Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"Road Rage": An Analysis of Road March Winning Songs

If you haven’t noticed at all, it’s been rather Soca-ish around here lately. Of course TnT Carnival is over and many of the big artists, the heavy hitters are rolling out new projects and I’ve done fairly well at following along I think and I’m trying to give a bit of coverage because those big albums are definitely in demand right now. Well, with a few seemingly on the way like Alison Hinds’ Caribbean Girl and Bunji Garlin’s I Am, I thought I’d take a little step further (although after this, it’s Reggae time all day, at least until I get my hands on Hinds’ new album) and take a brief look at one of Carnival’s most competitive and interesting topics - Road March. A Road March tune is essentially the most popular and the biggest tune from a particular season and it is shown to be so (in the technical sense. In the literal sense it’s usually pretty damn obvious) during Carnival where the various groups play the various tunes on the road and mysterious ‘judges’ tabulate the amount of times a particular tune is played at various mysterious ‘checkpoints’. But like I said, which tune will take the title is usually pretty clear and the actual tabulating becomes more of a formality than an actual competitive deal.

This year in Trinidad, things were just that - a formality. JW & Blaze's 'Palance' swept the competition, just as it did at Soca Monarch and just as it was increasingly expected to do. Last year, things were just as clear (and probably more so if I recall the numbers correctly), with Fay-Ann Lyons’ ‘Meet Super Blue’ taking the road and turning it into a living breathing tribute to her Father. I thought I’d take a look at exactly what seems to make up a Road March winning tune in this day and age by taking a look at the last half decade worth of winners in of the crown in Trinidad and seeing what, if any, similarities they might have in common musically speaking.

In my own mind what I’ll say is that I USUALLY favour the big and powerful and completely RANDOM type of songs for Road March. In my mind, the tune which takes the crown is the one which exudes absolute MADNESS. It’s not very complicated, it’s a ‘jump and wave’ tune of the highest order and it doesn’t exactly try to revolutionize anything per se, it just is what it is and what it is a tune which expedites the process of aiding one to LOSE ONE’S MIND on the road and do so on a neo-consistent basis. Let’s examine, however, the facts:

2010 - Palance by JW & Blaze

Exhibit A. If my notions are true and prevailing, then ‘Palance’ was the absolute PERFECT tune to take Road March this year. It was indeed the biggest and craziest RANDOM jump and wave tune to be found and the masses certainly reacted to it as such. This one actually was also a bit gimmicky as it left many a reveler wondering exactly what in the hell it meant to Palance (and literally I can’t tell you how many times I’ve now heard it referred to as ‘Balance’) and I don’t know that that is a quality a see in the other four tunes here, but it’s not something which I look down on, in retrospect. The music itself is of the type where it’s meant to be remembered by the year specifically and 2010 was DEFINITELY the year of Palaaaaaaaaance!’

The Competition? While it was clear to see that no tune had the legs to take down JW & Blaze in 2010, it was also just as clear what the second place tune was going to be (and watch this). I am FULLY convinced that in terms of everything I use to ‘judge’ music (and I am by no means an expert although I think I know a little about what I’m speaking of), Fay-Ann’s ‘True Lies’ is a better tune. But it wasn’t a better fit for Road March. That tune is a very complicated song. It’s difficult to sing, it has so many different vibes in it, it literally sounds like two or three tunes wrapped into one. It also has a definitive message of Fay-Ann being blamed for doing something (which she is completely guilty of doing) and really it’s just too much damn thinking to take the crown. The tune which ultimately placed third in the race is actually a much stronger candidate, ostensibly, ‘No Behaviour’ from Machel Montano. That tune may even be stronger than ‘Palance’, but it’s simply not as catchy and the energy certainly isn’t as high. And I’ll even mention my own personal favourite power Soca tune from 2010, ‘Brave’ from Bunji Garlin - It wouldn’t have been a strong candidate for the Road either because it too is kind of complicated and EXCEPTIONALLY lyrical. A BEAST of a tune, but not a Road March (and unforgettably Bunji has already declared that he favours lyrics over Road March specifically).

