Well Orchestrated Patriotism Won Soca Royale

cb on July 25, 2016 - 2:42 pm in Crop Over 2016, Editorials, Features

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The penultimate party soca competition, Soca Royale 2016, went down last night at Bushy Park, St.Farlip to o the largest crowd it has seen since it has moved to the racing circuit. After the 14 artistes faced the judges (4 were in both Sweet Soca and Party Monarch), MC Mac Fingall announced the winners in the wee hours of this morning. Veteran Edwin Yearwood reclaimed his Sweet Soca crown – his performance of “Home Sweet Home” meriting 86 points, Marvay’s “I Know The Face” was second with 78 points, and Ram third on 62 points with “Good Morning.” – and Lil’ Rick dethroned Peter Ram as the reigning Party Monarch king, his performance of “I’z A Bajan” receiving the full 100 points (Mr Blood (“Get on Bad”) was second with 62 points, and Ram (“The Tribe”) came 3rd again with 58 points). The fact that the only two outright patriotic songs in each respective competition won it all on the night might’ve been more than a random coincidence.

Yes, both performances were testament to the seasoned, competitive entertainers they both are in their own right (this is Edwin’s 7th title in party competition (5 Party Monarch; 2 Sweet Soca) and this is Rick’s 5th Party Monarch), but I do believe that them tying their song selection and stage production into the 50th anniversary celebrations helped push them over the line – slightly pandering to the quasi-nationalism that all Barbadians, including the crowd and the judges, are feeling at this time.

This was especially true for Yearwood, in my opinion, as he was against stronger competition than Hypa Dawg.

De General would’ve probably entered either one of his earlier sweet soca contributions “De World Aint See” or “Nah Able” – melodic songs that fit the competition’s criteria and sound like continuations of last year’s crowning “Party Ah De Year.” But songs like “C.E.O”,”Know The Face”, and “Good Morning” were already in the public’s conscious, picking up steam through heavy rotation on every radio station and in every fete and on every cruise, when his cuts weren’t as popular.

It is no serendipitous accident that “Home Sweet Home,” released late June/early July, was selected for his crown’s defence. Going back to the drawing board, he discarded his stringent policy for writing his own songs to collaborate with Shaft Vibez and De Red Boyz, who have recent success under their belts, and choose to record a song that ties into the whole independence celebrations. (Or he probably also knew that Vibez, Mike, and Scott’s formula for success is to hold NCF CEO Cranston Bowne hostage in a room, put him in a headlock, and give him belly searchers until he concedes he will let them win again this year. I kid, of course.) Pandering isn’t only for politicians.

But recording a song is one thing, and performing it on the night is another. And this is where “Home Sweet Home”’s message of national pride helped him to the crown. The stronger performers, in my opinion, were Marvay (great presentation but may have probably lost a few points for his excited outro) and Nikita – who, criminally, didn’t even see the top 4.

To play devil’s advocate, should Marvay – whose “Know The Face” was Bajan to the core with its alliterations and colloquial lilts – had tweaked his lyrics to “I Know De Flag,” singing to a woman draped in national colors while wearing a landship general’s uniform, or Nikita had used her other song “True Colors” (which is a wayyyyy better song than “Bun It Up”) and drowned the stage in so much black, aquamarine and gold that Grantley Prescod would scream “yuh over doing it now!”, they probably might’ve gotten a few extra points from the judges. But this is all hypothetical, of course.

Rick’s case was similar, to an extent: he disregarded his earlier efforts to enter a song that bent to the Independence narrative, yes, but, in recent years, his competition songs are usually of a different sound than his more popular releases that are dropped earlier in the season. That is where the parallels between the two end.

He had it easier on the night. It was clear that he would be the outright winner after Ram ran out of breath for “Tribe”, and the people could’ve cared less about the other songs because they probably hardly heard them before. But he still didn’t rest on his laurels. In its essence, “I’z A Bajan” was shades of East Coast Rick in his early aughts pomp. His bold declaration of not giving a damn because of his nationality represents that careless, stubborn, don’t care-ish national pride that we all possess (when we feel like it), and there was no better person than Rick – the militant, anti-establishment, people’s champ – to convey it.

Stammering through his picong (the only one to do any if I remember clearly) nearing the end, he sealed the deal with “And this song int written by nuh Trinidadian” as the band hammered back into the chorus – the high energy delivery, and prodding at the many artistes who perform songs written by people from the Twin Island Republic, a pressing issue every Crop Over, charged the crowd up and sealed the deal. (This, too, was a smart bit of pandering, as Rick has used songs written (or co-written) by Trinidadians in the past.) All that was left for the judges to do was to not unfair him like always.

Two strategic moves from two veteran entertainers (Rick celebrating 20 years in the business) shows that it wasn’t an accident. Knowing the climate and the importance of the upcoming 50th, they made sure to incorporate that theme into their performances when their competitors didn’t, to score a few extra brownie points from the judges, though they may not have been obligated to. Any other year it would’ve been a straightforward party presentation. That kind of thinking assures longevity in the industry and wins competitions. Now we just have to wait and see what they do for next year in defence of their title – and Barbados’s 51st.

Carlos Brathwaite is the Founder & Editor of 246Mixtapes. Follow him on Twitter.

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