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Dear Editor: Will separating Groovy and Power revive International Soca Monarch?

Ian ‘Socapro’ Henry: “As soon as the current ISM organisers made the mistake of removing the separate Groovy Soca and Power Soca categories in 2016, the show has rapidly and steadily gone downhill in terms of excitement and audience attendance. This is no coincidence…”

Martin Raymond: “Sorry, I totally disagree with this opinion. Good songwriting is good songwriting. This is the same argument that was used to separate Soca from Calypso, to the detriment of both…”

In the following Letter to the Editor, contributors Ian ‘Socapro’ Henry and Martin Raymond debate the benefits of a change in format for the International Soca Monarch (ISM):

Photo: Soca star Destra Garcia.

Ian ‘Socapro’ Henry opens:

For every year since 2016, I have been saying that if they want to bring back the International Soca Monarch (ISM) show to the glory of its heyday, then they urgently need to revert to separate categories for the Groovy Soca and Power Soca competition.

You cannot fairly judge both Groovy and Power Soca songs in the same category as Groovy Soca songs rely more on singing ability, lyrics and melody to captivate the audience and judges while Power Soca songs relies on hype, presentation and crowd response and participation.

As soon as the current ISM organisers made the mistake of removing the separate Groovy Soca and Power Soca categories in 2016, the show has rapidly and steadily gone downhill in terms of excitement and audience attendance. This is no coincidence.

I hope the ISM organisers let common sense prevail this year and admit their error and rectify it. We cannot return to the 1990’s when the competition had one general category for all entrants because the music has since evolved.

The Power Soca of today is generally much faster in tempo than the Power Soca of the 1990’s and there is also much more music being produced by our artists today in both the Groovy Soca and Power Soca styles than there ever was back in the 1990’s.

Photo: Soca star Machel Montano (centre) performs during 2018 CPL Eliminator action between TKR and SKNP at the Brian Lara Academy in Tarouba on 14 September 2018.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Once the ISM competition regains its attendances and excitement, in a couple years from now, then it can move to create separate shows for Groovy Soca and Power Soca competitions—as already happens in some of the other Caribbean islands.

This should help market the ISM show to international viewers who are interested in viewing it via Pay-Per-View live streaming but are concerned about the length.

For now, again until the ISM recaptures the large crowds and excitement of its heyday, I think the live streaming of the show should be free for marketing purposes.

Finally, I think the ISM’s organisers need to do more with their official website and social media platforms to promote and follow the careers of its three winners and breakout artists during the year, once the ISM competition is over.

Currently, they only seem to have activity and updates during the Carnival season. In my view—after receiving government funding—they need to be doing much more to promote their event, which should help them to attract more potential sponsors when Carnival comes round.

Photo: Three-time Soca Monarch champion, Aaron “Voice” St Louis.

More sponsors could mean more and bigger prizes, which should help attract the bigger name soca artists who are yet to win the competition.

Caribbean Airlines (CAL) is a good potential sponsor and could offer free or discounted flights to the three ISM winners who, in return, could be asked to mention CAL as the best airline to travel on during their live performances.

Martin Raymond responds:

“You cannot fairly judge both Groovy and Power Soca songs in the same category as Groovy Soca songs rely more on singing ability, lyrics and melody to captivate the audience and judges while Power Soca songs relies on hype, presentation and crowd response and participation.”

Sorry, I totally disagree with this opinion. Good songwriting is good songwriting. This is the same argument that was used to separate Soca from Calypso, to the detriment of both.

Some of the best winning ‘power soca’ songs of the past few years have been excellent compositions and did not only rely on ‘hype’ for the win. From “Stranger” to “Ministry of Road” and “Like A Boss” and so on, in my opinion, all Calypso—and yes, I’m including Soca and Chutney Soca—should be in one competition and judged on 1. Composition (lyrics, melody, arrangement) 2. Rendition (diction, phrasing, delivery) and 3. Performance (presentation).

Photo: Soca star Kees Dieffenthaller performs in the music video for his hit tune “Hello”.

If you want to include Crowd Response, fine. If that was included back in the day Shadow would’ve won in ‘74 and especially ‘77.

The Power and Groovy was an artificial distinction and ‘Power’—a term I dislike with a passion—started declining since 2011 when Kes clearly had the better and bigger song on “Wotless”, yet received one million dollars less because his song was a few bpm slower than the winning ‘Power’.

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  1. FAY-ANN LYONS-ALVAREZ NEW CHAIR OF INTERNATIONAL SOCA MONARCH
    TTT Live Online, Published on 14 Jan 2019

    Fay Ann Lyons- Alvarez has replaced Peter Scoon as Head of the team charged with planning and executing the International Soca Monarch.

