WE WELCOME the appointment of Fay Ann Lyons-Alvarez as chairman of Caribbean Prestige Foundation, owners of the International Soca Monarch. While the Soca Monarch is a private initiative, it is nonetheless a marquee cultural event that has benefitted considerably over the years from State-sponsorship. We, therefore, wish Lyons-Alvarez best of luck. It is in everyone’s interest that she succeeds in her mandate.
The new chairman will have considerable challenges ahead. The Soca Monarch has gone from what was once a $1 million prize competition to one where last year’s first place winner received $300,000. Not only has the funding dried up due to the economic situation, but attendance has also waned considerably. Despite the potential of its new home at the Queen’s Park Savannah, last year the competition was not as vibrant as previous iterations from the perspective of audience excitement.
It is hoped Lyons-Alvarez, being a young yet seasoned soca artiste herself, will be able to bring a unique perspective to bear. Already she has signaled a major shake-up promising the return of the power soca category. Such a move can potentially consolidate the competition’s hold on a younger demographic.
Still, the move is a bold one given the proven dominance of the groovy soca in recent years. Audiences have demonstrated time and time again that they no longer simply seek the instant gratification of imperatives like “jump and wave” being shouted at them over fast tempos.
Performers like The Voice, Nailah Blackman, Kes and Blaxx, among others, have shown there is a thirst of material that engages melody, emotion and message in a more deliberate, slow-burn manner. For some time now, it has also been felt that power soca, which effectively ate into the audience for slower, traditional calypso, offered little that was new.
Lyons-Alvarez’s move, therefore, can be seen as more than an attempt to win back audiences. It is a challenge for artistes. Can they breathe new life into the genre? Will we simply see a return to the old-school, wild and raunchy kind of music that in the past, supplanted other forms?
Overall, the changes in the Soca Monarch reflect a Carnival that is already looking to be novel in more ways than one. Dimanche Gras is being re-engineered. The Socadrome is to be embraced. The North Stand is gone and Panorama will once again see changes. The overall tenor of this year’s festival reflects a desire to embrace the new.
It is hoped none of the changes at the Soca Monarch will see the perennial bickering that tends to break out around this time of the year between various stakeholders. All should instead focus on the challenge of re-engineering the festival: its marketing, its standards, its revenue streams. The time is right for Carnival to return to the root of its power.