Orin: White vest, sneakers and Wallabees: Bunji was the boss—but I won’t forget Nailah either

“[…] Bunji’s clever ragga-style rapid-fire toasting managed to include a range of references, from isosceles to Wallabees… Their joint ownership of Hard Fete is itself more powerful than anything either of them said in defence of it, and they had plenty to say.

“[…] Nailah and Skinny’s offering is a better song than Hard Fete, in my opinion. It’s beautifully constructed—from Nailah’s opening near-acapella, to Skinny’s purring entry, to the drop of that first bass beat that hits you in the gut…”

The following guest column on the 2023 Road March race was submitted to Wired868 by Orin Gordon, a media and business consultant who can be reached at orin@oringordon.com:

Soca star and 2023 Road March champ Ian “Bunji Garlin” Alvarez.
(Copyright David Allen Photography)

Bunji Garlin seems to have a thing for shoes. During the carnival season, he posted a video to Instagram explaining how the sneakers he wore to a popular fete came to be called “Uptowns”.


Hip New Yorkers took Uptown trains to Harlem to buy the athletic shoes, Nike Air Force. Bunji’s white Uptowns, he told his fans, were too clean after the jam. If he’d really had a time, his Uptowns and his white cutoff denim three-quarters would have been covered in paint and powder.

In his road march winning Hard Fete, he sang about having the right gear. White vest, sneakers and Wallabees—the iconic suede shoes made by Clarks of England, and made cool again by celebs such as Noel and Liam Gallagher of the English band Oasis, Drake, Justin Bieber, David Beckham and Kanye West.

Bunji’s clever ragga-style rapid-fire toasting managed to include a range of references, from isosceles to Wallabees. And post carnival, he, Ian Alvarez, picked up his shoes to put some licks on his critics.

Road March 2023 winners Bunji Garlin (right) and Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez.

They’d questioned his sharing credits for the song with Fay-Ann Lyons Alvarez—his wife, creative collaborator, a formidable Soca artiste in her own right, and a three-time road march winner.

To understand the couple’s relationship, I suggest you watch their YouTube interview with the popular American morning radio show The Breakfast Club. Their complementarity goes beyond the creative. Fay-Ann would joke that she didn’t know who her famous father, Austin Lyons (Super Blue) loved more—her, or his son-in-law.

They regularly fix each other’s crowns, and it’s great to watch. She constantly praises his ability and artistry, and he does the same. I can’t speak to their personal relationship, but their mutual professional respect is obvious.

Their joint ownership of Hard Fete is itself more powerful than anything either of them said in defence of it, and they had plenty to say. Fay-Ann previously had three titles, solo. Bunji previously had one, jointly with Machel Montano and Vincentian Gamal Doyle, aka Skinny Fabulous.

Power soca couple Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez (left) and Bunji Garlin perform in Anguilla in 2021.
(Copyright Marzsim Visuals)

In the Lyons-Alvarez household, it didn’t seem to matter. It is as eloquent a statement of creative unity as it is of household togetherness.

Bunji’s message in summary was that they are a family, and they fail and succeed together.

Road March adjudication used to be simpler when Lord Kitchener was racking up the wins. You knew Kitch won because you could hear him singing the winning song. It’s more complicated than that today. Much more collaboration goes on.

Only Bunji and Fay-Ann know of the extent of her imprint on the song, besides familial joint ownership. DJ Avalanche of the US Virgin Islands laid down the beat track for Hard Fete.

In second place in the Road March contest, according to the official results, was Nailah Blackman-Thornhill with Come Home. No mention of Skinny Fabulous, who sang the duet with her, and whose songwriting wizardry on the track she gushed over.

Soca entertainers Skinny Fabulous (left) and Nailah Blackman.

Second Road March runner up was Machel Montano for Like Yuhself, a track on which Patrice Roberts’ voice dominated.

The Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation, TUCO, explained that the results reflect how the song was registered and by whom. The other issue is how much foreign involvement is permitted.

“The rules say you have to be a national of Trinidad and Tobago (to be eligible) and if you are sharing a song with someone (who is not a citizen) 75 percent have to be yours,” TUCO president Ainsley King told Wired868.

What does this even mean? Skinny is heard on Come Home nearly half the time. And who really believes that his sung contribution to Famalay with Bunji and Machel was 25 percent? For consistency and fairness, TUCO needs new rules.

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

On the road on Carnival Day, Bunji didn’t “come here for no stand up”, and true to his word, he never let up on the beat. That may have been one reason why he defeated Come Home.

Nailah and Skinny’s offering is a better song than Hard Fete, in my opinion. It’s beautifully constructed—from Nailah’s opening near-acapella, to Skinny’s purring entry, to the drop of that first bass beat that hits you in the gut. It became our anthem about the return of carnival.

It’s well-sung, harmony allied with jumpupability and singalong appeal. I had the good fortune to twice see them sing it live at fetes, and the experiences were unforgettable. It tugged at our hearts, and we jumped and swayed bellowed the lyrics at fetes throughout the Carnival season.

However, the road has a different dynamic. While Come Home retained the ability to grab masqueraders, it didn’t sustain the jump up as consistently as Hard Fete did.

Bunji Garlin performs Hard Fete during the 2023 Carnival season.

Deejays are an impatient bunch. Besides, the best song is not necessarily the best Road March song. If that had been the case, Voice would have had a hatful of Road March titles.

Come Home exudes a completely different vibe from Ultimate Rejects’ Full Extreme of 2017, but where they’re similar is that they felt fresh and different relative to the season’s other offerings.

Not everyone enjoys Nailah’s vocal notes, but she is emerging as a consistent performer in the industry. At the National Panorama finals in 2020, not a minute seemed to go by without hearing More Sokah—either during band setup or the performances themselves. This year she made a good run at road march.

Congratulations to her, and everyone else who got a place in the top three.

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