Trinidad: No Soca Monarch Again

(TT GUARDIAN) – As it stands now, there will be no International Soca Monarch for the 2024 Carnival season.

National Carnival Commission chairman Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters yesterday confirmed that the event, which had been a fixture among Carnival events and competitions for the past three decades, was again in limbo due to a lack of funding.

The event is owned by the Caribbean Prestige Foundation (CPF) for the Performing Arts but was cancelled last year due to a lack of funding.

Yesterday, Peters said neither the CPF nor the NCC, which had been seeking to assist with he project for this year, had been successful in securing the necessary funds required to stage the competition.

“The private entity would normally do it, we help facilitate it. But the funding is not there right this minute. We are still trying to come up with it to see if it could happen,” Peters said in a phone interview with Guardian Media yesterday.

Guardian Media had previously reached out to CPF chairman Geoffrey Wharton Lake, who initially indicated that he would have an answer concerning the event by last Friday. When contacted yesterday, however, Wharton-Lake admitted he still had no answer on if Soca Monarch could happen.

A stakeholder close to the organisation, who asked not to be named, revealed that given the lack of funding and the limited time left in the season, it was near impossible for a show of the calibre of Soca Monarch to be held. Carnival Friday is 24 days away.

The stakeholder said this was disheartening, as several artistes, particularly younger ones hoping to make their names in the business, had reached out to the CPF asking if it would take place. The artistes, the stakeholder said, felt that without the competition, they were denied a route to build their brands further. The stakeholder argued that given soca’s importance to Carnival, there should be greater investment by the state akin to that seen to revive Panorama.

Also contacted, Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell said the Government had given the NCC an allocation to oversee events for Carnival, but stressed that Soca Monarch had been traditionally a private event.

“That is an independent, private organisation. They usually do their Soca Monarch. NCC has supported that private event. Last year they had asked for an exorbitant amount of money, $10 million, which was unsustainable,” Mitchell in a phone interview.

“That would have amounted to the Government totally underwriting the event and that simply was unsustainable. The NCC was asked to look for an alternative for this year’s festival,” the minister added.

The International Soca Monarch was last held virtually in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Farmer Nappy winning the title with his hit Backyard Jam.

The last publicly staged Soca Monarch was held in 2020, with Iwer George and Kees Dieffenthaller winning the Power Soca crown with Stage Gone Bad while College Boy Jesse won the Groovy Soca Monarch with The Happy Song.

However, the event, which since 1992 had been a marquee in the Carnival calendar dubbed Fantastic Friday, saw low interest from patrons following the decision of several major soca stars, including Machel Montano, Bunji Garlin and Fay Ann Lyons-Alvarez, to opt out of the competition.

The initial drop in attendance could be traced as far back as the mid-2000s, after Garlin initially opted not to return to the competition in 2007, before being convinced to take to the stage in 2008.

It saw a resurgence in 2011 when Montano was coaxed to return after a 15-year absence, with several other artistes doing the same following the introduction of a $2 million first prize in the Power category and a $500,000 prize for the Groovy Monarch.