How to win the road (march) | Backstory

T&T’s Carnival is full of rivalries and competitions, and none is more fierce than the annual Road March battle. Mark Lyndersay traces the history of the musical title that reflects the will of masqueraders on the street — and we dare to share our picks for the top ten Road March songs from the 1930s to the present day

MX Prime (centre) and Ultimate Rejects, 2017 Road March champs. Photo by Michele Jorsling courtesy Ultimate RejectsDavid Rudder, whose “Bahia Girl” won the 1986 Road March. Photo by Mark Lyndersay/Lyndersaydigital.comWith eight Road March wins over three decades, the Mighty Sparrow is tied for third place in the overall Road March rankings. Photo by Kingsley Lyndersay/Lyndersaydigital.comHis ten Road March titles make the late Lord Kitchener the all-time champion of the competition. Photo courtesy RCA VictorShadow’s 1974 Road March, “Bass Man”, was a game-changer for Carnival music. Photo by Mark Lyndersay/Lyndersaydigital.comThe first woman ever to win a Road March title, Calypso Rose has enjoyed a long career breaking barriers. Photo by Frans Schellekens / Redferns / Getty ImagesCurrently tied with Sparrow at eight Road March wins, Machel Montano conceivably has decades ahead of him to break Kitchener’s record. Photo by Mark Lyndersay/Lyndersaydigital.comWith ten wins, the late calypsonian Lord KItchener is T&T’s all-time Road March champion. Photo by Ron Burton / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

On Ash Wednesday 2017, MX Prime — the performer formerly known as Maximus Dan and christened Edghill Thomas — along with his production and performance team, Ultimate Rejects, were announced as the winners of Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival Road March competition.

Their song, “Full Extreme”, was played 556 times at competition venues around Port of Spain. The second-place winner, Machel Montano’s “Your Time Now”, trailed with seventy-two plays.

The Road March competition isn’t like most popularity contests or talent competitions judged by the public. Nobody sits at home to make a call or send a text. To win the Road March, a composer has to write a song that makes people get up and dance — to be specific, all the people who celebrate T&T’s Carnival every year — and keep them on their feet for two days of prancing. To stand any chance of succeeding, the modern Road March must be the anthem of wining, that rhythmic gyration of the waist, often done in concert with a partner or two, that found wider international notice in a distinctly corrupted form as twerking.

Each year’s Road March and its contenders are consigned to history along with the masqueraders’ costumes, and it’s a rare song that earns a play on the road after its year of glory. The first Road March title was recorded in 1930, Inveigler (MacDonald Borel)’s “Captain Cipriani”, and a song has won the accolade every year since then, even between 1942 and 1945, when Carnival was officially suspended during the Second World War.

There were, of course, enormously popular songs before then, songs so entrancing that they jumped from band to band in an environment that was quite different from the mechanised, industrially driven Carnival of today. Back then, a Carnival band took to the road with its own live music, the earliest form of which were long sticks of bamboo rhythmically beaten to accompany the chantwell — the singer leading the costumed group — who considered life, love, politics, and the bacchanal of the barrack yard in his composition.

“The first song sung by almost every band on the road was probably ‘Sly Mongoose’,” says Professor Gordon Rohlehr, the eminent literary scholar with a lifelong personal and academic interest in the genesis of calypso. The song came to Trinidad and Tobago in 1919, and was sung in a tent by Houdini in 1921, becoming popular on the road in 1923. “It was likely to have been a Jamaican folk song, but melodies travelled throughout the islands and became songs with different lyrics and arrangements. ‘Captain Cipriani’ was most likely a melody we know as ‘Ambakaila’.”

That music would evolve along with Carnival itself. Popular chantwells would host visitors to their yards as they rehearsed, and eventually a small fee was asked, beginning a tradition that would eventually become the calypso tent. In search of louder rhythms and smoother melodies, the bands would beat biscuit tins, paint cans, and eventually steel drums, which would be shaped and refined to create the modern steelpan instrument.

In parallel, musicians would accompany the bands, first bringing small woodwind instruments, flutes, clarinets, guitars, and violins. These were eventually joined by full-throated brass, as saxophones and trumpets provided a path of influence for big-band jazz music to flow into the calypsonian’s repertoire.

Railway Douglas (Walter Douglas), who won the Road March in 1934 with “After Johnny Drink Meh Rum”, was a key personality in the evolution of this stage of the calypso as the favoured voice of the people. “Inveigler was Railway Douglas’s assistant,” explains Rohlehr, “but Douglas thought that picong calypsoes were demeaning and a throwback to slavery days. He would sing topically about social issues and the scandals of the day.”

Calypso would emerge as a narrative form of storytelling and commentary, the structure of the words in balance with the melody, even as live band music entered a long period of jousting with the steelband as the preferred soundtrack to drive bands along the parade route.

“Rum and Coca-Cola”, Lord Invader (Rupert Grant)’s 1943 hit, would characterise the sentiments of the male calypso fraternity, who chafed at the presence of the American military on the island and the response of local women to the prized “Yankee dollar.” That response to the social circumstances of the day would find their apotheosis in the Mighty Sparrow (Slinger Francisco)’s 1956 Road March “Jean and Dinah”, a song he later admitted was created as an advertisement for a local store that he repurposed into groundbreaking social commentary, and the first Calypso King crown of his career.

