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Young Kings Monarch - A class act
February 28 was a bittersweet day for Stephen Marcelle. He woke that morning feeling “sick like a dog,” there was more than usual traffic on the roads, he was having no end of worry with the props for his performance later that day in the NACC Young Kings Monarch final at Queen’s Hall, and he learned that his acclaimed Christophe Grant calypso—Politics Go Spoil de Lime—didn’t make the cut for this year’s Kaiso Fiesta, the semi-final of the National Calypso Monarch competition. But Marcelle persevered and was eventually named the 2013 Young Kings Monarch.
Born in Diego Martin, he began singing as a fourth standard student at Diego Martin Boys’ RC Primary School. “I actually had to be forced into the school choir,” recalled the 35-year-old calypso champion, “as I didn’t like singing. I found that choir practice took up too much time from playing outdoors. Once I was outside playing, whether running or pitching marble, just being outside doing fun stuff was my joy.
“The first year I was forced to sing I ended up entering and winning Music Festival for the school, in Solo category. I realised then that I may have had some talent.”
Marcelle grew up with a lot of sisters and brothers. He reminisced: “We were not really too well off, but we managed to get by. My father died when I was eight, so it was left to mom to play the roles of mom and dad. It’s only when you get older that you realise just how difficult it is to raise a family, the proper way.
“My mom, Vernie, was a fighter. She was unbelievable. The children knew she was missing dad, and had down days, but she struggled against all odds, ensuring that we always had food on the table. She was a very strict mother. When she said ‘no!’ she meant ‘NO!’ But, she always supported us in whatever we did, once it was positive.
“When I passed Common Entrance for St Anthony’s College, mom insisted that, while I was now enjoying singing and it was an important thing to me, that I focused on my education.
“Because of education I had to suppress singing until I sat CXC. The subjects...were demanding so I had no choice. I passed my eight subjects at CXC and mom advised me not to stop my academics. I wanted to work, but she insisted I make school my first priority.
“I entered Polytechnic Sixth Form at 17 and eventually passed all my subjects at A Levels with flying colours. It was at Poly that the music picked back up, as I had met six fellow students there who enjoyed singing as much as I did. During breaks, we would go under the famous almond tree in the school yard, and just sing. We decided among ourselves that we should enter SanFest. That year, we were about the smallest choir to ever enter this competition and we placed second overall. This opened the doors for Poly to begin entering Music Festival, and today the school is a strong participant.”
Some of the people in the Poly choir were multiple International Soca Monarch finalist Destra and Keithson Cruickshank, musical director of SASS, Nadia Batson’s all-female band, and leader of the new Root Seed band.
Marcelle’s mother died when he was 20, but he continued studying and singing. He said: “In the last year at Poly some of us went on to university, and I studied marketing, public relations and advertising. During university the music resumed and I started performing karaoke. I thoroughly enjoyed it and began visiting different karaoke bars all over the country.
“A lot of big names have emerged out of karaoke, like Karene Asche, Kizzie Ruiz, Fireball, Jahmelody, Terri Lyons and Kwesi Jeffers. Karaoke also assists an artiste in meeting the movers and shakers in entertainment, like producers, cruise ship agents, and casino and restaurant people. It was through karaoke I was introduced to Volume, the first band I performed with.”
From Volume, Marcelle moved on to Pan Maestros, followed by Wax Vision 2, the hit band of The Anchorage Pop Rock competition. When Knycky Cordner was injured, Marcelle joined Blue Ventures for a year. He subsequently did a number of years with Island Vibes, accumulating experience and winning fans along the way. Last October, Marcelle joined Traffik and shares lead vocals with Charlene Griffith and Raughn Valere.
He said: “I have been made to feel very comfortable with Traffik. The past few months have been fun. On a resurgence, Traffik is still a big band. We were one of the featured bands at Skinner Park for Kaiso Fiesta. So, although I was left out of the semi-final, I still managed to touch the stage. The band also performed at The Carnival Village twice, and at the Arouca and Penal launches of C2K13.”
Marcelle has some valuable advice for young, aspiring artistes. “It is very challenging being a young entertainer in T&T,” said Marcelle. “It is harder being the reigning Young Kings Monarch as all eyes are on you and people are expecting you to always be at your best. Young artistes must possess a passion and love for the art and music. You have to be with it 199 per cent of the time. Regardless of what you are going through in your personal life, you need to always have to be humble, and keep a smile on your face, and be nice to everybody. This can be achieved once you have the love of music within you as the public feels that love, and feeds off it, and vice vice.”
A lot has been said about the local music industry, and Marcelle has some strong views on the industry. He said: “The local music industry is another challenge because you need to understand the industry before you get into it. ‘Pay yuh dues’ is the popular slang in this business, but what about somebody who is young and now entering but who is as talented, sometimes even more, than those who are considered to be the stars?
“People shouldn’t wait until an artiste gains recognition ten years down the road to acknowledge him, when that acknowledgement was well deserved ten years earlier. This country is overflowing with very talented young people but they are neither recognised or rewarded.”
“I am in this for the long haul. I intend to stick it out. Winning the Young Kings Monarch title felt great, but it’s just a stepping stone to even greater things for Stephen Marcelle. The day of the contest I went through a helluva lot, as late as up to 45 minutes before showtime. I was also very sick. Not being selected for the national monarch semi-final in Skinner Park was a major negative and disappointment for me.”
So, what’s in the future for Marcelle? He said: “Musically, I am continuing my private solo work and performing with Traffik, with Charlene and Raughn in the band’s frontline. We all have stuff that we intend releasing by the end of May. Because of the title, I am getting a few extra gigs. I have begun working on songs for carnivals outside of T&T Carnival.
“One thing though, I would like more respect shown to the holder of the Young Kings Monarch title, one that every calypsonian would like to own. It’s a special title, despite being the one with the lowest paid prizes in calypso, as you only can win once, unlike any other calypso monarch. Other organisations need to be more respectful of the work that the NACC and NWAC have done for so many years with their competitions, lifting the calypso art form and the calypsonian. the prize money definitely needs to be upgraded, especially as the winner is debarred from re-entering.”
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