The Stars of the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival

Carnival 2011 celebrations climax today (March 8, 2011) with the parade of bands. Edwin “Stats” Houghton and Chris “Jillionaire” Leacock (Guardian) give us the latest developments and results of the music competition. See excerpts with a link to the full article below:

But the big story this year involves the controversial Soca Monarch competition held (as every year) on Fantastic Friday. The relevance of this competition has been hotly debated lately as many of soca’s 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, wooed by the prospect of a first prize worth $2m.

The result was a hard-fought lyrical war between the soca triad of Montano, Garlin and Iwer George. In the end, Machel took the purse with “Advantage” while Iwer–who some say was robbed of the crown–came a close second with “Come to Meh.” [. . .] His onstage props included not only traditional blue devils and moko jumbies but a makeshift airplane that 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 30ft 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.

Meanwhile, Kees Dieffenthaller handily took the Groovy Soca crown with the less frenetic “Wotless.” [. . .] The Chutney Monarch crown–for songs more in the original East Indian style–went to Rikki Jai for “White Oak and Water” at a separate event on 19 March. [. . .] 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” although “Wotless” and Benjai’s new national anthem, “Trini” are also ubiquitous.

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 and Dingolay”) and Blaxx (“Tantie Woi”), both J’ouvert monsters. A hit in New York and Jamaica as well, Dingolay epitomised the trend; its 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.

Listen to Denise Belfon’s “Dance and Dingolay” here:

For full article and video of Machel Montano, KES the Band, Benjai, Denise Belfon, and Rikki Jai, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2011/mar/08/trinidad-tobago-carnival?INTCMP=SRCH

Photos: Machel Montano; Alison Hinds

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