Soca artists de­serve bet­ter than cur­rent ISA

The In­ter­na­tional Soca Awards was an em­bar­rass­ment to soca mu­sic

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - ---David Venn

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!

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