The Mighty Chalkdust, some 20 years ago, sang "Kaiso Sick in Hospital", and Athaliah Samuel this week concluded "Calypso Still in Hospital". Well, my worst fears have been realised for another art form—chutney soca and its premier event, Chutney Soca Monarch, both of which have "terminal illnesses and are also in hospital".
I am an ardent supporter of chutney soca, all the way back to its humble beginnings and the glory days of its founding father, Sundar Popo. I was also an ardent supporter of the Chutney Soca Monarch Competition and, year after year, I have attended every single event—preliminaries in the early days, semi-finals and finals, except in 2012 when I did not support the change in venue for the event.
After this year's event, however, I and my Belmont posse of 12 have made a strong resolve that is it our absolute last maxi-taxi excursion to Skinner Park for the Chutney Soca finals, as its terminal illness is there for everyone to see except Southex Promotions and sponsors including the government.
Judging for this competition has been a big farce for a long time now; yes, some changes were made in the judging system from a 100 per cent text-to-vote system to a system this year where winners were chosen 70 per cent by text messages and 30 per cent by judges. But how ethical it is for the telecommunications company which endorses 18 per cent of the finalists to also be a main sponsor for the competition, and is it coincidence the top three winners are all endorsed by this same telecommunications company? I have had conversations over time with many chutney soca artistes who are totally against the text-to-vote system, but none of them has had the courage to take a definitive position against the system. Sad to say, but all of them have taken an individualist position with this issue and even with regard to the formation of an association of chutney soca artistes which has been proposed on more than one occasion.
The entrance fee over the years has gone from $20 to $40 to $60 to $100 and, for 2013, $200, a whopping 100 per cent increase in the entrance fee. To justify the $200 entrance fee, the promoters promised 2013 was not just a competition, that it would be much more—a show with a difference. Instead of the promises, what did patrons receive? A no-show by Kes The Band and David Rudder, a late start by over one hour, and no apologies from anyone, theatrical but boring performances by most artistes, finalists who did not know how to differentiate between a competition and a fete, as the majority of them had to ask, "Skinner Park posse, how all yuh doing?" and, "Who from Princes Town and who from Gasparillo," and who believed that talking and shouting during their performances were better than delivering their songs in a clean, smooth way.
How I wish Sundar Popo, Rasika Dindial, Rooplal Girdharie, Heeralal Rampartap and Sonny Mann were part of this year's competition, as I would have danced from start to finish as I did for many years instead of standing still all night with utter disgust.
There was absolutely no regard for patrons—filthy disposable toilets, outside of which was red sand, not a shred of toilet paper and, worst of all, not a place to wash hands after using the toilets. I guess for Southex, a bigger stage, more lights, more fireworks, higher barriers to keep people away from the stage, sponsors which think publicity and money first and most importantly, gullible people willing to pay any entrance fee charged are what make a successful show.
Kenneth Seupersad and Prophet Benjamin are my 2013 Chutney Soca Monarchs.