    This was confirmed by Chair of the National Carnival Commission of Trinidad and Tobago- NCC, Winston Gypsy Peters.

    In an interview with TTT News, he said the competition has been on a downward spiral and at the risk of fading into oblivion.

    Mr. Peters said to stop that from happening, the decision was taken to pay closer attention to and invest more in the competition.

    Responding to questions of nepotism and a possible conflict of interest, Mr. Peters said the NCC had absolutely nothing to do with the decision to appoint Mrs. Lyons-Alvarez as head of the ISM team.

    Mr. Peters also revealed plans to return the ISM Semis to the Arima Velodrome.



  2. WIRED – SOCA MONARCH BEST PERFORMANCES
    C News Live, Published on 22 Jan 2018

    Wired looks at the Top Soca Monarch performances over the years.
    Click link below to view video news report: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCJsz2l65KU

  3. Glad to see that my campaigns to bring back separate Groovy & Power Soca categories have had a positive result! 🙂 https://www.facebook.com/SocaPhD/posts/10156560266845931

  4. I respect your view as a musician and engineer but you can’t seriously argue that there is little difference between what is viewed as Power Soca today (145 BPM and above) and Groovy Soca (135 BPM and less). The soca music that was viewed as Power Soca back in the 1990’s was generally in the 135 to 145 BPM range, I have the music on vinyl and CD as a DJ so I know what I am pointing out about the BMP’s is accurate.

    The Power Soca music of the 1990’s will generally be viewed today as mid-tempo soca tracks and many of the 1990’s Superblue Power Soca hits like “Get Something & Wave”, “Jab Jab”, “Bacchanal Time”, “Flag Party”, etc I can mix without speed adjustments with many of the faster Groovy Soca tracks of today like “Big People Party”, etc..
    And for your information MM’s “Like A Boss” is actually a 135 BPM track which is technically a Groovy Soca BPM wise which is why he dubbed it a “Power Groovy” back then in 2015 and sped it up during most of his live performances (when compared with the speed of the studio recording).

    So I disagree with you that Power and Groovy was an artificial distinction. Only folks who are totally unaware or unappreciative of how fast Power Soca music of today generally is (150 BPM and above) will try to forward the argument that there is little difference between Power and Groovy. In fact even rhythmically a lot of Power Soca uses different beat patterns to the typical Groovy Soca tracks with Jab Jab style rhythms regularly been used in Power Soca and not in Groovy Soca.
    In my view one of the main factors for the demise of the T&T ISM is because the promoters are trying to rewind the clock back to the 1990’s and not accepting or realizing that soca has evolved since the 1990’s and the Power Soca music of today is generally much faster than the Power Soca of the 1990’s. So trying to judge real Power Soca and Groovy Soca in the same competition is a disservice to both styles of music in my eyes and also to the feters. Within the context of the ISM competition the crowd doesn’t need to clearly hear every word from the soca artist who is performing a Power Soca song on stage once the song is popular enough and the singer can perform the song in a manner to captivate the crowd and get them involved in reacting to their various instructions, etc.

    Superblue has demonstrated on a number of occasions that he can still win an ISM competition even when we could not clearly hear everything he was singing in the verses etc because of the popularity of his song and the massive crowd reaction. Can you remember when Superblue won the ISM with “Bounce” back in 1996 that the crowd invaded the stage during his performance and you could not see Superblue for almost half his performance and yet he still won the competition? .
    See this link here as a reminder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sku4DvsfYC8

    • Ian Socapro Henry I looked at that yesterday. But you can hear him singing even though you couldn’t see him for most of the performance. I do agree with you in the groovey v power distinction. I maintain that the former was around long before we put a handle to it.

  5. Martin Raymond responds:
    “You cannot fairly judge both Groovy and Power Soca songs in the same category as Groovy Soca songs rely more on singing ability, lyrics and melody to captivate the audience and judges while Power Soca songs relies on hype, presentation and crowd response and participation.”
    Sorry, I totally disagree with this opinion. Good songwriting is good songwriting. This is the same argument that was used to separate Soca from Calypso, to the detriment of both.
    Some of the best winning ‘power soca’ songs of the past few years have been excellent compositions and did not only rely on ‘hype’ for the win. From “Stranger” to “Ministry of Road” and “Like A Boss” and so on, in my opinion, all Calypso—and yes, I’m including Soca and Chutney Soca—should be in one competition and judged on 1. Composition (lyrics, melody, arrangement) 2. Rendition (diction, phrasing, delivery) and 3. Performance (presentation).
    If you want to include Crowd Response, fine. If that was included back in the day Shadow would’ve won in ‘74 and especially ‘77.
    The Power and Groovy was an artificial distinction and ‘Power’—a term I dislike with a passion—started declining since 2011 when Kes clearly had the better and bigger song on “Wotless”, yet received one million dollars less because his song was a few bpm slower than the winning ‘Power’.

