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Soca Monarch challenge for new creative director

The format for the finals of the International Soca Monarch (ISM) Competition has not yet been finalised but it should be mostly the same with a few changes.

The Caribbean Prestige Foundation’s Play Whe ISM’s new creative director, Simon Baptiste said he would like to put his stamp on the event but does not want any changes to be an injustice to the brand or the fans.

Baptiste was announced as the new creative director after Fay Ann Lyons-Alvarez resigned in mid-January claiming that she had not been "given a timely go-ahead to start and as such my heart cannot be put into a rushed product."

Baptiste said, “There may be some tweaks and some changes. This weekend we have a lot of creative meetings as we try to understand how to build a better product. Right now it’s pretty much what it was before but no doubt by Monday it’s probably going to look a lot different.”

He was speaking to Sunday Newsday at the Queen’s Park Oval at the start of the judging of the preliminary round on Saturday which included 96 groovy and 79 power competitors.

Martin Raymond, Nigel Campbell. La Shawn Prescott, and Sharda Patasar will judge the songs on vocal performance, lyrics, melody, and arrangement.

The semi-finals is expected to have 30 artistes in each category, including two of the top semi-finalists from NTSM-The Event, formally the New Tobago Soca Monarch competition. The number of finalists is yet to be confirmed.

Competing this year are several well-known local artistes including Neil “Iwer” George, Olatunji Yearwood, Skinny Banton (Shirlan George), Devon “Lyrikal” Martin. However, one ISM official said there were a large number of participants from other Caribbean islands including St Vincent and the Grenadines' soca star, Problem Child (Johnny Fontaine).

Last year, Grenadian artist Hollice “Mr Killa” Mapp won the Power Soca Monarch category and the $1 million prize with his runaway hit Run With It.

Baptiste said he wanted create a product that was true to the process and the artform. He, therefore, brought on Raymond, a UTT lecturer, musician, record producer and engineer, as the head judge.

“He’s (Raymond) been involved in music for the better part of 30 years and understands the origin, the evolution of the brand, etc. I felt this is the most important stage because the idea is that you want to have competent, legitimate people on board that bring something to that judging process.”

He said the popularity of an artist would play a factor in any programme because viewership, generating likes, and exciting a fan base was important. However, he said integrity was also important so Caribbean Prestige would try to create a balance.

“From a producer’s standpoint, there are millions of fans that exist around the world for the artform and specific artists so there has to be some level of weigh-in for that. But on the flip side, we have to figure out what our standard is and how we will maintain those standards going forward.”

Baptiste is a former manager of several soca artistes, several successful local events, and co-founder of Question Mark Entertainment, a full-service entertainment firm. With his experience, he hoped to bring a global vision to Fantastic Friday, as he did with any project of which he was a part.

He said he wanted to create a platform for people in any part of the world to learn about TT’s talent and become fans to build a broader base. Therefore, it was necessary to ensure the production of the show was of a high standard.

Baptiste also plans to create awareness and allow a better connection between TT’s youth, the ISM, and soca music. He said the youth were developing faster, and had shorter attention spans. Because of access to social media and easy access to the internet on cell phones, if something was not engaging or exciting, they moved on.

“Right now we are already seeing something that’s going on that goes beyond soca and we have to make decisions. Are we going to embrace it or are we going to turn our back on it? And I think if we turn your back on things you are creating a greater disconnect. You have to be willing to find that middle ground to create a stronger base for how you move forward.

“We have to recognise that things evolve. We can’t ignore those things that are changing. We need to be able to show them that we’re willing to embrace what they are interested in and nurture it so when we go forward with Soca Monarch, they feel that we’re willing to work with them for a better musical future.”

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