Orin: Machel Montano’s misstep; and why Soca Monarch deserves better

“[…] The main argument in defence of what’s in effect a Machel Monday redux on Carnival Friday was that ISM was dying anyway, so what’s the problem letting Monk have his way and have the day?

“It’s a strikingly bad argument. If your beloved relative is dying, you don’t finish her off. You attempt to revive and restore her to good health…”

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

Soca star Machel Montano performs in Kensington Oval, Barbados in 2022.
(via Machel Montano Facebook page)

Machel Montano is a Trinidad and Tobago national treasure and a Caribbean icon. He’s all about the cultural collab—from chutney, to zouk, to American R&B in the form of Ashanti, to Indian spirituality in the form of Sadhguru.

He’s about helping to bring through talent from other parts of the Caribbean, an influence on and a hand up. The regional famalay he’s helping to grow is bigger than Skinny Fabulous. He’s collaborated with Problem Child, the Vincentian who’s the most creatively exciting and danceable soca artiste in the region today.

Monk’s work with Alison Hinds long predates this. He’s revered in the soca universe, and is getting overdue recognition on the wider global musical stage.

Machel is about reverence and love for the people who went before him, such as Calypso Rose. Of course he’d do a duet with chutney queen Drupatee Ramgoonai.

Soca star Machel Montano (left) poses with Nigerian performer Burna Boy in Miami.
(Copyright Patrick Struys)

His restless genius has given us a movie, Bazodee. He’s T&T’s best and most influential ambassador of any kind, diplomatic or cultural.

He gives back, and pays his dues. He never cheats the fans. If it’s his set at 2am and a show has been lagging with long setup times between acts, Monk banishes any thought of sleep (I’m speaking for myself) and gives everyone full value.

He doesn’t have to perform at anyone else’s T&T show if he doesn’t want to. The Double M brand has become a juggernaut. Machel Monday was one of the hottest tickets in the carnival season. It surpassed International Soca Monarch in organisation, pizazz and quality.

We love him, in part because he seems to have been with us forever. The boyish high notes that were too young to soca have given way to his distinctive rasp, and a greybeard eminence. His appearance last Saturday at Fete with the Saints made the event more than worth the pricey cost of entry.

(From left) Soca stars Destra Garcia, Machel Montano and Patrice Roberts perform at the 2023 Fete with the Saints.
(Copyright Jono Hirst)

Therefore, it’s with due respect that I say that the great man made a misstep when he and his management team decided to host his 40th anniversary One Show on Carnival Friday, 17 February. They had to have known that parking Machel’s tank on the lawns of Fantastic Friday would kill ISM.

The organisers and the government offered other credible reasons why ISM 2023 was eventually cancelled. The $3 million “support in kind” fell two-thirds short of the $10 million in funding the organisers asked the government for, they said.

Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister Randall Mitchell noted correctly that the public has been losing interest in ISM, and said that private promoters should do more to self-generate operating revenue instead of depending on the state.

Mitchell isn’t wrong in principle, but the One Show is the elephant in the room. If things were grim before, it ended any hopes of ISM 2023 going ahead.

International Soca Monarch director Geoffrey Wharton-Lake.
(via ISM)

Even in a healthier state, ISM would have been crushed by Brand Machel. Attendance was already flagging. It’s possible that some artistes could have been caught between the competition and Machel’s bigger stage.

The main argument in defence of what’s in effect a Machel Monday redux on Carnival Friday was that ISM was dying anyway, so what’s the problem letting Monk have his way and have the day?

It’s a strikingly bad argument. If your beloved relative is dying, you don’t finish her off. You attempt to revive and restore her to good health.

The country would be more exercised if Panorama finals were cancelled for any reason. There seems to be a casual disrespect towards ISM. Sister events such as Chutney Soca are going ahead.

Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell (centre) and Pan Trinbago president Beverley Ramsey-Moore enjoy themselves during the 2023 Panorama.
(via Pan Trinbago)

Family artistes from the Caribbean look forward to and need ISM, an important showcase for them. However, the mother of the soca family will be missing.

Carnival season isn’t only about the big artistes and the glitz. ISM is an important breakthrough event for up-and-coming ones. How many of those on the cusp—and who’d hoped to be seen and heard this year—can be accommodated at One Show?

Established artistes such as Iwer George have made plain through ISM’s difficult years that they consider the competition to be a big deal and important; and they can show love to it AND to their brother Monk.

No one who saw Blaxx bring the fire in 2016 will forget it. Less than a year after many paid tribute to the life of the great iconoclast we lost last March, they’re casually dissing an event that he loved and lit up.

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

ISM organisers and the government didn’t find out last week that there wasn’t enough money to stage it. They have to start from the position that ISM is an integral part of the Carnival cultural calendar, and as much of a must-have as the other Carnival weekend staples.

Start the planning hard work now in trying to re-imagine ISM as a popular and financially viable thing.

There’s no other event in the Carnival calendar at which mainstream soca artistes can compete in and win prizes in 2023. Dropping it should not be allowed to happen again.

An important part of the equation is whether Brand MM will keep its word, and the One Show will be a one-off. Frankly, I can’t see them resisting the temptation to come again for Carnival Friday.

Soca star Machel Montano at his Roast in the Kings Theatre, New York.
(via Machel Montano Facebook page)

It’s the start of the climax to the beautiful vibration, rattle and hum of the long, last weekend. It’s a special day. The day calls for complementarity, not destructive competition.

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4 comments

  1. Wase ah time.
    Tuh besides…is nuh eem Monk trowin the fete! LOL

  2. Machel helped revive a flagging ISM, let’s not forget, when he made the decision to return to the competition….obviously he also benefited from it but he also gave something to it by being part of it. Taking Carnival Friday does not kill ISM. Promoters should have had the date locked in from early…just demonstrates they were sleeping on the job …as usual. Kudos to Machel for his business sense.

  3. Let ISM die.
    Fetes apart Carnival occurs at taxpayers expenses. If ISM could not make it as a self sustaining event after all these years it really doesn’t deserve to continue.

    • Agree 100%. Why taxpayers money must be used to fund a show where the proceeds end up in the pockets of a few. Nobody wants to take on the risk but they are all too happy to walk away with the ‘bag’.

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