For many years, it has been hailed as Fantastic Friday, but that is now quite debatable since some people consider the International Soca Monarch (ISM) of today to be a lacklustre version of what the competition used to be.
The ISM seemed to be on the road to recovery last year when Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez served as producer, delivering what members of the public and participating artistes said was a much better show compared to what had been presented in recent years.
Those hopes for continued recovery were dashed when in January, Lyons-Alvarez stepped down from her post. The appointment of Question Mark Entertainment founder Simon Baptiste as ISM creative director however reignited hopes of better days for the competition, founded 23 years ago by William Munro.
Baptiste is working steadfastly not only to bring the competition back to its glory days but to surpass that and finally bring the competition to real international success and true sustainable financial viability.
Baptiste’s aim is to produce and package a show that will be accepted on major television networks in North America and beyond, showcasing not only soca music but everything Trinidad and Tobago has to offer in the way of tourism and entertainment.
At this point, Baptiste is starting at ground zero because interest in the event began to dwindle when several of the top soca artistes, among them four-time winner Bunji Garlin, Lyons-Alvarez and Kees Dieffenthaller stopped competing over the past several years. Then when five-time winner Machel Montano retired from the competition, the number of people attending the final declined significantly.
There is the hope that tonight’s final will attract an increased number of patrons, if not for the excitement of the line-up of competitors—which includes front runner Iwer George—but because of the creation of a segment featuring guest performances by local dancehall acts being loosely called the “Zesser Movement” segment. This is expected to encourage the youth who are tuned into the dancehall music to attend the show and possibly gain a new appreciation for soca.
A platform for youths
Baptiste said contrary to a story in the Express that the decision to include the dancehall artistes in the ISM final was made in order to placate Trinidad Killa (Kern Joseph) and the zesser movement over Killa being left out of the preliminary although his song, “Power In Soca (Dyy Zess)”, remains one of the most popular in fetes, Baptiste told the ISM owners he wanted a create a space in the show for local dancehall artistes when he was initially appointed.
“I have always been finding ways to create platforms for our young artistes, regardless of what genre of music they perform. I had intended to include the zesser artistes in the show all along because it is a way to get the youth to come out and hear the soca music,” Baptiste said.
There is no defending monarch in the Power category tonight as Mr Killa bowed out of the competition because of issues he had with the ISM producers. Iwer George seems to be the favourite with his “Stage Gone Bad”, which he recorded alongside Dieffenthaller. Another frontrunner is Lyrikal (Devon Martin), whose “Rukshun” has been steadily growing in popularity throughout the season and is now a major force to be reckoned with.
In the Groovy category, Swappi (Marvin Davis) will be defending his title against 11 opponents. This category is actually proving to be exciting and also more heated than the Power category as several of the competitors have songs that have been doing very well in fetes. Among the front runners are Skinny Banton (Shirlan George) with “Wrong Again”; Viking Ding Dong (Andre Houlder) with “OutSide”; Blaxx (Dexter Stewart) with “Canboulay” and College Boy Jesse (Jesse Stewart) with “Happy Song”.