International Soca Monarch
The International Soca Monarch competition is an annual dual-contest soca music event, the finals of which are held on every Carnival Friday (aka Fantastic Friday) in Trinidad and Tobago. Contestants in the event may vie for two separate crowns or titles, the International Soca Monarch (aka the Power Soca Monarch) for uptempo songs, and International Groovy Soca Monarch for slower-paced songs. Recently an additional award has been added, called the People's Choice, which involves text message voting by Digicel subscribers. Subscribers can vote multiple times for their favorite artist during the competition and the artist who receives the most votes is given an additional cash prize.
The International Soca Monarch competition has become the mecca of soca artists in Trinidad where the event has been hosted since its inception; and the region, as many artists who have competed on its stage have moved on to successful careers. Dubbed the "Super Bowl of soca music" it is also a highly anticipated and well-attended event that has been graced with such internationally acclaimed recording artists as Machel Montano, Maxi Priest, Alison Hinds, Destra Garcia and Superblue to name a few.
Soca musicians from around the region and the world are eligible to compete in the preliminary round of the competition and must attain the required number of points to advance into the semi-finals and subsequently the finals which is an action-packed event that is televised and broadcast live to viewers in Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean and other regions of the world. The show is also streamed online and is said to reach more than 150 mi.
Began in 1993 as a local competition for soca artists in Trinidad and Tobago, called the Soca Monarch (aka Trinidad Soca Monarch), the event quickly grew in popularity as it always featured the more popular artists and favored songs for each Carnival season. It was redubbed The International Soca Monarch when for the first time acts from around the world became eligible to compete for a place in the finals and a chance at the envied title of Soca Monarch.
At the inception of the competition, all soca artists (whether their song was uptempo or slower) competed for the same prize. In its current format, a distinction has been made between faster-paced soca songs and their slower counterparts which can still become crowd favorites. Therefore, since 2001 artists with these slower-paced songs now have a chance to compete separately from the usually more hyped-up (and consequently more popular) Power soca songs/artists, and vie for a different title, the International Groovy Soca Monarch. Therein is a sign of the evolution of soca music into two sub-genres.
There have been reports of International Soca Monarch competition roaming from 2011 (from contest producer and founder William Munro) but so far the competition remains in Trinidad and Tobago. In a Daily Express article, dated March 5, 2009, Munro shared his vision for the competition and his plans to discuss with regional ministers of culture in the various islands to generate support. He indicated that failure to attract support from the region would dictate whether regional winners would continue to be 'seeded' into the final round as done in 2009 or have to face the preliminary and semi-final stage as previously done. Prize money for the competition was raised to $1 million in 2009 for the Power Soca Monarch winner although reports by Caribbean Prestige Foundation indicated there would be a reduction in the prize money. Fay Ann Lyons, the 2009 winner reportedly has received the full amount of the promised award (less 5% for administrative costs) when the prizes were distributed on March 20, 2009. Second and third place winners received cash prizes valued according to their placing. In 2010 the first prize for the Power category will be US $100,000 and the first prize for the Groovy Soca Monarch will be increased to TT $200,000.
The first soca artist to win the Soca Monarch title is Superblue. He went on to win the competition a record of seven times. This record is as yet unbeaten, although several artists are closing in on that number.Since the competition has been split into two back-to-back contests, there have been only three performers to simultaneously capture both titles: Shurwayne Winchester was the first in 2006, Fay-Ann Lyons the second in 2009, and Machel Montano in 2012 and 2013. Fay-Ann is also the first female winner of the International Soca Monarch in the Power category and therefore the first female to win both titles simultaneously. Having also won the People's Choice award on that night, she is the first artist to make a clean sweep of all the prizes at the International Soca Monarch.
