by Lincoln DePradine
From Inspector in the 1990s to Lil Natty and Thunda in 2018, almost every Grenadian carnival lover could name at least one artiste who has won a soca monarch competition.
Less familiar to the nation are the names of Grenadians who initiated the competition and the people who, while not appearing on stage as performers, created the foundation for a show that now is biggest at Grenada’s annual Spicemas celebrations.
Broadcasters Troy Garvey and Harold Pysadee have never won a soca competition. Neither have businessmen Brian Pitt, Boose Taylor and Kester Simon, but all of them, along with others, have had something or another to do with the rise of soca in Grenada.
“Kester played a very, very crucial role in soca development in Grenada,’’ said Garvey, who has been a fixture in broadcasting, communications, and cultural and sporting marketing for 4 decades.
As a young announcer at the then Morne Rouge-based Radio Free Grenada, Garvey initiated an all-calypso format for all of his on-air programmes, including on Sundays. A similar emphasis was placed on promoting calypso by Garvey’s fellow broadcaster Harold Pysadee. Andre Donald, operator of REAL FM, also used his on-air talent to support local music and the development of competition among soca artistes.
At the beginning of the decade of the 1990s, soca started taking deeper roots in Trinidad, especially as party music. In 1993 Trinidad, its inaugural Soca Monarch contest that was won by Blue Boy, who now uses the name Super Blue.
Brian Pitt decided to use a similar template to the Soca Monarch in Trinidad for a Grenada competition. The intent of Pitt, with the able assistance of Troy Garvey, was to get Grenada music into the club and to encourage participation and interaction with the audience, and provide another performance opportunity for the artistes.
Pitt owned and operated Sugar Mill in Grand Anse, one of the leading nightclubs at the time. In 1993, the team of Pitt and Garvey hosted a Party Monarch competition at Sugar Mill nightclub. Inspector won the Party Monarch title, which included participation from other artistes such as Japs and Flying Cloud.
“We knew the potential of what that show could have brought. We saw the direction the music was going and what was happening with the music,’’ Garvey recalls. “The whole idea was to get the music into the club and to encourage participation and interaction with the audience; to get people to dance and wave and move and do different things.’’
Creativity began bubbling to the surface in Grenada and there was a drive to improve music quality and production. For instance, Don Charles and MOSS International utilised their studio in St Andrew to develop a new sound – now known as Jab Jab Music. Their composition, “Jambalassie Rule” won the Grenada Road March of 1991.
With help from people like Charles and veteran music arranger James Clarkson, compositions by Grenadian artistes “started to sound better’’ Garvey said.
The calypsonians began not only employing local arrangers but also others in the region, and recording music in Trinidad and New York.
“Artistes now were moving away from the traditional form of tape-recording. You would find records were coming into play that made it easier for the music to go into nightclubs and onto the party circuit,’’ according to Garvey. “The calypsonians were also using more of the leading arrangers in the business. The likes of Frankie McIntosh, Leston Paul and Pelham Goddard. The local acts now were getting to record with the same kind of arrangers that the best in the business were using. Now, it was not just Trinidad music but local music was also being played in the parties.’’
Still, it was important to ensure the music was available to a wider audience beyond the club circuit. It’s where Kester Simon, who owned a record store on Melville Street in St George’s, enters the picture.
Simon assisted in developing and in operating the Music City record label. “We used to do recordings locally and then go to Barbados to use WIRL facilities to master and do the vinyl,’’ Garvey explained. “Kester would have invested quite a lot in the music; in recording of artistes and having their music available. Of course, he’s a business; he wants to sell records also. To get the music, at the time, you had to buy a record or buy a cassette.’’
A market for the music also existed in the Grenada Diaspora in North America. To reach that market, New York-based promoter Boose Taylor was the go-to guy.
“Boose Taylor invested quite heavily in the music, providing opportunities after carnival for all the Grenadians to go to perform in New York, Toronto and Washington,’’ said Garvey. “Within two weeks of the conclusion of Grenada’s carnival in August, we were in New York; and I’m speaking about doing the big venues in New York. We used to have 3,000, 40,000 people at those venues. You had all the guys who came out with top songs during the carnival; people like Inspector, Ajamu, Flying Cloud and Black Wizard.’’
The Sugar Mill Party Monarch competition was poised for a major boost, with plans for moving the event to a larger outdoor venue and increasing the number of participating artistes. But Party Monarch organisers were approached by officials of the then Calypso Association, outlining their intention to stage a similar show. They embarked on a campaign of mobilising association members to have them not take part in the Party Monarch competition.
However, the big names of the day fully supported the Sugar Mill initiative, resulting in a potential impasse.
Both sides – Party Monarch organisers and Calypso Association – engaged in negotiations, with legal options looming. Pitt was not prepared to enter into that prolonged aggravation through the court system with the Calypso Association and it was decided to step aside and let the association stage their event.
And with that, the National Soca Monarch championship in its present form emerged in 1994. Carnival that year witnessed the staging of the Soca Monarch organized by the Calypso Association on the main carnival stage, and a Lyrical Monarch competition put on by the Sugar Mill group.
“It was a lyrical show and the structure of the judging criteria was distinctly different,’’ Garvey said. “Soca was in its infancy. So, we saw that we could have the lyrical competition and still attract the patronage and interest of the Grenadian people.’’
Garvey, commenting on today’s Grenada soca, said it’s a “good feeling to hear the music being played all over the place’’, with Grenadian Mr Killa now holding the International Soca Monarch title.
“Grenadians artistes have secured and cemented their place on the soca landscape; 2018 was an exceptional year for our music,’’ said Garvey.
What Garvey would like to see, however, is for young artistes to rely less on “rhythms’’ and try to learn more about music.
“They need to grow musically; learn basic musical structures and engage people with working knowledge as arrangers, producers and who also are good songwriters,’’ Garvey said.
Boyzie stands today as ‘winningest’ artiste in Grenada Soca Monarch championships. He has won 4 crowns.
Mr Killa, Sheldon Douglas, Luni Spark & Electrify have each captured 3 soca titles. Inspector has won 2, not including the Party Monarch crown he earned at the Sugar Mill. Other Soca Monarch winners are defending champions Lil Natty and Thunda; Lavaman; Terror Kid; Otis; Bogie B; Tallpree; Zingo; Scholar; Randy Isaac; Ajamu and Black Wizard.