Sunshine and Nadiva, 2018 ACUK Groovy Soca Monarchs

Friday 17 August was another steamy night in The Tabernacle, so expectations were high for some hot soca action in the ACUK Groovy Soca Monarch competition.

McKenzie Hart’s The Mix got us off to a cracking start. Penned by her mother, the song is a defiant riposte to the doubters who said that because McKenzie is mixed race and born in England she can’t sing soca. Oh yes she can – and how! I doubt that there’s been a young UK-based Tent performer who can match McKenzie for the power and the glory of her voice. Hers is the sort of delivery that previously we only ever associated with visiting T&T Juniors.

After that, the show stumbled somewhat, as the late arrival of one contestant forced some last-minute changes to the running order. Eventually Lord Cloak came to the rescue with Drug Peddlers, though this was a trad-style calypso rather than a party soca tune. The pace picked up when Soca Kidd declared I Want You to his scantily clad masquerader. The song had lots of energy – just what you want to get the fete going – and it suited Soca Kidd’s style.

“We making front page cos soca is to blame”, sang Deevine, as children (real soca kids) paraded with headlines. The lyrics were simple enough, but Front Page is another homegrown soca tune that deserves plenty of airplay. Deevine was striking in red and black, and exuded energy. By contrast, Muffinman was laid back as he ambled on stage in his T-shirt and disarming smile. The Storm is an unusual and atmospheric number, enhanced by enjoyably random slogans on screen, but too often his delivery was overpowered by the band.

Some wise words from Oprah about empowerment introduced Sunshine and Nadiva’s I Got It. The intro was worthy enough but risked losing the vibe. But audience interaction is the soca sisters’ forte, and once they hit the stage they went all out to wind up the rather sparse crowd, helped by two lively but almost superfluous dancers ‑ Nadiva and Sunshine do more than enough to hold the crowd’s attention on their own. Then it was back in times to some old-school-style soca from both Dansa (Sonya’s Party) and Clivus (Meh Blood Hot). G-String is a consummate calypsonian who’s not afraid to tackle the heavy subjects, but tonight he showed us his lighter side with Party Time. This had a touch of soul to it, so was an interesting variation on the soca genre.

Music Man looked vex as he tramped on to the stage, but even the singer couldn’t resist the feelgood vibes of his own Sweet Music and by the end his face was transformed by smiles. No wonder: it’s a song that spreads the niceness around the fete. Both this and the next number, Catfish, from Masterlink, were noted as contenders for a top six place, but it was the latter that got the judges’ nod, swayed, perhaps, by the saucy lyrics and fast pace.

Normally, we’d expect to see Brown Sugar (Beverley Browne) in the competition – she won in 2008 and 2011 – but instead we had a Browne from the next generation, her daughter La Toya Fé, singing Too Far. It’s always good to see and hear new talent, but La Toya Fé is no stranger to the Tent, as she has the distinction of being the last-ever UK Junior Calypso Monarch (in 2011). That experience has served her well, as her performance was stylish and confident. Though her voice is on the softer side it has a warm, soulful quality that hopefully we’ll hear more of in the coming years.

After the interval and another powerful performance by the Soca Divettes, it was good to hear Work from the Lutenants, two young men with fine voices and great on-stage chemistry.

The results – which offered scope for much debate! – were followed by the presentation of trophies by Josephine Torrel-Brown, chief adjudicator of the International Soca Monarch competition in Trinidad & Tobago. It was her first visit to England and she seemed genuinely impressed by the “very high standard” of UK-born soca. She commended all the artistes “and the ACUK for doing a wonderful job”.

And that brought the evening to a close, which once again was all too soon. Those after-midnight finishes at the old Yaa Asantewaa are just a distant memory…

If you haven’t got yourself down to the Tent yet (what have you been doing?), then you have just two more chances this year – so don’t miss them. The Calypso Monarch Finals will be on Thursday 23 August and the People’s Choice Awards (when the audience gets to decide who should be crowned King and Queen of the Tent) on Friday 24 August.

There’s even more incentive this year as this year’s special guests are Stacey Sobers (both nights) and chutney queen Drupatee.

London Calypso Tent, The Tabernacle, Powis Square W11 2AY. Starts 7.45pm, tickets £12 adv, £10 concs, £5 u16.

ACUK Groovy Soca Competition Results

  1. Sunshine and Nadiva I Got It
  2. Deevine Front Page
  3. McKenzie Hart The Mix
  4. G-String Party Time
  5. Masterlink Catfish
  6. Soca Kidd I Want You
  7. La Toya Fé Too Far