Soca Monarch come back – Culture Minister laments absence from Carnival calendar

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Calypso Monarch Machel Montano and Road March King Mical Teja at TUCO’s prize giving ceremony at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s, on April 9. – Photo by Roger Jacob

MINISTER of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell is inviting interested parties to partner with the government for a renewed International Soca Monarch competition in 2025.

He made the statement at the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation (TUCO) prizegiving ceremony at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s, on April 9, when the finalists and winners of the National Freestyle, National Extempo, National Road March and National Senior Calypso Monarch competitions received their cheques.

Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell. – File photo

In his address, Mitchell said he was looking forward to more calypso shows and a greater interest in the TUCO competitions. He pointed out that Calypso Monarch Machel Montano intended to defend his crown next year and encouraged other soca artists to get involved, saying he wanted to see Bunji Garlin beat Gypsy in the extempo competition.

Speaking to Newsday after the event, Mitchell said the Soca Monarch competition had been absent from the calendar for too long and, the public’s interest had waned, so revitalising the competition is crucial.

He said the ministry discussed the matter with the NCC last year but time was against them and “things did not pan out” as intended.

“So this year –very early on, as we have a very long season, we have enough time to plan – what I expect the NCC to do is to go out publicly with an expression of interest for any promoter or anyone who is interested in partnering with the NCC to bring back that soca competition, because we have been missing it for the last two years. It’s absent on our calendar and we need that international soca competition here. It’s just a part of us.”

He said in entertainment there were product and event life cycles in which interest waned and surged. He said there must be a revitalisation and renewal to spur on that surge, as there was at this year’s TUCO Calypso Monarch competition. The surge was helped by the new freestyle competition, as well as the young and the new contestants who performed.

“In terms of the Soca Monarch, we expect some sort of renewal. These things have a life cycle and you have to inject some changes that people would like. I mean, we are a different society now than we were 20 years ago.

“For example, there needs to be a lot more public engagement, maybe the public getting involved in choosing the winners. So we expect some renewed interest and that somebody will come forward and really do us proud with a new competition.”

He said while there was concern about the increasing crime rate, he did not believe it would keep people away from Carnival.

He said while crime’s effect on Carnival was also a concern this year, ticket sales indicated significant increases in patronage at all NCC events, as well as an increase in visitors by air and sea. He added that the ministry calculated visitors spent about $640 million this Carnival, and that did not include how much locals spent during the season.

He said Carnival was actually the safest time to be in Trinidad and Tobago and all stakeholders were proud Carnival 2024 was without incident.

“We have been planning, since December, with the Ministry of National Security, all of the Carnival stakeholders, all the security agencies, the NCC, the TT Promoters Association, the Port of Spain City Corporation and all the regional corporations to ensure that we had a seamless, safe and very enjoyable Carnival. That is what we experienced in 2024, so we expect the same in 2025.”

Notably absent from the prizegiving ceremony was the Extempo King and National Carnival Commission (NCC) chairman Winston “Gypsy” Peters. Peters, 71, won $200,000 for placing first in the extempo competition and $45,000 for placing tenth in the Calypso Monarch competition.

He was a finalist in the Calypso Monarch competition three times during his seven-year tenure as chairman and, over the years, many expressed concern that his participation was a conflict of interest. But TUCO said none of its members objected.

Phillip “Black Sage” Murray, who placed third in the extempo competition, even commented on Gypsy’s absence in his extempo performance that evening, expressing surprise and saying Gypsy did not play around when money was involved.