2009 - Meet Super Blue by Fay-Ann Lyons

Out of Bounds. Remember what I just said? All of that stuff about songs being too specific and too complicated? Well in 2009 that stuff didn’t apply very well at all as Fay-Ann simply OVERPOWERED the competition to take an even clearer victory than we saw this year. ‘Meet Super Blue’ was pretty damn complicated. It had very different type of lyrics that everybody had to learn (I think people are still trying to learn them) and shit and I remember the first time I heard it and I was trying to figure out exactly what was going on there and that’s when the madness set in. The song is BEAUTIFUL. It was one of her absolute best and saying that about arguably the hottest Soca artist anywhere over the past half decade is saying a great deal definitely, but was it the right TYPE of song for Road March? Maybe not.

The Competition? The PERFECT tune for 2009 Road March, in my most certainly partial as hell opinion, would have been the DEVASTATING ‘Bacchanal’ by the heavenly Destra Garcia. This tune had pretty much everything you would want in a rapture inducing tune and it wasn’t a lyrical dud either. ‘Bacchanal’ certainly wasn’t as ‘high maintenance’ as the winner, but it wasn’t your average, everyday jump and wave effort. To my opinion it was the ‘descendant’ of the previous year’s winner and of course it was my favourite tune from 2009 and I wasn’t alone in that opinion. The other two main entries, ‘Tusty’ from Blaxx and ‘Wild Antz’ from Montano were very good as well (although I think I’m in a very thin group in the opinion of the latter), but they simply weren’t as good as either the winner or eventual runner-up, still both tunes, especially ‘Tusty’ will probably never be forgotten in retrospect.

2008 - Get On by Fay-Ann Lyons

Perfection. Lyons’ second Road March taking tune ‘Get On’, looking back, was the absolute PERFECT type of a song for the kind of new age of Soca music, because although complicated to a degree and lyrical also (which is just her style if you haven’t noticed), its complicatedness and its messages and its colours and really everything about the tune were about Carnival. She didn’t reach to an outside source (like her Father) (biggup Super Blue) (every time) and the tune wasn’t very hard to sing or to learn, it was just a mad ass masterpiece of a tune. It was also VERY catchy. The beginning and subsequent backdrop of the tune is pretty timeless and I still get excited just hearing it start up, two years later. You listen this song and relate it to almost anything and how and why it reached the title is pretty clear and pretty clear almost immediately.

The Competition? Two tunes, from two very familiar sources, ultimately made up the wonderful ‘pack’ of songs from 2008. The first was a song which, until recently, was arguably as strong in my mind as ‘Get On’, the incredibly ‘Breathless’ from Blaxx. The tune wasn’t as POWERFUL in the sense of getting that craziness up and letting the people do whatever they want. It was, however, probably a catchier song and one which, were it toned back a couple of notches would have probably been EXCELLENT on the dance floor. Still, it is worth mentioning how much I love this tune and I fully think it’s better than a couple of tunes you’ll see mentioned here, as winners. The other song, ‘Blazin’ De Trail’, from a man I’m about to speak a lot about, Machel Montano, was very good and better than I gave it credit for. STILL, it was probably the third best tune (at best) that he had that year with other surefire winners like ‘Unconditional’, ‘Rollin (with Patrice)’ and maybe even ‘Wining Season’ being stronger. The tune itself definitely had the energy (maybe too much even) and it was catchy as hell, everything you’ve come to expect from the superstar.

2007 - Jumbie by Machel Montano HD

Glory. There’s something inherently beautiful about the favourite winning in my opinion. Of course the way things are set, when there is an upset and the underdog actually takes the victory, it is going to be a bigger ‘deal’ in a sense, however, win someone is SUPPOSED to do something and they do it, that’s a beautiful thing to me at times. Such was the three years ago when Soca superstar Machel Montano claimed his second consecutive and third overall Road March title with ‘Jumbie’. I don’t too have too much to say about this one, considering how wonderful the circumstances were, but the season was a magical touch for Machel who definitely had a ‘Midas touch’ of sorts. ‘Jumbie’ itself was a masterpiece. Despite the kind of obvious ‘strangeness’ it had to it, it was PERFECT choice for Road March. It had an insanity to it, which seemed to override any type of common sense one might have and surely any inclinations one might have to pick a next tune.

