Soca Monarch Competition Cancelled

(TT GUARDIAN) – There will be no International Soca Monarch competition this year, as its promoters have decided to cancel it after Government refused their request for funding to the tune of $10 million.

It represents the first time in 30 years that the Soca Monarch competition has been voluntarily cancelled.

Caribbean Prestige Foundation director Geoffrey Wharton-Lake confirmed the decision in a telephone interview with Guardian Media last night, saying it was based solely on their financial inability to host it.

“The 2023 edition of the Soca Monarch is definitely off,” Wharton-Lake said.

He said it was “not financially sustainable” based on the private and government funds available this year.

Wharton-Lake was unwilling to share the amount sought from Government.

However, Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell later revealed the figure when contacted.

“They are effectively asking for $10 million to run Soca Monarch,” he said.

“It is unconscionable for the Government to underwrite the full cost of an event that is privately owned,” Mitchell added.

Wharton-Lake told Guardian Media the intended first prize for the competition was $1 million and the sum of all prizes would have amounted to $2.5 million. In addition, he said it would have cost between $5 and $6 million to put on this year’s event.

Wharton-Lake said they had seen a lot of interest from artistes this year and the planning had reached a stage where they were ready to “press the button and go.”

However, the show was also facing a major competing event this year, as soca superstar Machel Montano, who won seven Soca Monarch titles—five Power Soca and two Groovy Soca—is due to hold the Machel Montano 40 One Show event on what would have been the same night of this year’s Soca Monarch.

Montano, who traditionally drew Carnival’s largest crowds in his previous Machel Monday concerts, has said One Show will be the only place he will perform for Carnival 2023.

Asked what role Montano’s event played in their event cancellation, Wharton-Lake said, “Nothing, absolutely nothing.”

He said his team will sit down after Carnival to determine the way forward, including whether to resume competition in 2024.

From his perspective, Minister Mitchell insisted to Guardian Media that Government could not fund the full sum the organisers were seeking to host what remains a private event.

He said Government had first chosen to let the National Carnival Commission (NCC) support the show.

“This year, the board of the NCC took a decision to offer $800,000. They too found it unconscionable that a private entity should be fully funded by the Government,” he said.

He noted that in 2020, Government helped fund the Soca Monarch to the tune of $5 million, as well as offer prize money, the venue and infrastructure. However, he argued that with other priorities such as the provision of water and paving of roads, Government had to cut down on the amount they could offer this year.

Yet, he said, apart from the NCC’s assistance, Government was still prepared to offer $3 million towards the show and provide the promoters with a venue, which he noted would have amounted to roughly another $2.5 million.

He said he was disappointed to hear views that the cancellation was solely due to Government’s “failure to support the culture.”

“I have always indicated that I support the culture. The Government supports the culture. I believe in soca. I would make a call for promoters and people hosting events next year to continue to proceed to do so,” he said.

Mitchell agreed the Soca Monarch was a “staple” in Carnival, yet noted, “but you will agree that it has been dying.”

He said over the last few years, other promoters saw that the show was becoming less important to fans and had started putting on private shows on the same night of the once-mega event.

He said given the show has served to develop and give a platform to upcoming soca artistes, the NCC is now considering hosting a similar soca competition next year, but would likely have to call it by another name.

Guardian Media also contacted NCC chairman Winston “Gypsy” Peters, but he opted not to comment on the topic before hearing the minister’s views.

He did say, however, that the NCC does not have money to fully fund major events but could lend some assistance.

The Soca Monarch competition began in 1993 with Austin ‘Superblue’ (formerly Blue Boy) Lyons winning with Bacchanal Time.

It continued annually until 2021, when Darryl ‘Farmer Nappy’ Henry won with BackYard Jam in a show significantly reduced due to the restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was no show last year during the mini celebrations known as the Taste of Carnival.

While the event had traditionally catered for ‘Power Soca’ songs, it was split in 2005 to include a ‘Groovy Soca’ category.

Both Montano and Superblue share the most wins—seven each—one of which was shared between them in 2013, when Montano performed Float and Superblue sang Fantastic Friday.

Aaron ‘Voice’ St Louis is the next most successful Soca Monarch artiste, with six wins, which included three Power Soca titles and three Groovy Soca crowns.