TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO should revive the International Soca Monarch competition, said Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival chairman Thaddeus M Antoine.
“For Trinidad to be the mecca of Carnival, the mecca of soca music, from Ras Shorty I (to the present), to not have a Soca Monarch competition, I think it is very damaging to the product.”
The International Soca Monarch is owned by Caribbean Prestige Foundation and was held from 1993-2020, with Austin “SuperBlue” Lyons holding the record for titles at seven.
The competition, along with all other Carnival activities, was suspended for 2021 and 2022 due to the covid19 pandemic. When the festival resumed last year Soca Monarch was cancelled due to lack of funding and it was similarly cancelled this year. Speaking to Newsday in a Zoom interview, Antoine said when Machel Montano, Patrice Roberts, Bunji Garlin and Destra left the International Soca Monarch competition it “fell flat.”
“Because there is no longer an attraction to come to the festival.”
He said Caribbean people love big competitions, and it was necessary to have the major artistes to raise the standard of the competition. Antoine said for Saint Lucia Carnival, which is being celebrated from July 1-17 this year, the government had taken the decision to put the national events the week before the main events. He explained this allows the fetes big prominence in the Carnival and there is no clash with national events.
“The reality is when you think of it, and when you think of Trinidad yourself, a lot of visitors don’t really come for your calypso finals, your Mardi Gras (Dimanche Gras). A lot of them don’t come for that. A lot of them come for the fetes, the all-inclusives, and things of that sort.” He explained that a window was provided for the national events, so they are not outshined by the fetes.
“You realise you don’t have Soca Monarch this year. Had you not had those kinds of fetes that you’ve been having you would have had Soca Monarch. But people would rather go to the fetes because they get more value for their fetes as opposed to the Soca Monarch.”
He pointed out that Calypso Monarch has been reduced from two songs to a one-song competition. Antoine said he does not like the change as he loves his kaiso and loves to hear two songs.
“Because people say it is too long, it is boring, you don’t get the numbers you used to have. Again, had you not been having all those fetes it would have been featured highly. So there’s some merit in giving (the national events) a separate window and not competing with the big fetes. Because when you have a Kes, a Machel Montano coming down on the same night as a Soca Monarch, who do you think people going to?”
Helping Teddyson John with Stripped
Antoine was visiting Trinidad to attend Stripped: Carnival Magic concert by Saint Lucian brand ambassador, singer and songwriter Teddyson John on February 1 at the National Academy for the Performing Arts, Port of Spain.
He said Brand Saint Lucia was delighted to come to Trinidad and support John with the concert.
“We often overlook that artists have very raw talent and they actually are very good singers. But in this day and age of samplers, sampling machines and rhythms, that is often lost. So what Stripped really affords you...is to strip down the music really to its raw elements of hearing the instruments and hearing the vocal ability of the artists.”
He said this was seen with artists like Skinny Fabulous, Destra and Nailah Blackman, who performed at the concert last year.
“Nailah could actually sing. Because you hear that high-pitched voice, but you also hear it condensed sometimes. And so you often wonder, ‘Can you really sing?’ But with Stripped you really give the artists their props and say, ‘These are real singers boy.’”
He said the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority, the Saint Lucia Government and other establishments such as hotels financially supported John’s concert. He added financial support is especially needed when an artist is holding an event in another market where the artist may not be able to garner support in terms of sponsorship because the artist and their brand are not well known.
Antoine said the Stripped concert was held during the hectic Carnival season and some artists never made it to the stage in time.
“Because moving around Trinidad during that time, you are down San Fernando, you go to the east, you are in the west and have to get back down to Port of Spain, it could sometimes be problems. So work needs to be done in that respect.”
He recalled at Stripped Saint Lucian artists Kayo and Shemmy J performed and it was their first time visiting Trinidad.
“Which is quite surprising to me. But it just shows you that people need to move around a bit.”
Antoine said the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority hopes to see more artists moving around the region. He said recently the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), the Caribbean’s tourism development agency headquartered in Barbados, launched a new concept called “festival tourism” and both Saint Lucia and TT have been at the forefront.
“Your Carnival is your festival tourism.”
He noted over the years TT has brought down American actress Gabrielle Union and other superstar influencers in recognition that it is more a tourism product than a cultural product. American actress Phylicia Rashad is in Trinidad for Carnival and being hosted by Tourism Trinidad.