The Competition? It’s weird because when I started writing for this year, there was one rather huge tune which I forgot which actually officially placed a distant second on the road, ‘Open The Gate’ by Shurwayne Winchester (who won the crown consecutively in 2004-05), which was robbed blind at Soca Monarch that year (by Iwer George). That tune was probably a bit too complicated and definitely more of Monarch type of a song and it was absolutely LOVELY as well. The second tune was by Fay-Ann, ‘Make A Stage [‘M.A.S’]’ and when I looked it up I was actually surprised to see that it didn’t place in the top five in the official standings (which is just fucking awful), but it too was lovely. The tune was a beautiful one which would have made a very nice champion here from an artist who, herself, had won the crown just a few years earlier. And lastly, there was the very strange ‘Sugar Boy’ from Patrice Roberts. Which sounded NOTHING like a Road March tune AT ALL. It was candidate OBVIOUSLY on the strength of the fact that it was ABSOLUTELY DIVINE! It may have actually been the best Soca tune of that season and people knew it and they just had to do something with it (and if I recall correctly she even entered it in the POWER Soca Monarch competition and placed). Road March? No. Everything else? Absolutely.

2006 - Band Of De Year by Machel Montano & Patrice Roberts

Crystal Clear. Machel’s second time taking Road March would also be a first for his young disciple, Roberts as the two began an association at the highest level of the game which I have grown so accustomed to hearing (and damn near broke my heart that I didn’t get this year, at least not yet) and has been so successful. ‘Band Of De Year [BODY]’ was a song which took awhile to warm up to me, but as evident by the fact that I got out of this chair and started dancing when I just cut it on here, it did that and then some. The tune was a clear choice for the Road. It was kind of specific, and more so than some of the other contenders but it wasn’t very heavy lyrically and seriously there may not be a simply more CATCHY tune on this entire list (with respect to ‘Palance‘). I always remember it with Patrice singing the, “We reached the stage, we warming up throw your hands dem in the air. . .” Damn!

The Competition? Although Machel and Patrice owned the road and did so clearly in 2006, everything else went to Shurwayne Winchester. The winner of the two previous years' Road March (you have no idea how many times I have typed the word ‘roach’ instead of ‘road march’ (and I just did it again there)) was going for his third consecutive crown and although he was denied in that quest, his tune, the excellent ‘Can’t Wait’, earned him Power Monarch that year and he also took groovy honours with the infectious ‘Don’t Stop’. ‘Can’t Wait’ was a perfect Monarch tune, but it wasn’t as strong for the road as ‘BODY’. It wasn’t as catchy, it was kind of darkly intense, two qualities which may not translate perfectly without a performance. Other contenders would have included ‘One Island’ from Nadia Batson and ‘Ting 4 Da Road’ from Batson good friend Mista Vybe as well as Machel himself, whose tune ‘Scandalous’ also placed that year. All very strong, but none more fitting for the Road than the winner.

So what have we learned? Well, while my own personal conditions for a Road March winning tune are pretty good and I think they are generally the standard for the winning song, to a degree. There certainly are WONDERFUL exceptions. Soca in general is becoming more lyrical and complicated so when I look at that specific criterion, I have to apply it in a more comparable way. ‘Palance’, for instance’ isn’t very complicated, but had I kept going back further and further, I wouldn’t have exited the decade before you saw a tune or two which sounded flat out outdated by comparison. Meanwhile, a tune like ‘Meet Super Blue’ (and especially ‘True Lies’) sound space age-ish at times. It is also by that ‘growth’ of the music itself (you can call it “growth” or just a matter of taking a different direction, although I think it is one which is inevitable and has been for quite some time) (you can jump and wave for so long dammit!) is something which may just open things up for someone like Bunji Garlin to take the crown in the next few years and a nearly 30 year old Fay-Ann Lyons, given her style and approach, figures to be a candidate for perhaps the next decade or so and may establish a legacy as a Road March champion which will NEVER be equaled by a female in Soca, when her time is done. Still, that being said, tunes like there will hopefully always be room for tunes like ‘Palance’ and ‘Jumbie’ and ‘Band Of De Year’ which just serve no earthly purpose besides being musical adrenaline inhibitors. THAT is what Road March should be for me and hopefully even when/if things continue to get more and more progressive and intellectual, it is a trait which is not lost in the shuffle, none at all.

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