It has been the impetus for a few soca men and women to develop the capacity for serious money-making but, overall, the International Soca Monarch (ISM) has, for years, done a great deal to put the genre several steps back.
It has encouraged unhealthy sectionalism and underdeveloped the soca music industry, despite being in the best position to promote its development.
To analyse the effect of the show on the genre, we must appreciate that a positive business outcome—ticket sales and sponsorship dollars—is at the core of all ISM decisions.
There can be no doubt that the ISM has been excellent for artistes like Bunji Garlin, Iwer George, Fay Ann Lyons-Alvarez and a host of others, significantly increasing their earning capacity and allowing them to become cultural enterprises.
The Monarch status gives each winner year-long bargaining power to demand a hefty performance fee.
In the case of Bunji Garlin, it also assisted in making his sound mainstream, allowing him to break free from the restricted audience of ‘ragga soca’ and become a multi-millionaire.
But the separation of the ‘power’ from the ‘groovy’ in 2005—to paraphrase producer and engineer, Martin “Mice’” Raymond—forced an “artificial distinction” on the genre.
While the two co-existed in the sphere of Carnival enjoyment peacefully in the past, ‘groovy’ and ‘power’ have been pitted against each other—the prize values at the ISM finals falsely determining which sound is worth more.
This invalidates the continuous argument of whether or not ‘power’ soca is dying. It is a construct of the ISM, which un-naturally pushed writers to create tunes that went into the aerobic 150BPM+ sphere as opposed to the 125-140BPM “sweet spot” for the groovy competition.
Imagine, Iwer George’s ‘Fete After Fete,’ the winning ‘power’ song of 2007, had 120 beats per minute (BPM), slower than Sparrow’s Doh Back Back at 128 BPM, Kitchener’s Pan in A Minor at 123 BPM, Maestro’s Bionic Man at 128 BPM, Poser’s Ah Tell She at 130 BPM, Calypso Rose’s Tempo at 127 BPM and Penguin’s Deputy at 138 BPM.
All of those songs, except Pan In A Minor, would have been fast enough to be included in the first few years of the Power Monarch, when ‘power’ was considered to be 125 BPM and above.
The tempo divide, according to ISM rules, is now at 135 BPM, up from the initial 125 BPM.
Like Ah Boss, Machel Montano’s 2015 ‘power’ winner is measured at 134 BPM, although he performed the song much faster, at 145 BPM. He even called the song a “power-groovy” composition.
It should be noted that in 2015, Montano did not have a widely-popular genuine “Power” song.
Does that mean that even though recorded songs fit into one particular category, that they can be modified in performance to ensure victory?
Upcoming artistes should realise that there is no genuine validation to come from being a finalist or placing in the competition. Rules are clearly broken; points are not released to the performers for them to genuinely understand where the judges may have seen shortcomings, or more importantly, to determine how they should improve.
The final round of the competition reinforces the vice grip of the big name artistes on the industry.
Very few artists come through the Junior Soca Monarch competition into the ISM, or consistently make the final with popular songs.
Patrice Roberts comes to mind. Erphaan Alves is the only other one who sticks out as having been a finalist in both the schools’ competition and the “big people party”, not yet with the frequency of Roberts.
After twenty-three years of the competition, there is no fixed band room, where acts can rehearse for weeks leading up to the competition. There is instead, a mad scramble for rehearsals in the rented and crowded band room.
Musicians are not sufficiently skilled to provide tight, efficient accompaniment. The musicians, especially at the semi-final competition, are terribly overworked.
This has led to the practice of performers with their own bands replacing members of the house band; this is an unfair advantage that does not blood new winners.
To be continued…