‘Let’s sweeten the pot’

Veteran calls on organizers to put more money in the bag

He already has one Sweet Soca crown under his belt; but, come Sunday, veteran calypsonian RPB will be looking to make it two in the bag.

To achieve this, he will first have to overcome the likes of Edwin Yearwood, TC,  MikeyBloodiWeb and reigning monarch Biggie Irie.

However, Red Plastic Bag, who is certainly no stranger to competition, believes his chances are as good as any. In fact, four years after he first copped the title back in 2011 with his Once Upon A Wine, he is as confident as ever that he knows the winning formula, and that his latest Crop Over hit song Spontaneous can take him all the way at Bushy Park in St Philip, and beyond.

Red Plastic Bag
Red Plastic Bag

Spontaneous is extremely popular.
On the ground, people believe that my chances of winning the competition are great, and I’m looking forward to going out there and giving it my best shot,” RPB told Bajan Vibes in an interview this week.

“At the end of the day, it is a competition, and you have to come good on the day in order to win. But I’m quite comfortable with what I’m going to be doing, and I’m excited about it.”

In all, 18 competitors will be vying for the coveted Sweet Soca crown, which is one of two big competitions slated for Bushy Park on Sunday, as part of the much anticipated Soca Royale –– the other being Party Monarch.

It will be an all-night event this time around.

And Bag, whose calypso teeth were cut in the social commentary arena but who has shown a much bigger appetite for participating in the more uptempo CropOvercompetitions in recent years, is still in it to win it.
However, winning is not everything for him.

The way he puts it is that “when you reach the stage that you have a song that is so popular already, that is a victory in itself”.

Therefore, performing before the thousands at BushyPark, which is the heart of his hometown, becomes more about the show than the actual contest –– which translates into a lot of time and energy being spent on preparation of the presentation.

“There are parts [for example] where I know I am going to have fun, because the music goes in a particular direction,
and I’m in a position where I can just have fun delivering the song.


“I have seven minutes onstage; I am going to use up about six minutes and 15 seconds to get in there be impactful
and get off the stage,” said Bag, who already has his Sweet Soca performance worked out in his mind.

Asked what was the winning formula, he said: “You have to know yourself well. You have to know your limitations; know the areas where you are strong; and you have to know where you can extract your points; because, at the end of the day, you can score heavily in one area and believe that you can run away with it; but it doesn’t happen like that.

“You have to be able to extract points from the various areas,” said Bag, who also cautioned performers that “if too much is going on, it can take away from the song”.

With that said, he believes there’s more the organizers can do to ensure that Sweet Soca lives up to its name, especially for the performer.

He suggests that they sweeten the pot, in terms of prize money, to make it more commensurate with what performers actually put into the annual show in terms of music, presentation, lighting, dancers, costume, and so on.

“It is not an easy thing. You can end up spending $20,000 to $25,000, and the second prize is only $15,000. So you can see, if you spend all that money and don’t win, then you are in the red,” Bag explained to Bajan Vibes.

He noted that while presentation was only five points, the visual added to the event, and now the show was being held at night, even more could be done to make the event a spectacle.

“At the end of the day, we need to present a quality show. Win, lose or draw, you want to be part of a quality show,” he stressed.

Bag also suggested that having a car was no longer proving to be a major incentive for Sweet Soca competitors.

“When you win, you have to become a salesman after that, because you need to sell it.

“I had a time when I actually sold a car for $35,000 less than the value of it, because it not easy to sell the car,” he said.

“I would prefer the cash rather than to get a car. We all have our cars. It is not a car that you want to take and drive; you need to turn it into liquid, but it takes time . . . .

“I know fellas who have had cars right back around to the next Crop Over season before they could actually get them sold.”

In a wide-ranging interview, the ten-time calypso monarch also shared his views on this year’s offerings for the Pic-O-De-Crop.

Agreeing with the widely held view that calypsonians are currently shying away from hard-hitting material and the tackling of the issues of the day, Bag said: “I have always been of the view that, for the most part, calypsonians are historians; and when you look at a particular time, you should be able to listen to the music, listen to the calypsos and through the songs tell what happened in that period. [However]I am not sure that the body of work I have heard this year is going to be able to do that in a big way.

“. . . The reality is that times are tough. But where are the songs that are actually saying that ‘times are tough’?

He stayed clear of picking a winner for this year’s contest; and, when asked about a possible return to the Pic-O-De-Crop
arena, he remarked: “I think I have come to the end of my journey as it relates to that competition. I can’t tell you how comfortable and relaxed I feel being able to sit down and watch that competition now!

“I know what they are going through.
I know how they are feeling. I know the tension . . . the feeling backstage. There is so much tension!

“I started with hair, and I left with no hair,” he quipped.

As for concerns about “merger” of different genres into calypso, he said: ‘Things are merging and I think it is also going to happen with the music. The lines that define the music are going to become blurred.

“I believe the reason why you are looking at it that way is because we have competitions.”

He argued that competitions were good for the festival, but they were bad for the music, because people were supposed to be free in terms of making the music they wanted to, and not be worried about if “a song qualifies”.

“A fellow now making a song is going to say to himself, ‘If I now make this song 133 beats per minute, although that might not be the best way it can sound, I am going to slow it down to 130 to qualify for the Sweet Soca competition [which may not be the best thing for the music].

“We have another problem which is that the festival is driving the music. And because there is so much fete and mas’, the music is being made to fit the mas’ and the fete; and the go down and come up, and the wine and the drink that are going on in the festival . . . .

“Whereas, if the music was driving the festival, the music would be broader,” Bag said.


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