PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad When
COLOR="#003163">Iwer Georgelost the Soca
Monarch and Road March King titles to
COLOR="#003163">SuperBlueat Trinidad and
Tobago's Carnival 2000 this month, he lost money and prestige.
And by demanding a recount in the latter contest, he proved just how
important such titles for performers have become on the international
SuperBlue is now guaranteed top billing wherever he performs on
the international Carnival circuit a huge lift at a time when the
circuit is taking root in cities worldwide and when calypso and soca
artists have grown increasingly dependent on the opportunities it
provides for year-round performances and incomes.
So before "Fantastic Friday," the March 3 competition that kicked off
the final weekend of Trinidad and Tobago's two-and-a-half-month
Carnival season, George was counting on his song "Carnival Come
Back Again" to sweep the Soca Monarch and Road March King
But both contests, along with prize money and a new car, were
decided in favor of SuperBlue's equally energetic entry, "Soca Matrix
(Pump It Up)."
Afterward, George changed his tune to "unfair" and asked his
attorney to demand a recount. A single point had decided Road
March in favor of SuperBlue.
While Soca Monarch is decided the night of the competition, the
"king" of the Road March is announced later, after the judges tally the
number of times a song is played by the sound trucks that roam the
island over two days.
The sound trucks, trailed by hordes of masqueraders fueled by the
contents of the vehicles' portable bars, pass in front of eight judging
No controversy sullied the Calypso Monarch 2000 decision,
however, which went to the Mighty
Shadow. Competition for Calypso Monarch (also
known as People's Monarch) now includes the thought-provoking
lyrics and diverse musical structures of early soca, which developed
in the '70s when calypso began integrating African-American soul
music. More recently, though, soca has devolved into predictable
"jump and wine" songs that emphasize hedonism over culture.
Despite the comparatively paltry grand prize of a new car, Calypso
Monarch is by far the more musically satisfying Carnival contest. This
year, the judges finally looked beneath Mighty Shadow's shrewd
primitivism, honoring his twisting melodic agility and his strange and
wonderful way of conveying the simultaneously appalling and
hilarious nature of daily existence.
Having lost Carnival competitions in 1974 with "Bassman" and in
1994 with "Poverty Is Hell," Shadow earned the label the "Bassman
From Hell." This year, on the urgings of his fans, soca star
convinced Shadow to step on the Queen's Savannah stage. He
stood straight-backed, stolid and pugnacious before the judges.
Dressed in his signature black, his silvery beard glinting under the
lights, Shadow referenced his past Carnival losses with the song
"What's Wrong With Me?" With his backup chorus answering, "We
don' know," he expounded: "Am I ugly or what? Bad lucky or what?"
During round two of the competition, he stepped to higher ground
with "Scratch Meh Back" from his latest album, Am I Sweet
or What? a side-splitting, heart-rending anthem about the
indignities wrought by age.
By the time Shadow left the stage, thousands in the stands were on
their feet chanting his name. And the Honda was his.
As for the Soca Monarch controversy, George's demand for a
recount will likely create more heat. Just like in the lucrative world of
professional wrestling, every soca fan now wants to see SuperBlue
clash again with George.