title taken from “Road March Bacchanal 2” by Iwer George
Trinidad Carnival 2019
2019 was not supposed to be a particularly significant year. It’s not an even number and it does not mark the beginning of a new decade. However, this turned out to be a historic year for Trinidad Carnival. With a shakeup in the Soca Monarch leadership, pan bands heading to court, and Trinidadians fearing the loss of their culture, the long season was fraught with controversy. But then again, what’s Carnival without bacchanal?
The unofficial kickoff to the Carnival festivities is Machel Monday, where artistes (soca and non) perform for a large live audience and those viewing the online stream. The show started with Machel, Skinny Fabulous, and Bunji Garlin performing their song, “Famalay,” a song that had been subject to international criticism for months.
Road March: The song that is played most when masqueraders of over 500 band sections crossed the judgement stage in Queens Park Savannah, has been historically performed by a local artiste(s). Although “Famalay” has two local artistes, Skinny Fabulous hails from St. Vincent. The addition of the foreigner sparked debate over whether or not the song should even qualify for the competition. However, a review of the Road March rules revealed that a song only has to be two-thirds local, making it absolutely eligible. Once the tune won over the later released “Savannah Grass” by Kes the Band, there was a call to change the way that Road March is even decided. Despite the gripes, “Famalay” took the prize! This was Machel’s tenth win, Bunji’s first, and Skinny Fabulous became only the second non-Trini to win the title.
Ashanti triggers Joe Budden: Machel Monday also featured American R&B star Ashanti who came to perform “The Road” with Machel, which was produced by legend-in-the-making Travis World. Her appearance in her Trinidad costume triggered an unsolicited response from rapper Joe Budden. “These chicks can’t wait to put on these Carnival outfits and be hoes.” Did he really think Caribbean Twitter wouldn’t drag him after that? The social media backlash prompted the brash radio host to issue an apology.
Machel vs Iwer: As though this was not enough controversy, Machel performed an extemporaneous jab at Neil Iwer George during the show. The two had been going back and forth online and in studio starting with Iwer George’s “Road March Bacchanal 2", where he takes aim at Machel’s 2018 Road March win. Machel retorted with two versions of Dr. Mashup advising Iwer to “take [his] licks like a man.” Both artistes claimed that the rivalry was strictly musical, but Iwer demanded an apology for Machel’s attacks as well as his manager Chinese Laundry’s ban on Iwer’s music. Hoping to salvage the business relationship prior to Machel Monday, Machel apologized. All good, right? Nope. Iwer announced that, due to the lateness of the apology, he was unable to perform at Machel Monday. Well played, Iwer. Well played.
Oh wait. That was just Monday. Let’s skip ahead to the main event.
Soca Monarch: The 26-year-old competition has had a declining attendance over the past ten years. With the prize money being reduced and the over 6-hour show not even resulting with the announcement of the winner, people have lost interest in seeing it live. The organizers finally decided to make a change and handed the reigns over to the first woman to ever win the title.
Fay-Ann Lyons was made manager of the 2019 International Soca Monarch competition on January 14th, giving her less than 90 days to make improvements. The ViQueen, wife of Bunji “The Viking” Garlin, quickly set to work assembling a team that included artiste and radio personality Terrin “Jaiga” Callendar to usher in the “new era of soca.”
Not only did she have to overhaul the show and sort out prize money, she had to contend with local concerns that the possible repeat of a non-Trini winning Soca Monarch could lead to Trinidadians losing their culture. If you’re lost here, I can’t help you because I don’t see the connection either.
Despite the looming threat to Trini heritage, the Queens Park Savannah on Carnival Friday night was, as the young people say, lit! Visitors from around the world came to support the foreign acts. Even the Prime Minister of St. Lucia flew in to support hometown crooner Teddyson John, who took second place in the Groovy Soca category.
Everyone had their eyes on the highly-anticipated Power Soca category. Trinidad’s fast-paced soca has dominated the scene for decades, but with Grenada’s abundance of pace tunes, the foreigners were well-poised to take the title. Short of a disastrous live performance, socaholics suspected that Mr. Killa would win the competition with his wildly popular “Run Wid It.” And win he did! The theatrical performance and high-energy crowd engagement resulted in the crowning of the new Power Soca king. Wait! Is Trinidad still a thing? Did his win eliminate it from the face of the earth as locals feared? I didn’t think so.
Pan in court: Saturday night was the annual Panorama competition. Steel bands often have drama, but this year it became litigious. The manager of the four-time Panorama champions Exodus Steel Orchestra was outraged over Pan Trinbago’s decision to not allow the band to change its tune for the Panorama finals. “We are going to court over this. We are taking them to court,” manager Ainsworth Mohammed said.
In the end, the band was legally successful… although, they were not victorious in the competition. Renegades Steel Orchestra managed to retain the large band title with their rendition of Farmer Nappy’s “Hookin’ Meh.” Oh geez. I won’t even go into the debate over this tune.
I cannot remember a year without controversy, but I also cannot remember a year with this much. Rest easy Trinidad. Even if other islands threaten your soca dominance, you can be assured that no one does bacchanal like you do.
Check out Mr. Killa’s winning performance!