The International Soca Monarch semifinal competition took place on Sunday.
Seventy soca artistes, some untested in a live milieu, performed for judges to seek a place in the final on Fantastic Friday. It was also televised on CNC3, and streamed live on the Internet for a local market that chose not to or could not go to the Savannah, and for an overseas market in need of soca satisfaction.
With such a large cast performing for over eight hours, this was not your average TV show. This was an experience that had social media abuzz, complaining about the quality of performances, the quality of broadcast and the standard of our soca industry.
If the International Soca Monarch (ISM) is the acme of this music, this genre, the performances showed a rift between the few soca artistes with experience in live performance and the others, who are guaranteed appearance fees, but failed to deliver on the promise of a performance that subliminally exceeds our expectations. Soca deserves better. We deserve better.
Local audiences of television have seen and have become accustomed to live performances that accent the standard parameters of good musicianship, voice control, stage presence and the intangibles like the "it factor."
Soca in 2016 is more than a fete. But to hear and see the performances, one is left wondering if any rehearsal towards excellence was part of the mindset of many artistes. The few standout performers like Third Bass, Chucky Gordon and Blaxx certainly set a bar that could have been easily topped, but was not.
There is a difference between a recording and a live performance. There is also a difference in performance between a fete and a concert. ISM is presenting a concert–a stage, an audience in a prescribed area looking at the stage–but the idea of a fete–a stage, an audience in flux–has become so common for soca artistes that the shouting to inspire audience attention and participation supersedes any notion that performance standards differ between the two.
The social media buzz about sub-standard performance and the growing indifference of audiences towards this show and a number of carnival staples–statistics have shown a decline in carnival tourist arrivals, and audiences at calypso tents and in the stands at Panorama–point to an awareness by the public of what sells and what does not, and a failure of industry stakeholders in the production and promotion sector to keep ahead of the curve of global trends. Long concerts without variation is not a festival, it is a tedious event.
One is also left wondering at the decision of televising a marathon show as entertainment. Caribbean Prestige Foundation (CPF) chairman, Peter Scoon, at the launch of the ISM a few weeks ago, noted that "the familiar seven-plus-hour final show was not deemed television-ready by media broadcasters–the shorter, the better." Television production standards, again, were apparently below those of what is now served up as basic for live concerts. A bad performance can be well-televised, a bad television production can obliterate any idea that performance was the selling point of this marathon.
Our music industry needs new ideas beyond simply putting a camera on unprepared performers for hours. The work behind a performance of Machel Montano at his Machel Monday concert, for example, is long, it is repetitive towards excellence, it is expensive.
The simple standards that were on display at the ISM semi-finals are not what this industry needs as a benchmark for moving towards any diversified industry. We don't have the numbers so we better have the superior standard of production and performance to make an economic difference for television and live audiences.