Saucy temptress Shellon ‘Shelly G’ Garraway captured this year’s Carib Soca Monarch crown, proving to be too hot to handle for the watered-down competition.
Though brief showers threatened to dampen the proceedings, Garraway raised temperatures at the National Park with her performance of “Work It,” putting on an R-rated stage show that worked a captive crowd into a frenzied state and earned the approval of the judges. With the win, Garraway became the first female winner in the six-year history of the competition. She also erased memories of her past finals appearance when she had infamously declared she was too tired and quit the competition mid-performance. “They say I can’t win this thing,” she said, during the performance. “But if you know this is my year, just say Shelly G!”
By then she had it locked. And when the results were finally announced, just before 2 am yesterday, there was little doubt about her claim to the title. Her closest rivals were Melissa ‘Vanilla’ Roberts and Wilbur ‘B-52’ Levans, who had to settle for the first and second runner-up spots. Calypso crooner turned soca singer Mark ‘Anaconda’ Batson was named Best Newcomer by the judges.
In the absence of last year’s monarch and Kross Kolor label mate Adrian Dutchin, it looked like either Roberts or Levans would walk away with the title, but all through the night the buzz was about Garraway and her racy new song. The gods also seemed to favour her as she was spared from the weather and audio glitches that affected some of the other performances. The air was almost electric when she took to the stage to begin her set, an extended electric guitar riff echoing around the park. The confetti flew and flames were sprayed into the air. ‘Shelly G’ had arrived and she left no doubt about her intentions. “Get ready to dagger,” she wickedly announced, while flanked by dancers from the Classique Dance Company, who proceeded to conduct what could be called an extended instructional course on the finer points of wining. They went slow. They went fast. They went long and hard. They did it on the ground. And in the air. And not one of them lost their composure when a dwarf woman joined them.
Garraway herself led all the way through, while encouraging members of the audience to get in on the action. It must be said that while her act was perfectly in keeping with her oeuvre of seductive stage shows, it was hardly on par with material like “Rampin Shop,” which led the Jamaican Broadcasting Commission’s to ban reggae-dancehall songs that contain sexually explicit lyrics. But the timing of the ban seems to have worked in her favour as it added to the appeal of the song.
Overall, the finals lacked the high-concept theatrics that have been a staple in recent years, largely owing to Dutchin’s self-imposed sabbatical coupled with the notable absence of other leading soca singers, like Marlon ‘Malo’ Webster and Michelle ‘Big Red’ King. But this year’s finalists were nevertheless eager to fill the void and several of them staked their claim to the top prize, while pushing against the boundaries of the genre.
Roberts was an early crowd favourite. She closed the first half of the competition with “Rude,” an infectious jam that might easily end up winning her another road-march title. She has raised the calibre of her stage performance since last year and she closed off her act by literally taking it into the crowd. She was hoisted overhead on a panel on which she performed a pole dance. The people went wild.
Meanwhile, Levans, who shed his ‘Lil Man’ moniker this year, seemed intent on capturing the title, after three previous first runner-up results. Alas, the elements were not on his side as it started raining through his set as he performed “Circuit Overload.” But B-52 was not grounded for long.
Mark ‘Anaconda’ Batson and Roger ‘Brains’ Hassel, the charismatic lead singers for the Brutal Jammers band, were among the young turks looking to upset some of the seasoned campaigners in the competition. Batson, with his entry “Festival Fever,” had the unenviable task of kicking off the show. If the competition were judged solely on the basis of performance, Batson would undoubtedly have placed. He delivered a fiery, high-energy performance, the kind that he has come to be known for. He blurred the lines between soca, ragga, reggae, rock and soul, using only a one-drop rhythm at one point during his set. But while his performance was powerful, his song was not, failing to connect with the audience.
Hassell had a similar problem with his entry, “Wine On Me,” which is easily one of the catchiest, though simplest, entries in the competition.
His performance could have benefited more from his familiar up-tempo style, though the song was down tempo and leaned heavily on the instrumentals.
Although she won praises from the crowd, Beverley ‘Little B’ Williams also raised plenty of eyebrows with her entry, “Sharon’s Abuse,” which injected a sobering message amidst all the bacchanalia. The take on domestic violence might have been better suited, however, to the calypso competition. Other performers also played against the genre, including the duo Reflections, made up of Nancy and Nicole and Nancy Osborne. The pair’s entry, “Ghetto Love’” combined soca with soul and ragga, with Nancy crooning and Nicole delivering spitfire lyrics. The two members of the group Purrsonality, Ashanti Low and Balinda Cummings, also commanded sizeable support with their Latin-flavoured piece “Wet.”