Carnival is Bacchanal 2013 style
Superblue returns as Machel awaits sentencing
By Jabari Fraser, writing from Port of Spain
The words “bacchanal” and “carnival” have long gone together, but 2013 carnival started shaping up in especially fine form.
Already it’s clear that Trinidad and Tobago’s 2013 Carnival will be remembered for the return of original soca monarch Superblue, as well as for current soca icon Machel Montano facing the possibility of a jail sentence, heavy fine and or community service after the carnival festivities.
For his part, “Super” has got the monkey off his back and his return for 2013 has been greeted with an outpouring of love and hope.
Superblue first came to fame as calypsonian Blue Boy, then changed his name to Superblue when he came to Port of Spain in 1980 and rocked the carnival with his head-shaking, body-trembling tune, Soca Baptist.
Machel - and Trinidad carnival - got a reprieve when a magistrate put off his sentencing till after the season.
Machel and his road march right-hand man, composer Kernal Roberts (son of legendary calypsonian Lord Kitchener) were found guilty of several charges, including assault, arising from an early-morning brawl outside a Port of Spain nightclub.
This, ironically, occurred after a woman wined on the man dubbed as the “Winer Boy”.
Short but sweet season
Short, but thus far, sweet, Carnival 2013 has already proven that it ranks right up there with that sweet and often scandalous bacchanal characteristic of a longer season.
From the return of soca heavyweights, with heavily-sequined and gold embroidered belts of monarch greatness, to a possible boycott of the competition which picks those wearing the most ornate of costumes to be King and Queen of Carnival, there is no shortage of Carnival-related "ole talk" in rum shops, pan yards and mas camps across the country.
Some speculate that Lord Kitchener, who gave the world classics such as Pan in Symphony and London Is the Place For Me, must now be looking down from on high and composing a ditty about his son.
Montano, uncharacteristically quiet for the season, has not said much about his sentencing, postponed to 25 February. As the magistrate explained, the delay will allow him to consider outstanding probation reports and additional legal submissions.
Montano is trying to focus his energies on the difficult task of defending his power soca and road march crowns.
He's competing with a happy, giddy-paced song called Float, composed by Roberts.
But his quest for a hat-trick of monarch and road titles will not be as easy as it has been over the past two years.
There's a powerful dark horse with years of experience, whipping crowds into bouncing, feteing frenzies.
The colour of that horse is a royal and super blue.
Whether you remember him as Blue Boy or Superblue, Austin Lyons has form as an eight-time road march king and six-time soca monarch.
He hasn't competed or released much new music over the last 10 years, dealing with personal problems, but this year he is back in the fray of soca artistes of an undisputed high pedigree.
His composition is titled Fantastic Friday.
It has been sending fetes into a bouncing ecstasy with the rhythmic and melodic hooks that made him a soca superpower, from his breakthrough with Soca Baptist to his last year of soca glory and titles in 2000.
“Oh, I would love to see Super win the monarch and come good again,” said a fan who must have been a teenager when Blue Boy/Superblue was mashing up town with hits such as Rebecca.
The possibility of a TT$2m (US$312.000) gig from that eight-minute performance on Carnival Friday night is not at the forefront of his mind.
Superblue told Caribbean Intelligence© that he was just glad to be back.
"It's so wonderful. It's a wonderful feeling. Well, everything is everything and everything is time. God is time. It is out of my hands. I just do me, " he said.
Let battle commence
Radio DJs have been busy building the battle between the big boys in the running, playing Fantastic Friday and Float one after the other.
Montano is quick to play down that battle.
"People must remember Superblue is the person who put me in soca,” says Machel, who also appeared on the scene in the 1980s, but as the schoolboy whose voice hadn’t broken, with his 1986 hit Too Young To Soca.
Machel adds about today’s battle with veteran Superblue: “This is the art of war. And when I say war, I say that very lightly. Soca war, calypso war. The real thing is how we compete on fantastic Friday."
Superblue has a more poetic take on the heavyweight battle.
"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is the gift. Once you wake up and you can breathe, it's an opportunity to succeed."
Superblue's daughter, Fay Ann Lyons, herself a multiple road march and soca monarch winner, and her husband Bunji Garlin, also a Soca Monarch King, have decided against competing this year.
After staying away in 2012, they seemed set to return - Bunji with a bang and arguably the biggest song of his career, Differentology.
Incidentally, David Rudder considers Bunji’s song to be a real departure from his previous form, recalling Shadow’s Bassman and Rudder’s own Bahia Girl.
However, a few days before the semi-final, Bunji and Fay Ann withdrew, citing issues with the competitors' contract.
They were unhappy with various clauses, including one which declares the winner must pay 5% in tithes to the organisers.
Bunji is very clear in his mind about his rights and says: "Anywhere in the world, you have the right to overlook your contract. If you don't like something in the contract, you just don't sign it."
Soca Monarch competition organiser William Munro says that their non-participation is not much of a concern.
"They will disappoint the fans. Many big artistes over the years have pulled out. This is not the first time Bunji pulled out, not the first time Fay Ann pulled out."
Machel remains confident.
“They know what I am capable of doing and this year I think I'll top myself. I'll have about five firsts that night when I come out on soca monarch.”
Meanwhile, the calypso tents, the panyards and the mas camps with the lovely women and skimpy costumes that reveal all... almost... are buzzing.
Your intrepid reporter is on the case. It’s a tough job, but...
[Editor's update: 9 February - In the end, judges could not choose between Machel's literal floating/ flying above the stadium crowd dressed as Superman and Superblue's performance which carried the audience into a frenzy chanting 'Supa, Supa' - they tied for Power Soca first place.]