Helena B is the new Soca Queen of the UK. Helena secured the prestigious ACASA Groovy Soca Monarch title for Soca In Between at The Tabernacle, Powis Square, on Friday night.
To judge by the cheers that followed the announcement, her victory was a popular one with the audience. “Well-deserved and long-overdue” was one calypsonian’s verdict. It’s a great song that expresses the sheer joy and exhilaration that so many of us – of any age – feel when we’re caught up in the great musical maelstrom known as Carnival. From her confidence as she came on stage she clearly knew she had a winner, and it was a real pleasure to feel the energy radiating across the hall as well to hear those husky-honeyed tones.
Helena was nine points ahead of newcomer Batch, whose Hold on Tight had the most ‘contemporary’ sound of this year’s songs. He used the whole stage and shamelessly seduced the audience, first by handing a rose to one of the Miss Guyana contenders in the front row and then fetching his young daughter on stage to sing the chorus – which she did as if to the manner born. The fact that the tune was still earworming its way round this reviewer’s head 12 hours later shows he too had picked a good one. We look forward to hearing more from Batch in coming years.
In first place in the running order and third in the points table was the ever-popular G-String, who appealed “Leh me be your soca lover tonight”. Wining Queen channelled a nice ragga-soca vibe.
Just one point behind, Muffinman, still relatively new to the Tent, came a very creditable fourth with the summery Woman You’re Wonderful. He started by holding a quick referendum – because of course that’s the way to solve every problem! ‑ asking the audience if they judged the woman sitting next to them as either (a) horrible or (b) gorgeous. As your reviewer was sitting next to one of the Miss Guyana contestants, that wasn’t a hard one to answer!
Soca Kidd had some entertaining business of his own, turning the stage into a carnival food stall, wearing Jouvert horns and generally stirring it up with infectious enthusiasm. Bring Your Container gained him fifth place, four points ahead of De Admiral, who was perhaps unlucky not to place higher with the cute and danceable Answer de Question. But this was a strong field, and the judges, Heather and Smokey, were merciless!
The fact that the venerable Lord Cloak, resplendent in red, was among the back-markers simply indicated the strength of this year’s competition. Yaa Soca, with its lovely tassa intro, may only have brought him seventh, but when it comes to presentation and timing there’s still much the old champion can teach the youngsters. The final two were Masterlink (Trinbago, Come leh we Dance) and Clivus (Soca Mania). No matter where they placed, all the artistes gave of their best and kept us thoroughly entertained.
Alexander D Great wasn’t competing but did reprise some of his calypsos from previous years – They Came upon the Windrush, the cheeky I Want to be King (given a retread for the current egregious “President of a big country”) and What is Black Music?, which cleverly incorporates a few bars of each type of music mentioned. Played simply on guitar, the point came across so much more clearly than when Alex sang it in competition. We were also treated to a couple of numbers from the Divettes on their own, though they weren’t always well served in terms of sound balance.
Martin Jay ruled the stage as our ever-amusing and imposing MC, the Divettes delighted with their beautiful harmonies, and the ABC All Stars, led by Felix Ruiz, just get better and better. Where else can you hear such a superb and versatile eight-piece band with a proper brass section (“horns men, not hornermen”, insisted Martin) playing such a variety of music?
So congratulations to Vincent John and his team at ACASA for putting on another fine show. The only thing lacking from this year’s superlative Tent season are the audience and the publicity to bring people into the hall. Being London’s best-kept entertainment secret is not doing justice to the performers or the music.