Carnival 2018: Young stars take their place at the top

Egbert Gaye

Veteran calypsonian Austin “Super Blue” Lyons teamed up with Soca’s most seasoned superstar, Machel Montano, to make an indelible mark on Trinidad and Tobago’s 2018 carnival celebrations with a decisive win in the Road March competition with their mega hit Soca Kingdom.
The victory marked Blue’s tenth win in the competition for the most popular carnival song, and Montano’s ninth.
However, even as these two veterans asserted their dominance on the road, the signs are clear that a new guard of stars is emerging to take Trini carnival into the future in Soca, calypso and steelband.
Heading the pack is up-and-coming superstar Aaron St. Louis, known simply as Voice, who at only 26-years-old easily won the prestigious Soca Monarch competition for the third year running, with one of 2018’s most popular hits, Year For Love.
He led a youthful list of new Soca stars in the competition, with 31-year-old Blaxx placing second and 24-year-old Orlando Octave as second runners-up.
The changing of the guards was just as evident in the Calypso Monarch competition where Voice was narrowly beaten into second place by 24-old-year Helon Francis, with another 20-something-year old star Rondell Donawa placing third.
In winning in an arena that is usually dominated by veterans, Francis snatched the crown from 70-something-year-old Chalkdust, who placed 17th in the highly competitive Dimanche Gras show.
Another group of relatively young stars are playing themselves at the top of the steelband world, with Duvone Stewart leading Renegades Steel Orchestra back to panorama supremacy after been out of the winners row for 21 years.
After a few years of trying to crack the top spot in the competition, Stewart’s breakthrough came this year with a sparkling arrangement of Voice’s Year For Love for the band from Charlotte Street in the heart of Port of Spain, which won nine previous Panorama titles throughout the 1980s and 90s, including two hat-tricks  (mostly under the late Jit Samaroo).
For this win Stewart had to stave off a late surge from the youthful band from south, Skiffle Bunch, who seemed poised to stage a Carnival Saturday night upset with their rendition of Kees Diffenthaler’s Hello, arranged by a team of three young arrangers out of Brooklyn, N.Y., Marc Brooks, Kendall Williams and Odie Franklin.
In fact, steelband aficionados known for their maliciousness, were heard saying that after hearing Skiffle’s rendition, listeners hung up on Len Boogsie Sharp, whose band Phase II also played Hello.
Other veteran and iconic arrangers, Clive Zander Alexander and Leon Smooth Edwards of Desperadoes, and Trinidad All Stars, accustomed to occupying the top spots were left looking up to the young-uns.
Despers, who was an early challenger had to settle for third place with their rendition of Year For Love, which many thought might have been over-arranged.
Young Amrith Samaroo took the relatively new-on-the-scene eastern favorites Supernovas from Lopinot Village to fourth place.
On Dimanche Gras a new cadre of masqueraders pushed the old royalties in the King and Queen Of The Band category, such as Ted and Curtis Eustache and Roland St. George, together with Gloria Dallsing and Krystal Thomas, to the back.
Earl Thompson, portraying death and The Maiden: The Fancy King Sailor Plays Pegasus, is the new King of the Bands and Roxanna Omalo with her portrayal of “Lilith” Mistress of The Eternally Damned is Queen of The Bands.
And for the third year in a row, husband and wife team Ronnie and Caro walked away with the Band of the Year title with their presentation of Life’s Checkered Board.
Although the carnival was staged under the threat of a terrorist attack, authorities in T&T say it was a safe festival with only sporadic incidents of violence across the island.