We extend congratulations to all the winners in this year’s Crop Over festival, including Betty West and Kevin Small, who took most of the prizes in Grand Kadooment, and in the calypso arena, King Bubba FM and SK in the Bashment Soca contest; Mikey at Soca Monarch; Classic in Pic-O-De-Crop and Leadpipe in the Tune-o’-De-Crop competition.
Chiefly we are bound to focus on the calypso competitions, which underwent some significant changes this season.
At first, calypsonians expressed their reservations, but eventually, they seemed to have warmed up to the new single-song requirement for the Pic-o’-De-Crop competition.
This move did generate some greater interest among the artists, and the National Cultural Foundation (NCF) said some 96 people registered for the calypso contest, the highest number for a while – even including some who are better known for party music, like Stiffy, a two-time Bashment Soca monarch.
In fact, there was an interesting mix of contestants in this year’s Pic-O-De-Crop who challenged reigning monarch Mr Blood for the title.
There was the more spiritual aspect coming from Jude Clarke, Chrystal Cummins, Donella and Sammi Jane, three of whom campaigned in the former Experience Tent and indeed, Jude is part of the Ultimate Tent put on by Kingdom Culture International Ministries Church.
Former monarchs Adrian Clarke (AC), Edwin, Kid Site and Classic; Mr Dale and TC returned after a few years’ absence, and Sammy Dello came back after an absence of some 20 years. Faith is better known for party music, but her attempt at social commentary was good enough to secure her a place. It was good to see former Junior Monarch contestants JSlo, Teri (formerly Sparkle T) and Sammy G competing at the senior level.
And for an ample measure of comic relief, there was Rameses Browne and MADD’s Eric Lewis as yet another character, Granny.
There was an effort to bring back a measure of wit to the social commentary arena, such as Classic’s winning song One Song, and Adrian Clarke’s Christmas in Crop Over – a beautifully arranged piece with the horn lines incorporating elements of Christmas songs.
But the lyrical content of most calypsos shows we still have a long way to go on substance. Yes, there was an attempt to look at social issues, but these were still too superficial for the most part.
And despite its arrangement’s innovative nature, Christmas in Crop Over was too reminiscent of Judgment (2001) and Put that in yuh Song(2008) in that AC spent much of his time talking about his fellow performers. This worked in the ‘two-song’ era as a fun second song – indeed he won the crown in those two years – but now the contest has been reduced to one song, ego trips and other more light-hearted material should ideally take a back seat.
Classic said in his remarks after winning the calypso crown that the single song format helped in that they had to make a greater effort at writing and indeed performing, as performers now only had one chance to get it right. But as time goes on, we should see more substantial efforts in the social commentary arena once again.
There was some contention in the more commercially oriented party music division, however. First, the result in the International Bashment Soca Monarch contest which saw two men, King Bubba and SK, sharing first prize.
This brought into question the planning of the event, because ideally when two people score the same number of points for first position, there should be a ‘tie-breaker’ where they ‘face off’ against each other and the winner is chosen based on crowd response. That is something the organisers should consider for the next time, and if it was not done, the prize money should have been divided equally between them. We have yet to hear how that one turned out.
Soca Royale was replaced with a Soca Monarch contest this year, which saw the slower, more commercially oriented ragga soca music going up against the faster songs, now christened “power soca”.
Only two songs out of the 16 were considered ‘power soca’ and naturally these emerged as the top two in the contest. Following the event, some of the contestants, including Mikey and Lil Rick, who finished first and second respectively, called for a return to two separate competitions.
For now, the authorities have said no, which means the calypsonians will either have to focus more on “power soca”, or if they really do not like the new format, take some type of protest like the boycott led by Mac Fingall and the late Romeo in 1986 when they disagreed with some of the clauses in the contract given to the performers in that year’s Pic-O-De-Crop semifinals, withdrawing their tents from the contest.
Given there is much more at stake now with appearance fees, prize money and a ‘big ride’, we believe they will not go the latter route.
One of the main reasons given for the change in format at Pic-o’-De-Crop was that the audience had fallen to fewer than a thousand patrons at semi-final level, and barely scraped 2,000 at the Finals.
Did the new format, with its notable and commendable mixture of youth, experience, singing styles and other factors truly result in increased patronage?
Did the new venue and change to the Soca Monarch contest attract a larger audience too?
We have yet to hear the audience numbers, but what the authorities must understand is that for many of the artists involved in calypso these days, it is their ‘day job’ and no longer a hobby as it was many years ago.
And what does it profit the organisers if they believe they can make more money by changing elements of an event but, ultimately, the performers are disgruntled?
Once again, congratulations to the National Cultural Foundation on yet another incident-free festival, but going forward, there must be consensus among all stakeholders on decisions made at the highest levels about the fundamental aspects of the “sweetest summer festival.”