AN INSIGHT INTO THE INTERNATIONAL SOCA MONARCH COMPETITION
Great stories are always worth a re-wind.
Looking back into the reflective mirror – the International Soca Monarch Competition fits magnificently into the mould of a continuing great saga.
Soca Monarch is now a four syllable word that we all delight in hearing over and over again.
Coming under the marquee ‘Fantastic Friday’ - the starting point of TnT’s Carnival - the final stage of the International Soca Monarch Competition is the showpiece event, it is a cosmos of incandescent memories…speckled with the biggest, bankable names in Soca.
The Competition is a veritable conveyor belt for new Soca artistes year after year; it offers the opportunity for instant name recognition for those who have been merely marking time on the slippery periphery of the show-biz radar.
So then, the history of the International Soca Monarch Competition must be presaged by what it really is. What is it?
In a nutshell, the International Soca Monarch Competition towers supreme as carnival’s biggest calling card for domestic tourism; a cinematic spectacle that is now a magnet for foreign tourists, and global talent scouts.
What’s more, the event is a weaving dance of festive celebration… a brilliant, dazzling mutation between the artiste on stage and flag waving enthusiastic fans all caught up in an ever cascading wave of pulsating Soca… confetti in the sky… dancing moko- jumbies and collective excitement.
This is an event for the world, not to mention of course, a brilliant flag bearer for Trinidad and Tobago and exponentially, the Caribbean region as a whole since the event now incorporates competitors across the islands. The International Soca Monarch Competition can be viewed as a musical visa which could unite us all. The palpable feeling one gets at the Olympics is similarly duplicated at the International Soca Monarch Competition, which features the Power and the Groovy contestants representing the architecture of the event.
Along the way, there have been hybrid versions of ‘Fantastic Friday’ but as we look back, the International Soca Monarch Competition, and the National Schools Soca Monarch Competition are now cemented indelibly as a dual institution in Trinidad and Tobago.
What started out as a tentative trial balloon is now a huge business juggernaut representing the national flag of Trinidad and Tobago (red, white and black). We can safely add, in a poetic manner of speaking, the sounds of distant trumpets blare “Soca Monarch is we… Soca Monarch is we!”
The evolutionary trait of the International Soca Monarch Competition has never reached a climax; since it’s a magical narrative where the storyline never stops… where punters get wary of pre-determined forecasts. On that night – ‘Fantastic Friday’ – always a moment in time to remember- a new star can emerge and brand name artistes can falter. But in the end, each artiste is a star at the International Soca Monarch Competition.
That’s the incredible poetry to the International Soca Monarch Competition pantheon of winners, the inaugural winner being Austin Lyons (Superblue). Recollections flash back in a calibrated timeline. Those who triumphed with the enviable coronation (International Soca Monarch Title), over time, all share the pride and the passion a conquering hero would feel in such an Olympian event- “Fantastic Friday” – where the best in Soca rule.
Cultural benefactor William Munro, the man who turned a mere flicker into a towering flame is now looking at his teenaged son, the International Soca Monarch Competition, with a large measure of patriotic pride and satisfaction. Even though sometimes, the early, tentative years of raising “this child” seemed, in retrospect, a heavily daunting and soul breaking task.
Reflecting on the history of the Competition, Munro revealed humbly: “1993 was the first year of the show.”
“It was never planned and it came about accidentally. In fact my deceased wife played a big part in deciding to do an event called the Soca Monarch Competition,” he added with pride.
Munro pointed out further that at the time, they were looking at the Young King’s show at Skinner Park, San Fernando, “the camera kept focusing on a young man with two Carib beers in his hands.”
“It was a strange experience, because at that moment a party type singer was on stage and the individual was in a frenzy throwing one beer on his head and dancing away like nobody’s business.”
