A Fantastic Comeback for Trinidad & Tobago Carnival

The International Soca Monarch Competition in Trinidad and Tobago is a major highlight of the country's Carnival festivities  but this year it also served as a comeback for former winner Austin “SuperBlue” Lyons. Lyons, who had last won the title in 2000, had not competed for nearly a decade, perhaps in part because of his struggle with addiction. This year, however, he managed to tie defending champion Machel Montano for first place and a share of the International Soca Monarch title.

On Facebook, Rubadiri Victor posted:

From the moment that skit appeared on the screen of the blue douen wandering lost to the strains of Ras Shorty I's immortal classic ‘Watch out my Children’ people began to cry- and we knew we were in a different type of performance. Blue and his team took it there… THERE!!! Into the bowels of the Hell Blue was clambering out of to deliver this gift. It was a remarkable soulful work of Art as it progressed because it located its origins in that honesty and that real wrestle with the Devil. Which is what real Art is supposed to do- take the raw material of the moment and fashion something sacred.

He continued:

Blue's team succeeded- they were able to take the context and history of the Soca Monarch competition, the crisis of Soca's direction, Blue's personal biography, national crisis, a real spiritual need of our people to believe in something real again- to fashion resurrection… I think we will look back on it as an emotional, epic moment in our nation's history, one that bought home to us the capacity of the human spirit and genius…

Comedienne Rachel Price posted a video blog (on YouTube) of her take on the competition:

But online discussion surrounding the contest soon reverted to Facebook. Nigel Campbell posted:

We have short memories to the history of comebacks, and the resultant din—some quieter that others—that keeps this place an isle full of noises at Carnival time. Soca Monarch 2013 saw the return to the top after 13 years of Superblue. An icon and, admittedly, a mentor to Machel, we know what the intervening years meant to this recovering avatar for Carnival and soca in the 21st century.

Campbell went on:

Our ageism bias creeps in unaware sometimes. When Superblue was rampant in the early 1980s and boasting Sparrow's time had passed, The Calypso King of the World came back in 1984 after 12 years and won a road march and stalled Super, and some say caused his first dive into hell. Speaking of hell, Shadow would have to wait 27 years before public accolade swept his tune ‘Stranger’ to another road march. Old men winning!

Playwright Tony Hall mused:

Super Blue has continually tried to ‘fly’ over the years. He climbed every speaker box in sight for years to accomplish this. Blue's offspring, in the ‘emancipation performance tradition’, Machel Montano, achieved it last night in the International Soca Monarch Finals 2013. It was a glorious exchange of generational energy. And Super, seeing that it was good, proceeded to conjure up a healing balm for himself and all of us…it seems that competition is the best mechanism we have invented to facilitate this kind of necessary ritual in our festival culture. but even though it is necessary to do the analysis through the lens of our festival sensibility, it may also be necessary, at times, to go beyond the spectrum of that reality to plumb the complex forces and energies that commingle below the surface. i suspect therein lies a certain mastery.

He also took a more in-depth look at the competition aspect of the national festival:

it is only partially helpful to look at ‘competition’ as a whole. we need to look, specifically, at the impulse to ‘competition’ that lies within all festival cultures (or cultures driven by festivals) to better understand that impulse and to observe how and why it can be managed and manipulated by the politics and interests that do not care about, or see anything as, steel band aesthetics (or anything that can be described as an ‘aesthetic’ for that matter). this is really a long involved discussion that is not really suited to the ‘facebook’ format because it goes to the heart of how our version of ‘democracy’ functions or does not function, the steel band being a major institution or agent of community mobilization here in T&T. and even the internal and external mechanisms of how that works are changing rapidly. the music then is the crest of the wave on the sea and the steel band movement is the big ocean. aesthetics really involve the values embedded in the sea and the ocean not just the crests of the waves, the music. so when ‘competition’ is organized this way or that, the outcome, which involves and affects the whole movement, is the ‘aesthetic’ not just the music. but what the ‘impulse’ says to us is that we cannot dispense with ‘competition’.

Philip Edward Alexander also weighed in:

Ethel and Rebecca may have gotten lost on their way to the Soca Baptist Flag Party and may have needed a Signal to Get Something and Wave in the Bachannal Time, but there is no mistaking that Blue Boy/Super Blue still owns the stage even if the crowd he once commanded are now there to catch him should he fall. Coming back from the pit of hell (who didn't know about his addictions and substance abuse issues), Trinis showed again what compassionate and loving people they are at heart and welcomed him home as if he'd never been away. His Soca Monarch support was as much a gift to ourselves as it was to him, a thank you to him for coming back to remind us of a better time not that long ago, and instilling in us a hope that that time could come back again.

SuperBlue went on to win the coveted National Road March title – his song “Fantastic Friday” was played most often by DJs who provide music for revelers on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

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