The I wish, Iwer, irony
March 15, 2000
By Terry Joseph
Since Ash Wednesday, much of my time has been spent "watching and wishing" for soca star Iwer George to "wake up one morning and just realise" that the prize for which he is fighting so vigorously, is nothing but a "Best of the Rest" trophy.
Now, Iwer has every right to pursue the conviction that he (and not SuperBlue) deserved this year's National Road March Monarch title and accompanying motor car prize, given that he was able to cite witnesses who endorsed his mistrust of the results from one of the competition's main venues.
But like the entire stable of local soca singers, both 'Blue and Iwer must have known that they were literally fighting a "losing" battle. None among them would have been the principals in any argument about who really won this year's title, if the competition was open to singers from other Caribbean territories.
Mark you, Iwer may have dumped some goodwill by going garishly public. But his protest should at least serve as a wake-up call to Carnival's Special Interest Groups who, with a century of experience in staging annual competitions, desperately need to upgrade their data-collection technology and implement faster and more transparent systems for disseminating the resulting information.
On the other hand, the competitors also need to sophisticate themselves. Because the legendary calypso Grandmaster, Kitchener, did it since the early seventies, today's soca singers cannot pretend that hopping on and off passing music trucks, in full view of the public, to beg a band or DJ to "please play my tune"; is anything but prostitution of the very art.
But even after all that is accomplished, Iwer and his professional colleagues must wake up to the realisation that the fight for this year's Road March title was a quest for a hollow accolade. While that petty skirmish prevailed, both he and SuperBlue were facing a soca fusillade from the Caribbean invasion. And while any such incursion should concern us all culturally, the ricochet into the political realm of trade liberalisation within the Caricom grouping is equally interesting.
Any honest masquerader, soca band leader or DJ will tell you that neither Iwer nor SuperBlue was the hot favourite for the road this year. In fact, when the festival took to the streets, no local soca product could hold a candle to "Volcano", a song by Barbadian calypsonian Red Plastic Bag. And were the rules of eligibility more liberal, even after eight months on the soca charts, fellow Barbadians Alison Hinds and Square One would quite likely have come in second, with the phenomenal "Iron Bazodee".
SuperBlue and Iwer would have been left to jostle with mere novelties, like "Old Woman Alone" from Grenada's Tallpree and Beckett's "Small Pin", coming out of St Vincent. And even so, predicting the final placings remained the punters' nightmare. It has come to this: no longer does the foreign soca singer feel the need to say "I wish I were a Trini".
This column has already noted the impact of imported songs like Antiguan King Shortshirt's "Tourist Leggo", on Trinidad Carnival. This year, that island sent us the band Burning Flames with "The Magician" (aka "I Command You"). Last year, a Jamaican called Bud enjoyed tremendous popularity on the road with "Man a Bad Man".
On the evidence, it is clear that songs developed primarily for carnivals in other Caricom countries, have risen to the status of headline acts at what we like to call "The Greatest Show on Earth."
This year, it was not one that slipped through, but four such soca songs which became the preferred triggers for Trinidad Carnival. Still, those songs are considered cultural contraband by the authorities, a move that has had the effect of pampering local composers into complacency.
The reality, though, is that local composers of latter-day festival songs have simply been unable to come up with the right component mix for a proper road march. Last year, the song we were forced to award the national title, "River", was nothing more than an unsubtle sample from the traditional negro spiritual "When the Saints Go Marching Home". The year before that, we shared road march royalties with rock singer Sting, having lifted so much of his "Every Breath You Take" to make "Footsteps".
So, all the wishing and whining of the past week was really over a consolation prize, secured only through protectionism, in a country that frequently boasts unlimited creativity and a trading environment that has long abolished the negative list for just about everything else (including pan and mas).
In the circumstances, it is pure irony that the word "win" has so often been used to describe a situation in which we are obviously losing-or relinquishing-control of a much more precious commodity. In fact, if the current trend holds, we might really "wake up one morning and just realise" that the most spectacular aspect of our national festival has to rely on imported music.
Nothing to jump and wave about, is it?
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