He noted that the Young King’s show was a competition with only social commentary songs but the ‘jumpy’ tunes caught his wife’s attention. They both discussed the possibility of having a competition with the ‘jumpy’ tunes. The idea was then discussed in detail with his great friend Gregory Fernandez who responded positively to the idea. Gregory Fernandez was eager to invest the sum of TT$35,000 at that time of which Munro remains grateful for Fernandez’s belief in his vision.
Mr. Munro indicated that he always wanted a unique competition, noting on reflection, “That artistes performing just one party song, people would be partying all night. That was my thinking back then and that still remains my thinking now.”
The first Soca Monarch Competition was held at the Spectrum in Port of Spain, but at that time, Munro stated, “I had difficulties with tent managers, since they didn’t want artistes to work at the tents and perform at my event.”
“It was real, real problems, but I soldiered on.”
(Munro continued singing the praises of Superblue.)
“At the time Superblue was becoming very popular and I must say he played a big part in the success of the Soca Monarch Competition. Superblue put everything into his stage act and presentation.”
History would record that Munro had always set about to give artistes a big payday. Back then the first prize in the Soca Monarch Competition was TT $25,000. Today, it is TT $2 million and Caribbean Prestige Foundation for the Performing Arts, the umbrella body of the International Soca Monarch Competition would like to thank Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the Honourable Kamala Persad-Bissessar and the People’s Partnership (PP) Government for taking culture to a brand new level.”
Munro revealed that the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Association (TUCO) gave the Soca Monarch Competition its first endorsement to ease the pressure Munro was going through to get the Soca Monarch Competition where he wanted it to go. Munro stated that he invested millions of dollars into the development of culture but the pressure didn’t stop, especially coming from tent owners and their managers.
Calypsonians All Rounder and Stalin both defied tent mangers in early days of the Soca Monarch Competition and according to Munro
“I owe them a great depth of gratitude, including calypsonian Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters, who quickly gave support to me while he headed TUCO and now he is the Minster of Arts and Multiclutralism, well done Minister Peters.”
Munro continued, “Another name I want to include in the credits is a gentleman named Anthony ‘Lexo’ Alexis who has supported the event from day one and he may very well be the biggest fan of the competition.”
“One day he told me - the Friday before Carnival is a special day because of the Soca Monarch Competition, it made everything fantastic and the day should be called - Fantastic Friday.”
“Everyone I spoke with back then loved the idea and today ‘Fantastic Friday’ is the signature stamp of the International Soca Monarch Competition - the greatest Soca event on earth!”
“Lexo never wanted credit for it but I insisted that the people of Trinidad and Tobago must know that he coined the magical words Fantastic Friday.”
The growth of the International Soca Monarch Competition intensified over the years to the point where it has embraced the concept of ‘Soca Tourism’.
“Yes the present Government has injected a $2 million first prize into the International Soca Monarch Competition. So now our entire prize package would subsequently change,” Munro emphasized, but added “The Foundation has always been the driving force behind ‘Soca Tourism’ over the years. We included artistes from the Caribbean islands into the ‘Fantastic Friday’ showdown. The winners of each island’s Soca Monarch Competition are selected to be in our event. Prime Ministers and Ministers of the various islands also attend the high profile event, not to mention the supporters of the selected artiste from these various countries.”
The important point Munro was articulating is that Trinidad and Tobago’s Government stands to be the biggest beneficiary of “Soca Tourism.”
“Foreign exchange amounting into millions of dollars is accrued annually. The Piarco International Airport is packed weeks before Fantastic Friday. The taxis ply a lucrative trade plus the hotels and vendors all operate at an optimal level during the Carnival season.” Munro explained happily.
Mr. Munro revealed that Angostura Limited was the first sponsor in 1993, and that Carib Brewery Limited has been the longest standing sponsor.
The wider vision of the Foundation is to develop a template for Pay-Per–View on a global scale and merchandising the International Soca Monarch Competition.
“The International Soca Monarch Competition is our gift to world”, Munro concluded with optimism reflected in his eyes.