SuperBlue Wins A Round At Trinidad And Tobago's Carnival

The soca artist went to the wire with Iwer George in competition for potentially lucrative soca titles.

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — When

COLOR="#003163">Iwer George lost the Soca

Monarch and Road March King titles to

COLOR="#003163">SuperBlue at 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

reggae circuit.

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

titles.

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

locations.

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

Black Stalin

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.