Soca padding

January 17, 2001

EVEN before the closing of nominations for candidates hoping to face next month’s road-march poll, allegations of widespread soca-padding have begun to surface.

Acting on suspicion triggered by last year’s dramatic reversal of results from the San Fernando West constituency, where one candidate demanded a recount after being declared loser by a single vote; the Soca Police set up a sting operation.

Ironically, among the first wave of singers interviewed last week by officers attached to the Southern Division was the very candidate. Speaking for the enforcement unit, Senior Superintendent F Major yesterday said suspicion peaked after listening closely to the lyrics of one of the popular candidate’s recent campaign speeches.

“Since the Carnival season opened, we have had several suspects under round-the-clock surveillance,” Major said. “While they were expecting us to look at torsos, we counted hands in the air. And since my officers have worked in this jurisdiction for a long time, we all have a pretty good idea of the maximum number of hands that should appear in a given song.

“On examination of the evidence, the forensic unit raised questions about the amount of hands registered in the suspect’s chorus, so we intensified investigations. We haven’t run into any snags, as reported in another newspaper. In fact, we found the Commissioner quite supportive.

“What is happening is that we are following procedures. Having sent our findings to the Director of Public Perception (DPP), we are now awaiting further instructions,” Major said. Assisting in the still fruitless sting operation were Inspector Crescendo, Sergeant Crotchet, Constable Treble Clef and WPC Demi Semi-Quaver.

But well-placed sources say arrests are imminent, as the Soca Police pursue other leads, including instances of massive shifts to jam-and-wine constituencies by marginal singers; some of whom were already under close scrutiny. In several cases, their desperation to impress the party hierarchy included a number of dead giveaways.

Early morning raids, carried out last weekend in selected areas, netted a cache of rhythm machines and other electronic equipment which, Major said, can be used by such artistes for the purpose of soca-padding. Pan-kaiso performers caught substituting counterfeit impressions of the instrument’s notes for genuine lyrics and singers who extend their time onstage by stopping the music to ‘wheeel’, were also pulled in for questioning.

“Among our priorities is protection of the public from swindlers,” Major said. Soca singers issuing bogus songs may also be guilty of taking money under false pretences.

Nor is it just singers under the microscope of the Soca police. Two top fete promoters may face charges of public mischief, after being caught red-handed purchasing bloc periods of radio time, intended for what one officer described as “crimes against good taste”.

After executing of a warrant at the home of one of the suspects, Soca Police discovered a quantity of substandard songs in taped packages. The search also unearthed rate-cards and other documents, showing confirmed bookings for non-stop programmes, designed to run concurrently on two or more frequencies.

Sources say the radio stations involved may be indicted for aiding and abetting and one could face additional prosecution as an accessory before the fact.

Major said the final phase of the operation will kick in when the calypso tents open. MCs who steal encores for their favourite singers and inflict on their audiences other forms of protracted punishment will not escape Major’s dragnet.

The nationwide crack-down has been greeted with loud approval from party organisers, who had earlier blamed soca-padding for losses already being experienced this season. Some have had their deposits forfeited. “People simply aren’t feting like they used to and research indicates that its not just a question of disposable income or personal security concerns,” renowned criminologist P Anno Forte said yesterday.

Forte, who sits on a number of key boards in the local music industry, also identified the absence of horns as a common thread in much of the offending music. “If the songs were as melodious as those of yesteryear and their renditions comparable to even a singer like Small Island Pride, the inherent trickery might have escaped notice,” Forte said.

“Small Island Pride used just guitar, bass, chac-chac and chorus, but there were intelligent lyrics and a sweetness in the voicing that compensated. And while today’s soca-criminals have all the brass (as evidenced by the quality of their CD releases), none of it is being used for aesthetic purposes.”

Forte said it was normal for human beings to push the envelope at every opportunity. “People do whatever they feel they can get away with,” he said.

“If the public is willing to tolerate these despicable acts, soca-padding will continue up to and even on the day of the vote, when the more brazen of the perpetrators will hop from platform to platform, offering bribes to increase their chances at the polls.”

The soca police have vowed to maintain vigilance for the duration of the season and continue investigations after Carnival, although a widely held view on the ground is that the culprits will again escape unscathed.

Terry-J at I-Level