Antoine said Saint Lucia has recognised its jazz, Carnival and Creole festivals are festival tourism aspects.
“Yes, it is the culture, but we are exposing our culture not just to Saint Lucians but to other Caribbean nations and to international destinations.”
Machel, Vaughnette, Voice for Jazz Festival
The Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival 2024, which had its origins with the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival back in 1992, will be held from April 30-May 12. Antoine recalled he first became involved with the festival in 2011 to 2016 as Saint Lucia Tourism Board deputy chairman and Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival chairman.
He said the name change from Saint Lucia Jazz Festival to Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival was under his tenure. He explained the change was to recognise the event was moving away from a core jazz festival to have more contemporary music and the “arts” aspect allowed them to bring in other genres such as gospel, soca, reggae, R&B, hip hop, and zouk, a popular dance music associated with the French Antilles.
The festival returned in 2023 after a three-year hiatus. Antoine said during this period Saint Lucia tried out different festivals but decided to return to Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival because it is a very strong brand that has worked for the country.
He said the festival attracts about 10,000 visitors and from “far and wide,” including North America –its number one source market, Britain, Martinique –the number one Caribbean source market, followed closely by TT.
He said the festival committee continued from last year with a branding of the nights.
The opening night is headlined by TT soca artist Aaron “Voice” St Louis; there are two nights of Pure Jazz & Arts headlined by American bassist and composer John Patitucci and popular American jazz singer Samara Joy; a Kingdom Night (gospel) headlined by Grammy Award-winning gospel singer and minister Donnie McClurkin; a Caribbean Fusion night headlined by TT soca superstar Machel Montano; a World Beats night headlined by Nigerian-American singer-songwriter and Afrobeat artist Davido and featuring Grammy Award-winning Cuban-American singer Jon Secada; and The Ultimate Celebration night headlined by veteran soft rock duo Air Supply and R&B legend Babyface. Antoine explained the festival always ends on Mother’s Day and Air Supply has “music galore” for serenading and singing along.
Antoine said when the festival committee learned that Machel Montano would not be performing in Trinidad for Carnival (he has been singing calypso, but not soca) they felt it was a good time to bring him back to the festival.
“But lo and behold, he might win a kaiso monarch,” he added. (Montano did win the national Calypso Monarch title on February 11 at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain, some days after this interview was done.)
The second night of Pure Jazz & Arts will include TT jazz musician and vocalist Vaughnette Bigford. Antoine said that he had seen the singer on Facebook and kept following her social media accounts.
“So I messaged and said to her, ‘I want to bring you down for my festival.’ And she was quite elated.”
He said organisers try to incorporate more regional artists into the festival.
“In terms of doing exchanges, you (in TT) recognise our Teddyson John, we (in Saint Lucia) recognise your artists as well. And it becomes a whole potpourri of Caribbean fusion of our artists.”
He said with most people attending the festival being from North America, it is truly an international stage.
“It allows them to see what the Caribbean is made up of. So when we bring artists out of Trinidad, artists out of Haiti, Martinique, Barbados, Dominica, and Saint Lucia, it is a great...expose of what the Caribbean is truly made up of.”
Trini artists popular in Saint Lucia
Asked how popular TT artists were in Saint Lucia, Antoine quipped, “I think Saint Lucians know more Trini artists than Trinis know the artists.”
He said, for example, he has followed artist Mical Teja (2024 Young King) since last year and noted the popularity of his soca hit DNA.
“We follow the artists very closely.”
He added many Trinidadians come to Saint Lucia for Carnival, which is somewhat different from TT Carnival, and the TT music is all over the island. He also said there is no big concert in Saint Lucia without a Trini artist taking part.
“That’s just what it is.”
He reported Machel Montano did concerts for five consecutive years in Saint Lucia, Kes the Band has visited annually and Patrice Roberts, Nadia Batson and Nailah Blackman have also featured.
He said TT is Saint Lucia’s second source market in the Caribbean.
“We have lots of Trinidadians who have established businesses in Saint Lucia but also visit Saint Lucia on vacations.”
He encouraged people to visit for Carnival in July and to buy tickets for the Jazz & Arts Festival. He described it as an atmosphere of fun, excitement and relaxation.
“When you come to the festival you are coming to Saint Lucia, where the hospitality is second to none.”