Post-Game: Trinidad Carnival Roundup

March 10, 2011

Words by Eddie STATS Houghon and Jillionaire, via The Guardian UK


Through the kind links of our UK correspondent Gabriel Heatwave of the London-based Heatwave crew Jillionaire and myself were tapped to provide the Guardian newspaper with a breakdown of the goings-on and getting-mads at this year’s Trinidad Carnival. We have reposted the column in full below, including the tunes that won the various titles in the Soca Monarch constellation. Since this went up on Tuesday, however, Machel Montano’s “Advantage” (as predicted!) also took the Road March title, winning the hearts and minds of the people in addition to the all-important judges panel and completing his massive comeback to the Carnival stage. If these J’ouvert monsters and the Tony Tempo and Heatwave carnival mixes included in Mixtape Mondays are not enough to satiate your soca hunger, you can also download the Extreme Soca Mix from Massive B’s resident Trini D-Life below and rave out while you read…


Trinidad Carnival 2011 Overview

Machel Montano, “Advantage.”

The biggest story of Carnival 2011 was the highly publicized and controversial Soca Monarch competition. Held every year on Fantastic Friday (followed by Monday and Tuesday’s Parade of the Bands) the relevance of this competition has been hotly debated lately as many of the biggest stars – Machel Montano, Bunji Garlin, Alison Hinds and others – had effectively retired from participating, mainly on the grounds that this was not what their music was about. But the big guns almost unanimously returned to the festival stage this year, wooed by the prospect of a first prize worth TTD 2 million. The result was a hardfought lyrical war amongst the soca triad of Machel Montano, Iwer George and Bunji Garlin. In the end, Machel took the purse with “Advantage” while Iwer – who some say was robbed of the crown – came in a close second with “Come To Meh,” in which he instructs partygoers to ‘come to me!’ and ‘go away!’ Pied Piper-style. His onstage props included not only traditional Blue Devils and Moko Jumbies but a makeshift airplane which hovered over the crowd, leading patrons ‘to the left’ and ‘to the right’, but were no match (in the judges’ eyes) for Machel’s explosive stage presence. Surrounded by dancers on Cirque du Soleil-inspired support wires, and thirty-foot setpieces, Machel took to the stage with the intensity and crowd command that has left audiences mesmerised across the world. His ode to the beloved stage at Queen’s Park Savannah – which was demolished several years ago and only rebuilt this carnival – rings deep in the heart of Trinis everywhere, as carnival, and by extension ‘crossing the stage’, is a fundamental part of the Trinidadian ethos.

Kes the Band, “Wotless.”

Meanwhile, Kees Dieffenthaller handily took the Groovy Soca crown, with the less frenetic “Wotless.” The Chutney Monarch crown went to Rikki Jai for “White Oak and Water” at a separate event on March 19th, where disgruntled runner-up Ravi B made his case by exhorting fans to “pelt something” on the empty stage.

Rikki Jai, “White Oak and Water.”

The last jewel in the carnival crown—the Road March title—is still being decided as you read, by judges camped out in the formidable heat (96 degrees in the shade!) to record the songs most heard at designated points along the parade route. The favorite so far is “Advantage” and the Groovy favorite is a toss-up between “Wotless” and Benjai’s new national anthem, “Trini.”

Benjai, “Trini.”

But the more statistically-minded soca-analytics of Road March point to the other big story that emerged this season. While Machel made good his return to Queens Oval Park by abandoning an international crossover sound and focusing on pure Power soca, there was a preponderance of jams that hovered in the 125-135 bpm range—splitting the difference between the traditional categories of Power (160bpm) and Groovy (112 bpm) and demonstrating soca’s increasing integration with (and influence on) house, techno, funky and other global dance genres. The perfect example may be the percussive, African-inspired Swahili riddim, featuring cuts from Denise Belfon (“Dance & Dingolay”) and Blaxx (“Tantie Woi”), both J’Ouvert monsters. A hit in New York and Jamaica as well, “Dingolay” epitomised the trend; it’s nomination in the Groovy category disappointing many proponents who felt it belonged in Power. And for pure infectious joy its throwaway couplets – I am a whining machine / watch the style and doh’ intervene – may stand up in a year’s time as well as Benjai’s national pride or Machel’s momentous homecoming.

Denise Belfon, “Dance and Dingolay.”