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Soca through the years
The first ever Soca Monarch final was held on Thursday, February 11, 1993 at The Spectrum, a venue founded by William Munro and located then on The Foreshore in Port-of-Spain, a site now occupied by the expansive MovieTowne complex. A collaborative effort by the Carnival Judges Association of T&T, headed by Dr Vijay Ramlal, and Prestige Production, led by William Munro, the Soca Monarch competition is today staged in two categories—Groovy and Power Soca—and also features a Vintage segment. It is also branded now as “Fantastic Friday” and is the largest event in T&T Carnival.
The first final fielded 29 participants, including giants like Sparrow, Shadow, Gypsy, Crazy and Baron, the winner being assured of a $25,000 first prize. Singing Bacchanal Time, SuperBlue was adjudged the first ever Soca Monarch. He was followed in the placings by Ronnie Mc Intosh singing Donkey Dance; Gypsy singing The Party’s Over; Machel Montano singing Ah Like It; and, Crazy singing Jump Up and Wail, respectively. Also amongst the top ten finalists, in descending order, were All Rounder, De Fosto, Drupatie Ramgoonai, Ajala and Iwer George.
Held again on February 11, the 1994 final featured 21 qualifiers with just three female acts making the cut—Ella Andall, The United Sisters and Denyse Plummer. Singing Tempo, Plummer placed third, behind SuperBlue (Flag Party) and Preacher (Jump and Wave), respectively.
In 1994, Ronnie Mc Intosh (Put Up Yuh Hand) and Iwer George (Do the Iwer) shared fourth berth, with Montano placing sixth singing By All Means. As happened the previous year when the Soca Monarch’s song also won the Road March, Preacher’s Jump and Wave ran away with the ‘94 Road March title. With Munro under much pressure from conservationists claiming that his Mecca structure was endangering the environment and mangrove, the 1995 Soca Monarch final was held at the then National Stadium, on Friday, February 24. Twenty-four participants were selected to contest the final.
SuperBlue failed in his effort to score a hat-trick of wins, and was dethroned by Ronnie Mc Intosh, ironically singing a song (On de Road) composed by Blue. Placing second in the final, SuperBlue would have some consolation days later when his Signal for Lara won him his seventh Road March title. Doing Do the Iwer, Butterfly, Shadow Wave, Colin Lucas placed third, ahead of Steve Sealy (Breakaway) and Anslem Douglas (Mash Up de Party), respectively.
Ironically, singing a song titled Bounce, SuperBlue bounced back to the winner’s pole in 1996, the first year the competition was renamed International Soca Monarch. Now open to regional singers, the final included Michael Thompson, Mac Fingall and Adrian Clarke (Barbados); and, Grenada’s Ajamu. The final was a contentious one as, via court action, the first ever Chutney Soca Monarch, Sonny Mann, was included among the Soca Monarch finalists, after being disqualified at the semifinal, a decision which drew the ire of the public.
Following SuperBlue in the placings of ‘96 were brothers Nigel and Marvin Lewis, singing Movin’; Machel Montano (Make a Borrow); Ronnie Mc Intosh (Flying Time); and; Barbados’ Fingall (Big Belly Man), respectively.
The Soca Monarch final of 1997 was a historic one in that it registered the first ever joint champion, the first place shared between Mc Intosh (Ent) and SuperBlue (Barbara). It was also the first time that a regional singer, Barbadian Edwin Yearwood (Down the Road), placed in the top three. In fact the competition, with 25 finalists, fielded a total of four tied berths—the first place, 12th, 14th and 21st. Completing the top five positions were Oscar B (Brassline) and Iwer (Jump Up & Dunk).
For the 1998 competition, the final was moved from the Stadium and was held for the first time at the Queen’s Park Oval. When the dust cleared at this new venue, the judges returned SuperBlue, singing Ato Party, to the top of the heap as the undisputed Soca Monarch. That February 20 night, singing Ah Reading, Iwer scored his second first runner-up placing. The third place was filled by eventual Road March champion Wayne Rodriguez, singing Footsteps; ahead of Denyse Plummer (Carnival Queen) and KMC (Bashment for Carnival).
The competition again had a final night change in 1999, this time staged at PSA Grounds, on Long Circular Road, St James, on February 12. Again in second place, singing Iwer and 1/2, Iwer George was beaten by Kurt Allen, singing Stampede. SuperBlue placed third singing Hooray. Surprisingly, new female soca artiste Sanell Dempster, who was placed fourth, won that year’s Road March with her ditty titled The River, becoming only the second woman to cop the Road March title ever.
It was back to the Oval for the final of 2000, held on March 3. Singing Pump Up, SuperBlue again won the competition, ahead of his main rival Iwer George, singing Carnival come back again. These two stalwarts kept the regional invasion at bay as Grenada’s Talpree, singing Old Woman Alone, placed third, ahead of Barbados’ Red Plastic Bag, singing Volcano. The fifth place went to Eddie Charles, singing No Evidence. The 2000 contest brought irrefutable evidence that Soca Monarch does influence the outcome of the Road March as that year, for the first time in Carnival history, SuperBlue and Iwer were declared joint Road March champ.
