The carefully worded statement from Kes the Band about its second placing in the road march competition with Savannah Grass encouraged discussion and some heated reactions.
At issue is one of the more contentious aspects of already fiery competitions, the tabulation of plays of popular road songs each season. Road purists argue that plays throughout the day are a better reflection of masquerader music preferences while stage aficionados contend that the hype of appearing organised on the stage is a better indicator of jump up choice.
Savannah Grass placed second to Famalay, a song written by Gamal Doyle (Skinny Fabulous) and performed with Machel Montano and Ian Alvarez (Bunji Garlin). For the first time in years, the second placed winner wasn’t completely swamped by the leader, with Savannah Grass recording 207 plays to the Famalay count of 346. By contrast, Ultimate Rejects’ Full Extreme put a distance of 484 plays between its position in 2017 and its closest competition, while Superblue’s 2013 Fantastic Friday led by 455 plays.
TUCO, the calypso stakeholder body, has stated that it measures road march plays at competition points. The stage count of those songs clearly reflected masquerader preference through sheer dominance of the festival, but it was a popularity that was reflected on the stage, not one that was potentially manufactured for it. It’s a curious distinction, but one that is overdue for discussion and not just because it was raised by a popular loser in the road march race.
The concentrated focus of the stage environment, with its cameras and live audience is a potent combination for masqueraders being prepped for a performance. The DJs who control the music that’s being played must strike a careful balance in their choices in supporting the intent of the bandleaders and the desires of the players to prance.
Into this heated mix come the soca performers themselves who will appear on the music trucks to perform their songs, hyping the music for the players through presence, but in doing so, distorting the process of choice. Quite sensibly, masqueraders in full costume in the sun will respond well to a popular performer doing their hit song in person. Does that count as choice?
It’s a matter that concerns not just mas players, but the composers, producers and singers of these high-powered songs and as with many aspects of Carnival, it comes down to money.
Beyond the prize cash, winning the road march enhances the successful performer's brand and offers a useful indicator of relative popularity to the uninitiated about who should get their attention first when choosing to explore our music and perhaps, in booking talent.