When the local competition first became an international event, all contestants were required to pass the preliminary stages to qualify for the finals. In 2009, this was changed with winners from other countries' soca monarch competitions being automatically "seeded" into the final round. Prize money for the International Soca Monarch has grown over the years and was announced as being $1 million TT dollars for the 2009 winner when the competition was launched in 2008. Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez, the 2009 winner reportedly received her prize money (subject to a small deduction) at the prize-giving ceremony in March, 2009. T&T Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs have reportedly suggested future prize money be reduced to $750, 000 due to the downturn in the global economy. In 2004, the winner received $150,000, which was an increase from the previous year.
In 2006, $500,000 and a car constituted the winnings for double-winner Shurwayne Winchester. In 2008, the first prize was also $500, 000. Since 2003, all finalists have been guaranteed a cash award for their appearance. Past title sponsors of the event such as TSTT, bmobile and the NLCB have in the past contributed to the cash awards for winners.In 2011, the prize for the 2011 winner of the International Power Soca Monarch was increased to $2 million TT Dollars, sponsored by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. This was announced by TT Prime Minister Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and in her honor, Mr. Munro dedicated the 2011 finals to Mrs. Persad-Bissesar. The prize for the International Groovy Soca Monarch is now $500,000 TT Dollars. Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar also promised in 2011 that future prizes would be maintained at the current figure of $2 million Trinidad and Tobago dollars.
Trinidad/International Soca Monarch
1993 - SuperBlue - Bacchaanal Time
1994 - SuperBlue - Flag Party
1995 - Ronnie McIntosh - On The Road
1996 - SuperBlue - Bounce
1997 - SuperBlue - Barbara + Ronnie McIntosh - Ent (Tie)
1998 - SuperBlue - Ato Party
1999 - Kurt Allen - Dus Dem
2000 - SuperBlue - Pump Up
2001 - Mighty Shadow - Stranger
2002 - Bunji Garlin - We From de Ghetto + Iwer George - Gimme Ah Bligh (Tie)
2003 - Iwer George - Ah Home
2004 - Bunji Garlin - Warrior Cry
2005 - Bunji Garlin - Blaze de Fire
2006 - Shurwayne Winchester - Ah Can't Wait
2007 - Iwer George - Fete After Fete
2008 - Bunji Garlin - Fiery
2009 - Fay Ann Lyons-Alvarez - Meet Superblue (First female winner)
2010 - JW & Blaze - Palance 
2011 - Machel Montano - Advantage
2012 - Machel Montano - Pump Yuh Flag
2013 - Machel Montano - Float + Superblue - Fantastic Friday (Tie)
International Groovy Soca Monarch
2004 - Michelle Sylvester - Hone
2005 - Michelle Sylvester - Sleeping In Your Bed
2006 - Shurwayne Winchester - Don't Stop
2007 - Biggie Irie - Nah Goin' Home
2008 - Shurwayne Winchester - Carnival Please Stay
2009 - Fay Ann Lyons-Alvarez - Heavy T Bumper
2010 - Shurwayne Winchester - Murdah
2011 - Kes The Band - Wotless
2012 - Machel Montano - Mr.Fete
2013 - Machel Montano - The Fog
bmobile TSTT People's Choice
2006: Bunji Garlin
2007: Shurwayne Winchester
2008: Bunji Garlin
2009: Fay Ann Lyons-Alvarez
2010: JW & Blaze
2011: Neil 'Iwer' George
2012: Machel Montano
A new feature was added to the 2010 International Soca Monarch - text voting. Fans could text the relevant code to 7622 in the Caribbean and 78247 in US & Canada to vote for their favorite Artiste - text voting accounted for 35% of the artiste's final score. Text messaging platforms: TSTT - Trinidad and Tobago, Lime - Caribbean, All major carriers - USA & Canada.
Gov't cuts $$ for Soca Monarch
Newsday: Soca Monarch — a springboard to success
Newsday: 2006 — A cultural journey
NALIS: Carnival results
Soca Monarch winner still to receive $
Double victory for Shurwayne
Daily Express: Fantastic Friday
Newsday: Prize cut for Soca queen
Fay-Ann's prizemoney slashed by $.25m
Fay-Ann to receive full $1 million first prize
- Daily Express, March 5th, 2009, pp18