POPULAR entertainer Anthony "Squeezy Rankin" La Fleur overcame personal adversity to become the 2024 Freestyle Monarch, comfortably topping the field with his lyrical acrobatics at the Kaisorama Show at Kaiso House at Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain.
Speaking to Newsday on February 8, he said he had suffered a close personal bereavement on the day of the preliminaries, and even at the finals had not be functioning at 100 per cent. "I was only at 60 per cent on Wednesday night. My dad died on the preliminaries night, just a week ago.
"Normally he would have been there to cheer me on."
La Fleur reckoned he would be back fully in less than a year, in time for next year's Kaisorama.
"They shouldn't give me a year. They are too generous," he laughed confidently.
While 2023 was the first Freestyle Monarch – where Myron Bruce beat Akeem "Preedy" Chance – La Fleur said he had not entered back then.
However, he keenly looked forward to crossing swords with Bruce at future events.
"I give props to Snakey," he said in tribute to his finals rival, Heaven "Snakey" Charles whom he had beat. "I missed Myron Bruce."
Reflecting on his current win, he said, "I didn't expect to win, (based on) how the system deals with me."
Asked if his win would be a boost to his musical career, he replied, "Yes. The win is very important."
He said his contemporaries were Edghill "MX Prime" Thomas, Ian "Bunji Garlin" Alvarez and Rohan "Fireball" Richards. "I'm cut from that same clothe."
Newsday asked about the freestyle genre.
"In that genre which we are experimenting with, we could say more than just being in soca. Soca is a more happy genre.
"This (freestyle) genre could deal with social issues in a soca style and political issues in a soca vibe.
"The majority of people don't take things on that level, because we are so accustomed to the 'jump and wave', 'hands in the air'.
"But I believe we could make a difference
Newsday asked if freestyle as a genre has a bright future.
La Fleur then suggested that the word "freestyle" did not in fact refer to a genre of music but rather a skill. "Just like extempo" "The genre of music that everybody is going to put it (freestyling) under is soca. Soca will always have a bright future, but we have to do the right thing, for it to appeal to a broader aspect of people." Was it time to give it a new name for itself, if freestyling soca was different to what Garfield "Ras Shorty I" Blackman had sung?
He replied, "It is not a matter of what Ras Short I sang, or Superblue, Ronnie Mc Intosh, Iwer George or Machel Montano.
"Remember every decade things change. The Nissan Sunny we have now is not the Nissan Sunny you might know from back then. The Toyota Corolla now is not the Toyota Corolla from 20 years ago, but it is the same 'Toyota Corolla'.
He said people have to keep an open mind.
"We tend to dwell on the past a lot but music is a creative art form and the more creativity we put into it is the more it will change."
Given his mesmerising performance, Newsday asked if he would be happy to be on stage with artistes like Jamaica's dancehall singer Emwah "Skillibeng" Warmington, so various Caribbean genres could come together.
La Fleur replied, "I have been on stage together with a lot of big artistes."
He said he had sung on stage at a concert in Tobago with dancehall star Adidja "Vybz Kartel" Azim Palmer before the Jamaican had been sent to jail.
"I have been singing songs over the years." He cited his hit, Rainy Weather.
Since that time, he himself had stepped back from the art form, but had used the Freestyle Monarch contest to ignite himself, although Skillibeng would be nothing knew to him.
"The Caribbean acknowledges Bunji Garlin. He took it (freestyling) and made it his own. I am from the same 'school' as Bunji.
"On the street Bunji and I clashed many times, sometimes he won, sometimes I won."
Naming Thomas and Richards, La Fleur said, "Lots of other guys know how to freestyle."
He said that in the community he came from, one literally had to know how to freestyle, for his own well-being.
La Fleur pointed out the challenges of the Freestyle Monarch competition.
"They give us two and a half minutes to sing on as topic. And you cannot repeat yourself.
"Any (normal) song right now could be two, three, four minutes, but after the verses they always start back from the top.
"If you notice, a lot of the competitors last night tried to do a style of chorus and verse, which is not really freestyle."
He said there were otherwise two much more genuine ways to freestyle.
"Sing a song which nobody knows (that is prepared beforehand).
"Or sing off the top of your head (extemporaneous), which is a lot harder to do within the span of two minutes and 30 seconds."
Newsday asked if he hoped to promote the freestyle art form.
He replied yes. "That is my mission, right now. To help this thing grow.
"There are always others to come after us. We die and leave things for our kids."
Newsday asked if it had been extra pressure to perform on Wednesday knowing President Christine Kangaloo and her husband Kerwyn Garcia, SC, were in the audience.
La Fleur replied, "No. I told Snakey, it is a plus to know our President was here. It makes us important."
He also liked the intimacy of the tarpaulin tent of Kaiso House, rather than the spaciousness of the savannah "big stage."
"At this venue you were more in touch with the audience than when you are in the Grandstand.
"It made the competition better.
"You are seeing the President watching you."