Soca is calypso.
Soca superstar Machel Montano further cemented his place among the greatest performers to grace a stage in T&T, after he was crowned this year’s Calypso Monarch for his composition Soul of Calypso at the Dimanche Gras yesterday morning.
Already considered by many to be the “King of Soca”, Montano added another jewel to his already impressive crown of accolades on his return to the competition, a little over 30 years since his last appearance at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain.
With the achievement, Montano became the first person to win all the junior and senior individual Carnival competitions, having secured the Junior Calypso Monarch, Young King, five Soca Monarchs, and ten Road March titles during the course of his decades-long career.
He also joined Winston “Mighty Shadow” Bailey as the only performers to secure victories in the Calypso Monarch, Road March and the International Soca Monarch competitions.
The momentous occasion was not lost on Montano, who described it as his greatest achievement to date, as he was joined on stage by his mother, Elizabeth, and wife, Renee, to collect his ceremonial $500,000 cheque and the keys to a maroon Suzuki Grand Vitara valued at over $300,000.
He later gifted the car to his mother.
Montano said, “This is the greatest moment. It has to be the greatest moment because it was not designed by me.”
“It was not easy but it was effortless and joyful,” he added.
Inspired by his ongoing pursuit of a Master’s in Carnival Studies from the University of T&T (UTT), for which he took a hiatus from soca activities this year to pursue, Montano delivered a lively history lesson on the evolution of the country’s musical artforms, from kalenda to cariso traditional folk music to modern calypso and soca, as he took the stage early at the Dimanche Gras show on Sunday night.
With a well choreographed presentation synonymous with his soca renditions, Montano delivered his song’s catchy lyrics to its rudimentary but infectious melody in a performance which was arguably the most energetic in the competition in recent memory and mildly reminiscent of winners during the past peak of its popularity.
“Born around 1974 to a mother named Calypso. Junior appeared to be so much more. Over the years he start to grow ...” Montano sang.
“He is the head of the feting class, the heart of the Carnival. He is the jumping legs in the mas, the waistline causing bacchanal. A mother’s child just cannot hide and this everybody know. If you look real deep down inside, soca is the soul of calypso.”
Having been admittedly “too young” when he placed fifth during his first foray in the competition as an 11-year-old in 1986, and falling just short with a third place finish in 1991, Montano, now a veteran performer, had entered his third Calypso Monarch final the clear favourite, having topped the preliminary and semifinal rounds.
However, Montano did not rest on his on laurels, as he added to his already impressive presentation at last week’s Calypso Fiesta with guest appearances and a troupe of back-up dancers scouted from schools in east Port-of-Spain.
He brought out former monarch Terri Lyons’ son to play the iconic intro to David Rudder’s 1986 title-winning hit “Bahia Girl” on the steelpan. He was joined on stage by his mother and grandfather Austin “SuperBlue” Lyons.
Montano’s performance also featured a sample of Watch Out My Children from soca’s founding father Lord Shorty, who in his later years adopted the Ras Short I title.
Montano’s presentation also featured cameos from controversial four-time monarch Weston “Cro Cro” Rawlins and veteran calypsonian Daniel “Trinidad Rio” Brown for the portion of his song in which he comically questioned whether his father was a calypsonian.
At the end of his presentation, which ended just short of the eight minutes allotted to each contestant, there was no debate among those present that the other competitors would have to surpass a masterful effort to earn the title.
Speaking after being crowned, Montano admitted his next career goal before pursuing his studies was attempting to match the record 11 Road March titles held by Lord Kitchener.
“I did not know that going back to school would bring me here. That is the greatness of God,” an emotional Montano said.
“You can’t dream up what the creator has for you,” he added.
He thanked his lecturers, including nine-time calypso monarch Dr Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool and Krisson “Seraphim” Joseph, the son of calypso great Seadley “Mighty Penguin” Joseph, for encouraging him to compose the calypso and compete.
“His (Joseph’s) class inspired me and demanded that I write a calypso and it was the greatest experience,” he said.
Despite being in the local music industry for almost four decades, he admitted he has learned about numerous aspects of local culture while pursing his studies. He suggested that calypso should be part of the national school curriculum.
“I think some of the things I learned should be taught in primary school. This is our indigenous culture and why we did not learn about this in school?” he said.
Montano said he chose simple lyrics for the song so it could be appreciated by all age groups.
“I take the primary school calypso that everyone could sing and understand. But it have great depths in the story,” he said.
“The main message in this song is all of we is one,” he added.
Asked whether he would defend his crown, Montano said, “Yuh must defend your crown with honour. The fun for me is just getting started.”
He also encouraged other popular soca artistes to return to their calypso roots to attempt to dethrone him.
“I will be here and I encourage all to get involved. Come for me. I ready for it,” he said.
Montano’s success in the competition, which was immediately lauded by his large fanbase on social media, was not met with the same enthusiasm by some calypso “purists” at the event, who favour more hard-hitting social commentary. They were, however, in no doubt of the eventual outcome.
One former monarch, who did not compete this year but has a penchant for correctly predicting the outcome of the annual contest, gave his prediction as he strolled by backstage hours before the judges’ decision was announced.
“What I can tell you is that calypso did not win tonight,” he said.
Placing second was 2011 monarch Karene Asche, who was hoping to earn her second title with her typically soulful performance of her social commentary No Excuse, which exclaimed that poverty is no justification for a life of crime.
Roderick “Chuck” Gordon, who won back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015, missed out on securing a third with his anti-colonial satirical piece Charlsie, which targeted British monarch King Charles.
Perennial finalist Kurt Allen, who won his lone title in 2010, underperformed in the final with his introspective calypso, De First Investigation, which called on parents to intervene in their children’s lives before they go astray.
While it was arguably the strongest entry lyrically, Allen’s performance was partially marred by microphone feedback, leaving him in eighth place.
Four-time Junior Calypso Monarch winner Aaron Duncan was a crowd favourite in his first time in a senior competition but did not impress the judges, among them former president Anthony Carmona, as he placed seventh.
Reining monarch Ta’Zyah O’Connor was also convincingly dethroned with a ninth place finish.
In tenth place was National Carnival Commission chairman Winston “Gypsy” Peters, who was crowned Extempo Monarch late last week and whose entry into Carnival competitions has been criticised due to his role as an administrator, albeit not in the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation, which runs both competitions. His performance of Ungrateful was uncharacteristically demure and only lasted half the allotted time.
Asche received $500,000, while Gordon received $350,000. Young King Mical Teja earned $250,000 as he finished fourth with his popular Road March contender DNA.
Independent Senator Helon Francis, who won in 2018, placed fifth and was awarded $175,000 with his biopic composition Representing We, in which he drew on his experience in Parliament.
All other participants, including reserve Queen Victoria, received $45,000.
Calypso Monarch 2024 Results
1. ↓Machel Montano–Soul of Calypso
2. Karene Asche–No Excuse
3. Roderick Gordon–Charlsie
4. Mical Teja–DNA
5. Helon Francis–Representing We
6. ↓Stacey Sobers-Abraham–Respect the Tribe
7. Aaron Duncan–Character
8. Kurt Allen–De First Investigation
9. Ta’zyah O’Connor–Focus
10. ↓Winston “Gypsy” Peters–Ungrateful
11. Brian London–Hell
12. Dillion Thomas–It Wasn’t Me