Remaining at the Oval in 2001, few disputed that year’s results as the judges adjudged that Shadow, singing Stranger, was a runaway winner. He defeated Bunji Garlin (Fete is Fete); Peter C Lewis (Tay Lay Lay); Destra (Tremble It); and, SuperBlue (Sundar), respectively. By having Shadow also win the Road March title, Shadow became the first person to win the Soca Monarch, National Calypso Monarch (2000) and Road March titles.
Eighteen singers participated in the 2002 final and history would record it as ‘a family affair’ as brothers Iwer (Gimme Ah Bligh) and Naya George (Trinidad) placed first and third, respectively—another first. However, Iwer had to share the title, for the second time in the competition’s history with another finalist, this time Bunji Garlin, singing In de Ghetto. With passage of time, Bunji would marry Fay-Ann Lyons, daughter of prolific Soca Monarch champion SuperBlue. Completing the top five spots were Onika Bostic (Mash it Up) and Roger George (Break).
The judges of 2003 separated the previous year’s joint champ by adjudging Iwer, singing Ah Home, as the sole winner. Bunji Garlin was placed second with Alive, followed by Destra (Is Carnival) and Fay-Ann (Display), respectively. KMC placed fifth, singing Carnival Rags. Fourth-placed Fay-Ann copped that year’s Road March title, making her the third woman in Carnival history to win this coveted and prestigious laurel.
Bunji, singing Warrior Cry, was crowned the 2004 Soca Monarch, beating eventual Road March winner Shurwayne Winchester, singing De Band Coming. For the second consecutive year Destra placed third in the final, singing Bonnie & Clyde. Singing Indian Man, sister soca diva Denise Belfon placed fourth, ahead of Blazer who rendered Stages.
Bunji, with a very theatrical and fiery performance of Blaze It, won the 2005 title, ahead of Winchester (Dead or Alive) and Iwer (Tension), respectively. The Soca Monarch contest, still impacting on the road on Carnival day, saw Winchester’s Dead or Alive win him his second consecutive Road March title. Third and fourth in the final, respectively, that year were Fay-Ann (Wave) and Patrice Roberts, a relative of Bunji, singing Islands.
Yet another hybrid of Soca, the Groovy Soca category, was formally introduced on Fantastic Friday night in 2005 and its first winner was a woman, Michelle Sylvester, who sang a popular song titled Sleeping in my bed.
The 2006 final of Soca Monarch was staged at the Hasely Crawford Stadium with just 11 participants. This time, Winchester (Can’t Wait) turned the table on Bunji (Bomb Song) to win the biggest first prize to that date. It was the second year that the competition was split into two categories—Groovy and Power—and Winchester created history by winning both. He sang Don’t Stop in the Groovy category.
Iwer George won the coveted Power Soca Monarch title for a third time in 2007 singing Fete After Fete, a feat replicated by Bunji Garlin the following year, performing Fire. Now married to Bunji, in 2009, Fay-Ann created history by being the first woman to win the Power Soca title. She sang Meet SuperBlue and remains the only female to achieve this feat; Sanell Dempster being the winner of the inaugural Groovy Soca competition ten years earlier. Meet SuperBlue was also the Road March of 2009.
Even more Soca Monarch history was created in 2007 as Barbadian Biggie Irie, singing Nah Going Home, became the first non-national to win a Soca Monarch title, doing so in the Groovy category.
The winners of the International Groovy Soca title in 2008 and 2009 were Winchester (Please Stay) and Fay-Ann (Heavy T Bumper), respectively. Fay-Ann also became the first woman to win both categories of the competition.
The 2010 competition was dominated by the duo of JW & Blaze performing Palance, also the Road March of that year. Singing Murdah, Winchester won his third Groovy Soca title in 2010.
Despite his young age, Machel Montano has been a Soca Monarch competitor since its inception in 1993, placing fourth that year’s final with Ah Like It. The soca superstar came full circle in 2011, convincingly winning the Power Soca title, singing Advantage. On final night, Montano transformed the Stadium stage into an visually stimulating Carnival tapestry, using costumes designed by legendary mas man Peter Minshall. The 2011 final was also one for the history books as it was the first time the winner received a two million-dollar prize.
Kees Dieffenthaller won the 2011 International Groovy Soca Monarch title, singing Wotless.
Last year, Montano outdid himself, winning both the Groovy and Power Soca titles, performing Mr Fete and Pump Yuh Flag, respectively, in spite of fierce competition from Iwer George. He literally flew over everyone’s head as his double, in the form of a rocket man, exited the stage in a jet pack, a well executed illusion that caused the thousands to believe it was actually Montano flying off.
So, who’ll win this year’s competition? It’s early days yet, with the semifinals taking place on Sunday afternoon at The Velodrome in Arima, with 60 soca artistes qualifying in both categories.