    • The distinction between Power and Groovy helped the Groovy songs get attention from the judges as far as I could tell, otherwise they were ignored for the hyped up power songs…or maybe I’m remembering it wrong…

  6. We need to get rid of Voice an nailah annoyin voice blackman and things will get better

  7. Earl Best

    Michelangelo was an artist whereas Machel Montano is an artistE. Just saying.

  8. The issues with international Soca Monarch go deeper than song categories. I would love to help them with it. But most likely, I won’t be listened to anyway.

    But I believe in the evidential truth that innovation will come, hell or high water and something better will render ISM obsolete because they fail to innovate. Cultural obsolescence is inevitable. Bouyon Riddem from Dominica and the Dennery Segment from Saint Lucia coming hard as are Grenada’s V’ghn and Skinny Fabulous (whom I filmed a Hairoun Beer commercial with back when) are coming with some HARD ORGINAL riddems. They not waiting for our International Soca Monarch to finally acknowledge talent from the other Caribbean islands. Go look at international comments on Mr. Killa’s “Oil It” video on Youtube.

    Meanwhile, our Trinbagonia soca artists sharing riddems like crazy. I already made my comment about 5 different songs to the same Toco Loco riddem and EVERY SINGLE ONE is on the same subject matter, flexing and seduction. Is bad enough they sharing riddems, at least attempt to make the lyrics and subject matter as varied as Farmer Nappy and Nadia Batson’s use of the same Purple Riddem.

    SO MUCH to explore lyrically about love, relationships, society, issues, people, comedy and spirituality etc. etc. Time to evolve beyond the ole same ole “wine”-“smile”, “bubble”- “trouble” formulaic writing. However, we do not value writers as much as we should or used to.

    People will never get tired of our riddem and melody. We are maestros! We are GENIOUS at that! We HAVE IT! It is the LYRICAL CONTENT and presentation that will quickly become a trope and get stale. Calypso Rose has great song-writing and her songs show our range as Trinbagonians and our rich tapestry of human experience. She is singing at Coachella. She STANDS OUT, because she is older yes, and has swag like crazy and shows reinvention.

    Surely, soca can have some beautiful wierdos too, like Shadow was, like De Fosto was? Where de CHARACTERS? Where our soca-version of a scary, unapologetically Orisha priestess, like a soca version of witchy Stevie Nicks? Where our soca-version of a zany character? Where our soca-version of a Rage Against The Machine? Thank goodness for Nailah Blackman and Voice adding some variety.I still dig Bunji’s work and Kes, when he comes original, is brilliant.

    Other than them, almost every male artist want to be the SAME saga-boy, bad boy character on stage singing about bam bam and every female artist (even if they don’t have to because they have so much more power than just sexiness or sexiness not as natural to them or is a different kind of sexiness), want to be the same sexy bacchanal woman on stage. And sing about the SAME thing. Great for a party yes! Great for a fete. Bad for international concert entertainment that translates to other media and will get uptake outside our Caribbean market and Diaspora (which is, shrinking).

    Could we make an ISM that is a televised spectacle to rival the Grammys or at least Eurovision and have international sponsors? We COULD do it, visually as we have the set design, costume and lighting talent to put on a real show. We can fly down all our Trini-born and Soca loving celebrities to present the performances. But it also means a non-Trini will have to win some of the times. It will also mean a level of transparency and professionalism that well…are we capable of that?

    Are we?

    • If ISM dies in T&T then that will be an international embarrassment for the country as the so-called mecca of Soca because the other Caribbean territories which have adopted Soca Monarch are getting great tourist attraction returns from their Soca Monarch shows with full stadiums and profits for the promoters and country.

    • Jessica you are a veritable Renaissance Woman, and one of my favorite Wired contributors.

    • Jessica Joseph Head of the class. Super has Rag Song this year and he is GIVING some historical context to Carnival.

    • Evolve or die. That is the way of life. This is the social media video age. If the performances on that ISM stage cannot compete with the spectacles you see in videos of other musical events and our range of performances aren’t as varied as say V or Glastonbury or Coachella, then where are we going with this?

      Teddyson John does not need ISM. He can release a music video of some really positive groovy soca and stir the WHOLE WORLD including French speaking countries and a wider international audience. By the end of this year, this video will be 2- 3 million views. How many will be watching ISM on television?



    • Nigel S. Scott Thank you Sir. My pleasure.

