Was there a Road March Conspiracy?
Amidst the celebration, congratulations to Ragga Soca General, Bunji Garlin (and even an onstage marriage proposal to "Hard Fete") comes disturbing reports of a possible conspiracy by external parties to misrepresent the data and crown the Viking of Soca.
Let's Evolve the Process!
It should be emphatically noted that we love and fully support ALL our artistes + entertainers and have no bias against any of the contenders but seek only to EVOLVE the Carnival landscape to be more transparent, more tech savvy and more rewarding overall to more of the artistes and industry stakeholders, who contribute so much of their time and energy to the success of the annual festival.
In no way is this meant to accuse the winners or their competitors, but really to show how obscure the process for this contest is currently and hopefully inspire some changes before Carnival 2024!
Having said that, let's get into it!!!
The facts are that the official results shared by the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) cite a total of 135 plays for "Hard Fete" with 0 plays from Tobago. According to the rules (which realistically probably have not been amended or adjusted for over 2 decades): only the first song played by the first truck is counted, so no matter how big the band is or how many sections pass with however many trucks, it's just that first song from that first truck that's counted.
How does that represent the People's Choice when the majority of choices are not recorded as part of the process?
There's currently no mobile or online voting involved at all and even the masqueraders' ability to choose which song they want is not streamlined or organized in any way...
The nearest competitor was Nailah Blackman and Skinny Fabulous' "Come Home", which recorded 106 plays and was favored by many masqueraders, thus resulting in the closest Road March race in many years, but still they lost by 29 plays.
A credible industry source called our offices on Wednesday, ahead of the official announcement to report possible collusion and conspiracy on the part of those in charge of collating and disseminating the results.
This source prefers to remain anonymous for obvious reasons as whistle blowers have been victimized and ostracized in the past and cited figures counted and signed off on from judging points in Tobago and South Trinidad in particular.
"All I know is I got one report from Tobago showing that Come Home had won over there with a certain number of plays," said the insider, "and then, after that was submitted, unofficial results started circulating with all kinds of figures and by the time the official results were released the figures had changed to reflect something different."
This anonymous report made us think about the process behind this competition and really recognize that its archaic and needs to be updated to avoid such accusations of impropriety.
The Road March contest has had its fair share of controversies over time with numerous allegations of DJs being paid to play certain songs resulting in masqueraders protesting and even refusing to take the stage in recent years - if their preferred selections were not played.
There have also been numerous conspiracy theories about a "Soca Mafia" committee, which allegedly decides on what is supposed to be a People's Choice award ideally. While we cannot confirm or deny the existence of such an entity, there have been some questionable wins and results over the past few decades, which begs the question: why hasn't this competition been modernized and made more transparent? Why aren't we given a breakdown of all the results from all of the judging points in addition to the overall total?
Why aren't the people, the masqueraders or the fans allowed to vote for the Road March in some structured way ahead of the Carnival parade and since there is no system like that in place, how would the DJs actually know what song the people want to cross the stage with?
In 2000, the first Carnival of the new millennium produced controversy when Austin "Superblue" Lyons was declared the Road March 2000 Champion by the closest of margins over Neil Iwer George on Ash Wednesday. However, after months of protests from Iwer George that eventually led to a court battle, both Superblue and Iwer George were declared joint winners by the TUCO on July 11, 2000.
It's 2023 and many believe it is time for the evolution of these contests into more transparent and tech-savvy formats, with calls for more titles to be awarded for more specific functions. The corporate sector should be given an opportunity to sponsor and brand these additional awards, the way that Visit Trinidad is now attached to the Road March title and more awards should be created for categories such as "Stage March", "Fete March" and even a "Song of the Season".
These ideas have been suggested and welcomed by many artistes, producers, industry stakeholders and fans alike with mobile, online and social media voting also recommended to encourage more public participation, Diaspora involvement and a greater overall consensus on the final winners.
So did Bunji win fair and square, or did certain persons in authority manipulate reports to award a song that was definitely one of the most popular songs of Trinidad Carnival 2023, but may not have been played more at Carnival judging points around the nation?
What would have been the motivation for ensuring his win by any means necessary?
Is it because Skinny is Vincentian and would have won 2 of the last 3 Road Marches? Is it because Nailah is younger and the powers that be think she needs to "pay more dues" before she's allowed to win anything?
Were you on the road? Did you play mas? Which song did you cross the stages to? Which song did you prefer and which did you hear play more when it mattered most?
These and other questions need to be answered and this process needs to change!
This article aims to open the conversation NOW and not wait until next October or even January to think about what needs to change... WE NEED TO MAKE CHANGES NOW!