Iwer! Iwer! Iwer!
That repetitive chant, 1,000-plus voices strong, heralded the return of Neil “Iwer” George to soca supremacy long before any results were read on Saturday morning at the International Soca Monarch (ISM) final.
The Point Fortin-born veteran soca performer secured his fourth overall ISM title and second power soca category win, with an emphatic performance of his Road March contending collaboration with Kees Dieffenthaller — “Stage Gone Bad” — at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain.
Iwer first won the title in 2002 following a tied first place finish with Bunji Garlin (Ian Alvarez).
He repeated the following year and was last crowned power soca monarch in 2007.
The ISM first divided the competition into groovy and power soca in 2005.
Last year, the competition reverted to one overall category under the stewardship of chairperson Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez but returned to the two category format this year under newly installed competition head Simon Baptiste.
“This win has a sweet feeling that words cannot explain. This win restored my faith in the power of the people. The people spoke and ISM listened,” a pleased Iwer told the Sunday Express yesterday.
Murphy’s law wreaks havoc on ISM
Iwer’s achievement came in spite of Murphy’s Law wreaking havoc on the competition.
A number of things went wrong at ISM 2020, starting with the late set-up of the Johnny Q sound system that resulted in a two-hour-plus late start.
Add to that a range of continuous technical issues with the sound system that led to embarrassing restarts by performers on the live international broadcast.
In the early hours of yesterday morning, however, a dapper Iwer, appearing in black tie and aviator shades, trampled, leapt and waved across the ISM stage evoking maximum participation from an eager crowd.
There were levels to his performance.
Iwer first built intrigue by remaining off-stage during the opening hook.
With the feting crowd swelling in anticipation he ran on stage to the suggestive drums that precede the song’s mayhem-inspiring chorus.
Once on the circular ramp that projected from the stage into the audience he let out a long exasperated “ayeeeeee”.
The ensuing wave of energy throughout the crowd resembled a sea with several clashing currents.
The self-titled “Water Lord” then directed his heavy-breathing minions to the large screen behind him where Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith suddenly appeared.
“The stage you are looking at has reported to have gone bad. I repeat the stage is not good again. I have reassigned reinforcements via Kees to assist you with this mission. If you, Kees or any band member should become hurt in this operation, I would not be held responsible. Good luck Mr George. Good luck Kees. This message will self-destruct in five seconds,” Griffith said much to their amusement.
Without warning, Kees burst onto stage to join Iwer in sending the now euphoric crowd into overdrive. It was all over at that point.
It didn’t matter that there were five competitors to come, including serious contenders Vincentian Problem Child (Johnny Fontainne) and New York-based Lyrikal (Devon Martin).
Both “Problem is a Problem” and “Lyro”, as they are fondly called by fans, made memorable entrances during credible performances of their respective hits “Nasty Up” and “Rukshun”.
Both songs are on the popular Darkseid Riddim.
Problem was lowered with cables from the roof of the stage before encouraging the crowd to “mash it up and buy it back”.
A kingly Lyrikal was hoisted through the thick crowd while seated atop a throne.
Once he made it to the stage he told the massive crowd to “do me a favour, doh tell me bout behaviour”.
Lyrikal finished an impressive second while Problem was not among the top three.
Instead, Olatunji Yearwood’s polished pop-show performance of his emotive “Thankful” won him third spot.
A College Boy shocker
Earlier, College Boy Jesse (Jesse Stewart) shocked the groovy competition with a near flawless performance of his feel-good soca hit “Happy Song”.
With all eyes on defending monarch Swappi (Marvin Davis) and monster hit carrying Skinny Banton (Shirlan George) few if anyone would have predicted a win for the Cunupia-based act.
Jesse’s precise vocals and balloon-popping-shiny-celebratory presentation ensured Swappi settled for second spot with his popular “Jumbie Head”.
Skinny Banton, meanwhile, shockingly finished outside of the top three places with his monster hit “Wrong Again”.
“It feels great that my team and I have achieved our objective for the season. The goal was for the local audience to learn more about me and connect to my music. Winning the groovy monarch was the icing on the cake,” a grateful Jesse told the Sunday Express via WhatsApp yesterday evening.
Jesse, who has written for the biggest names in soca including Machel Montano and Vincentian Skinny Fabulous (Gamal Doyle), said the underdog status suited his strategy as he was able to fly under the radar of his competitors.
“Being underestimated was definitely to my benefit. I really enjoyed being the underdog. My intention was to stay focused on my task, improve on my last performance and push the bar on Fantastic Friday,” Jesse said.
Another virtual newcomer Viking Ding Dong (Andre Houlder) finished third in the Groovy category with his crowd pleaser “Outside”.
The heavy-set Ding Dong showed good stamina during a high energy performance that tested his aerobic fitness.
And when he leapt off the stage into a waiting net there was not a closed mouth in Carnival City.
All eyes will be on Iwer and Kees in the coming days to see if they can complete the double and take the 2020 Road March title.
Asked about the seemingly inevitable result Iwer said: “I am just elated and at a loss for words.”