    • Visel George There will only ever be ONE Super Blue, so this does not apply to him. Of course he will MASH UP ISM. But only for those there, in the crowd, lucky to see him and feel the energy in person.

    • Jessica Joseph I know. And that’s a sad reality.

    • Nigel S. Scott yuh David Bowie pic make me sad😔

    • Jessica Joseph, Ian Socapro Henry, what I don’t understand, we have a rich culture and history of theatre, why don’t artistes use these resources to help them with the actual performance?
      If you are looking at revenue from television audience, ppl would only tune in if it is worthwhile.
      No matter how good the live show may be, the energy must be channeled through to the viewing audience.
      Why can’t significant prize money also be awarded for best nation-building/song promoting patriotism?
      For international audiences, if Nikki Minaj did a song with MM, why not invite her to perform live?
      Rose is a legacy, winning awards internationally, why not invite her also?
      Another failing is in the build up to the show.
      Where is the team responsible for building up the hype, what do we have to look forward to? Social media, use twitter to build hype.
      These are all to be considered when planning, which as I said should start from Ash Wednesday.
      As @jessica Joseph said, it can’t be business as usual.
      What also seems apparent is we don’t take time to do a post mortem after, to see what went wrong to improve thereafter.

    • Rose-Marie, I know… he was such a talented (and conscious!) artist. Hard to believe it’s been three years already.

    • Nerisha Mohammed No need to do a post-mortem if people are getting the money they wanted out of it and that is good enough, as far as they are concerned. Maybe as the cultural obsolescence dries it up, then they might hasten to improve it for real.

      Why we don’t use our artistic talent, “Ti Boutique” syndrome, a.k.a cheapness. We don’t want to pay $$$$$$$$$ for art, for creative direction etc. Big egos, prima donna behavior, etc. etc.

    • Nerisha Mohammed Most of what you outlined as being required to promote the ISM properly was happening while William Monroe was in charge but ever since the new promoters took ISM over they have faltered badly on promoting the show properly. ISM used to ram the National stadium up until 2013 and 2014 editions because most of the promotional stuff and build-up you are talking about William Monroe and his team were doing.

  9. Question to ask ourselves. Why is Soca Monarch flourishing in the other Caribbean territories where they generally don’t have the budget that T&T has to stage such a show? Could it be that the new ISM organizers that took over from William Monroe are not doing what the previous ISM organizers were doing to make the show successful and attractive to all the biggest Soca artists?

    • Look how many (good) artists dropped out of the competition over the years. So who exactly are we going there to hear?

    • Mel Lissa So it is not a matter of the ISM product not being good any more but rather how the current organizers have been promoting and running the show and have foolishly restructured it to make it into a Groovy Soca show with even less excitement than ever before to do with the true spirit of Carnival.

    • I didn’t like the restructure at all but even more than that I don’t like that the most of the consistent artists left. Not just MM but others like Kes, Destra, Bunji etc

    • Ian well budget is a big part of it. Because let’s face it. If it was worthwhile financially for people like Bungi Kees and Machel to go through the expense of competing, when they could make more money playing 2 or 3 gigs that same night, then you would see big artistes in the competition. But it’s simply not worth the effort for established artistes.

    • Mel Lissa I think if the show is properly promoted and run and they attract good sponsors that the big name artists who are yet to win an ISM title will enter. MM and the other past winners who no longer wish to compete can also be invited to perform as special guests.

    • The thing is that you can see your favourite artist at a few fetes on the same night for the same price. I was shocked to see the turnout for Revel in 2017 & 2018 but it’s a cheap fete with the big name artists

    • Rose-Marie Lemessy-Forde Its not only about prize monies but also about the structure of the competition as well as how well the show is promoted and staged. If the promoters do a better job promoting the show during the rest of the year then more sponsors will come on board and they can contribute to making the prizes more attractive to the big names to enter ISM.

    • Give it back to Munro 🙂 He seem to have the answers

    • Mel Lissa Destra left the ISM because she realized that she is not a competition person. 2015 the year Destra sang “Lucy” her song was the biggest Groovy Soca that year but some how Destra managed not to sing her song properly and talked thru most of the song hence why she did not win. Destra’s lost was Olatunji’s gain.

  10. There’s plenty wrong with ISM. I’m not sure what it would take to get people interested in attending. I realize the thing was dead when I couldn’t even give away the free tickets I got from bmobile . But Ian has a point. It’s better and fairer to have 2 separate categories to judge. But something has to be done to the length of the show. That whole ISM brand needs some expert marketers to renew interest in the product. I rather spend my money (time etc) on Machel Monday which is a much better live production

  11. It has gone downhill because Machel no longer performs