.
(Copyright Clear Editz Studios)

“Long gone are the days when a Trini artiste would just go to a Trini producer. Now the likes of a Garlin, Voice, Kees, Machel, whoever [are] taking production from other islands,” Skinny told Loop.

He pointed out that ‘Hard Fete’ Bunji Garlin’s Road March contender, was produced by DJ Avalanche from the US Virgin Islands. Skinny himself wrote ‘Famalay’—which he sang with Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin, that was produced in Dominica.

One of the best Soca riddims of recent years, 2019’s Planet Jab, showed Caribbean collab at its best. Grenadian Mr Killa’s ‘Run Wid It’ saw us picking up whatever was close at hand—including people we could safely lift—and charging around parties.

Bunji Garlin sang ‘Big Song’; but Planet Jab’s best track was ‘Go Through’ by Grenadian Talpree and Fay-Ann Lyons.

Road March 2019 winner Famalay was sung by Bunji Garlin, Machel Montano and Skinny Fabulous.

Caribbean artistes, producers, promoters and spectators have long seen T&T carnival and all of its constituent parts as their north star. They paid tribute first by imitation, and then by assimilation and collaboration.

Guyana, which already has its own carnival-like product, Mashramani every February, has been staging a carnival that’s close to the Trinidad ideal, in May. Culturally and musically distinct, Jamaica has gotten in on the T&T carnival-adjacent act.

Established artistes such as Skinny welcome the collaboration. Artistes not yet at his recognition level and hoping to break through see the International Soca Monarch competition as an important stage. It was a point made in this space last week (‘Machel Montano’s misstep’).

In lamenting the cancellation of the ISM, I said that: “family artistes from the Caribbean look forward to and need ISM, an important showcase for them.”

The draw for the 2020 International Soca Monarch competition.
The late Blaxx is number 9.
(via ISM)

Of the many and wide-ranging responses to that column, which was widely shared across social media, this one caught my eye. Anthony, on Facebook, had this retort:

“I have to go here – only a non-national would be so deluded to believe that ISM has value as a competition, when clearly it was a fete thinly disguised as one with a big performance fee at the cost to taxpayers.”

I don’t disagree with his description of what ISM has become, but his comment about non-nationals isn’t borne out by the evidence of willing, deep and plentiful collaboration between Trini and Caribbean artistes and producers.

Value goes both ways. And who’s going to argue that Mr Killa’s artistic takeoff wasn’t aided by his ISM win in 2019?

Grenadian soca star Hollice “Mr Killa” Mapp performs at the Miramar Amphitheatre in Florida.

Certainly not Mr Killa himself. After the Soca Monarch title, he said, everything took off… from his bookings to the size of his fanbase.

However, in an illustration of the troubles of the competition, he fell out with the organisers, citing indifferent and inadequate treatment from them.

Anthony’s comment about value is illogical. Value is a perception. Delusion doesn’t enter into it. You may not attach value to something that I perceive as valuable. It doesn’t make either of us deluded.

I wear a bead wristband; and never remove it, even to shower. Its value to me is as a present from my sister, who owns a shop that sells this stuff. Someone else would probably consider it less valuable than I do.

Image: Meet Debbie Downer.
(Copyright Mark Anderson/ Andertoons.com)

Another response I took issue with was “let the market decide” whether ISM survived or not. Some of those sentiments came from folks with a UWI education paid for by the state.

T&T as a society decided that access to higher education wasn’t going to be according to means. It attached a value to widely-accessible education, and didn’t leave everything up to the market.

That is the greater good argument, but let’s be clear. It’s about re-imagining ISM as something popular and self-sustaining, not about throwing millions in state funds at a bad product.

Trinidadians are among the most ingenious and creative people anywhere. I don’t get so many throwing up their hands and giving up on ISM. It’s worth saving.

A patron picks up something to run with while listening to Mr Killa’s 2019 soca hit, Run Wid It.
(Copyright Sean Morrison/ Wired868)

Begin by answering the question of whether its current stewards are the right ones to lead the necessary change.

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One comment

  1. ISM has been largely considered to be a private event, though it received heavy financing from public entities. Perhaps reimagining it should start with ownership – and it should belong to the people of T&T (though some of them do not even like soca, and this is not just misguided youths) and we should treat it with the proper respect it deserves as a vehicle for soca, then it will perhaps do more than just survive but thrive because it surely can and surely should as a product of our culture and a staple in every Carnival from here to out there.
    https://www.facebook.com/realsoca/posts/pfbid0PHvhXX8XnkcJrQhh2uE5NkzqEuPuvTwNk4scXoKd9Go4uVqivd5czWosFBYC3kkAl

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