Soca artists deserve better than current ISA
The International Soca Awards was an embarrassment to soca music
Maybe it was the hype. Maybe it was the luxurious Sandals Grande venue. Or maybe it’s the fact that the ISA is the only supposed notable award ceremony for soca artists; I had formed the impression the award for soca music was, in the Caribbean, the equivalent of a Grammy. I couldn’t have been more misinformed. It was as if a fat donkey in a suit had sat on an apple pie and then handed it to you two hours later, saying: “Here’s your pie.”
For starters there was the planned red carpet event, scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday outside the resort’s William Jefferson Clinton Ballroom. It never materialized. But no one, certainly not CEO Colin Jackman (who simply shrugged as he told an inquisitive reporter, “We were just running late,”—as if already that were not painfully obvious) told us. The area was deserted, save for some tourists on their way to another room— for a different event. At about 7 p.m. I spoke with a member of the DBS broadcasting crew. He said he had set up his equipment for the red carpet ceremony downstairs, only to have to tear it all down to relocate upstairs.
We walked together to the Palladium room, where the actual award show was to be held. We entered the designated area expecting to see people mingling, enjoying drinks and an MC nervously pacing backstage. In fact the only people we encountered were Sandals employees. Attendees trailed in behind me as I examined their facial expressions, trying to decide who, among the guests and the employees, appeared more confused and embarrassed. The answer? Every face registered displeasure.
A literal red carpet was rolled out at the front door walkway for the artists to walk on. It looked like it had been fished out of a KFC storage room. Some people took selfies against the Sandals backdrop, then took their seats where they waited for another 90 minutes for the start of the night’s programme.
I positioned myself in a seat up front from which I planned to shoot some good pictures. I was quickly kicked out of that spot by an ISA member. But then an hour or so later a man was inviting everyone to please come forward, since only about a quarter of the seats were occupied. Let him suffer, I said to myself, and stayed put. Another man came to the microphone to plead with the audience not to fall asleep or leave. “Just give us ten more minutes, please.” He said he was not the night’s master of ceremonies but, throughout the first half of the show, he outspoke the official MC. All of this was most upsetting for everyone involved so I figured I’d get myself a drink to help me settle down. But, it was not an open bar and there was no food. So we all just continued to sit there.
The award show started just before 9 p.m. with a beautiful rendition of the national anthem played on the steel drums. After that it was all downhill. There was no co-ordination. I seriously do not think anyone present had the slightest idea what was going on. The not-quiteMC was getting lectured by the CEO while he was on the microphone. Over and over he stopped to cross-check what he was saying. The actual MC disappeared for a while and people had to fill in. It felt like they were calling up random people to reluctantly present the awards. Six of the first seven award winners were not there so other folks stood in for them. One performer was so frustrated about the sound level that he actually interrupted his performance to flash the DJ a look set to kill.
Periodically, I would look over at Nailah Blackman, who had a breakout year in the industry in 2017. Her body language said it all. I started to think beyond the fact that this event was a joke and actually started to feel bad for the soca artists. They deserved way more.
Everyone looked fantastic; they were smiling and socializing and ready to have a good night until the slow drag wore them down. These artists give so much to Caribbean culture. They are constantly creating music for people who love nothing better than partying to the sound of soca. A few try to be role models for kids; some keep visitors happy; they are almost the entire pop-culture scene in the Caribbean and they take tremendous pride in all they achieve. They deserve an award show that symbolizes appreciation of them and what they do.
I can’t speak on other ISA shows staged elsewhere. But this one was unacceptable. It was no kind of Grammylike event. Not even close. So stop with the swag. Don’t book the Sandals Grande resort just to say ISA is at Sandals; don’t talk about a red carpet ceremony if there is no adequate red carpet; do not hold a press conference with no conference and don’t set up an entire ballroom of seats unless you know they will all be filled. I want the ISA to challenge itself and bring more.
This isn’t supposed to be about hating on the awards. The symbolism behind the awards is great and there should absolutely be an award ceremony for these wonderful artists. These awards are 15 years in the running—long enough for organisers to have got it right by now. ISA has the potential to be an integral part of the soca and Caribbean community. This, then, is a call to action. On to next year!