Sparrow’s emergence was preceded by one of the oddest Road Marches of the twentieth century, 1955’s “The Happy Wanderer”, a German march sung by the Obernkirchen Children’s Choir — better known by its catchy chorus, “Val-de-ri, Val-de-ra.” The song, says Rohlehr, “was larger in structure than a traditional calypso and may have influenced the form of ‘Jean and Dinah’, which also had a long chorus.” This was a very different era for the Road March, one in which any song with a catchy melody might be popular on the road. Advertisements for Tisane de Durbon and Nagib Elias’s lumber business were cheerfully sung alongside performances by calypsonians.

It wasn’t until 1976 that the popular “Tourist Leggo” by Antiguan Lord Short Shirt would annoy calypso’s establishment so much that it would be banned from official competitions, beginning an unfortunate era of Road March insularity. Since then, only performers from T&T have been eligible for the competition — though Short Shirt’s song went on to win the Antigua and Barbuda Road March title.

After Sparrow won in 1956, the Road March competition belonged to him and his career-long rival Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts) for the next decade — interrupted only by Lord Christo and Nap Hepburn, who won a twin competition in 1957 with “Chicken Chest” and “Doctor Nelson”, by Lord Caruso in 1959 with “Run the Gunslingers”, and Lord Blakie’s plaintive 1962 “Maria”.

Sparrow and Kitchener’s second ten-year stretch of Road March dominance, starting in the 1960s, was interrupted only once by Shadow (Aldwyn Bailey)’s 1974 “Bass Man”, but that was a change that fundamentally refocused the competition on music. The Mighty Shadow was a Tobago-born calypsonian who had been working for years to break into the big times. It happened with “Bass Man”, which told of a melody gifted to him as he was about “to give up calypso and go plant peas in Tobago.” That melody, anchored by a “poom pittity poom” sung deep from his chest, was nothing less than a bass run on a steelpan in a song, anchored by a surprisingly funky bass line.

Shadow — an unabashed fan of Teddy Pendergrass who titled one album If Ah Woulda, I Coulda, I Shoulda — launched a career of songs anchored by soulful beats and empathic, often psychedelic lyrics that drifted some distance from the more commonplace topics favoured by his calypsonian peers. He dropped the traditional calypsonian’s superlative soon afterward, shedding a “Mighty” that was now demonstrably superfluous.

Three years later, Calypso Rose (McCartha Sandy-Lewis)’s 1977 hit “Tempo” forever ended the Sparrow-Kitchener axis with a Road March that was all about melody, and a chorus that echoed the percussiveness of “Bass Man”. Rose became the first female champion of the road, singing triumphantly over a music bed that made liberal use of modern synthesiser technology.

Kitchener, who understood music in a particularly deep and profound way, would put his stamp on the young people’s soca music, by then the dominant form in play at Carnival parties and on the road, with 1978’s “Sugar Bum Bum”, but would have greater success developing complex musical ideas for the steelband, most notably with “The Bee’s Melody” and “Pan in A Minor”.

 

The story of the Road March after “Bass Man” and “Tempo” is a narrative of conflict between the traditional calypso art form and soca, its funk-influenced derivative, alongside the rising importance of the disc jockey as the preferred delivery mechanism for the music of the road, eventually overwhelming the role of the live performing band.

Soca’s hypnotic beat was cemented as the commanding presence in the Road March between 1977 and 1990, but in 1991 the freshly rechristened Superblue — born Austin Lyons, and formerly known as Blue Boy — would introduce the lyric-as-command to the road mix with the urgent chorus of “Get Something and Wave”. In the twenty-seven years since then, the explosive, post-curfew release of the song, which followed the attempted coup of September 1990, still echoes in soca dance music. Younger performers — including Superblue’s daughter Fay-Ann Lyons, twice winner of the Road March title — have taken that song and its successors as the baseline for their own successful songs for the road.

As Blue Boy, Lyons had already registered two successive Road March wins in 1980 and 1981 with “Soca Baptist” and “Ethel” when he changed the pace and focus of the Road March forever with “Get Something and Wave”. He would infuse that formula into three more winners, “Jab Jab”, “Bacchanal Time”, and “Signal to Lara”, characterising them with sharp chord changes across melodies. These were songs with music enough for three tunes, eccentric and easy-to-shout lyrics, and a profoundly intuitive sense of what makes people go crazy at Carnival time. Gordon Rohlehr sees a parallel in the relationship between Superblue’s interaction with crowds and the long-ago chantwell’s management of his Carnival band.

Meanwhile, as the beat has grown faster, the lyrics have largely abandoned narrative for pop song hooklines, phrases that can be shouted as you leap forward on the tips of your toes, twirling a handy cloth over your head. Several popular soca hits have lifted chord progressions from well-known pop songs and layered them into their music, and the Road March winners of the last seven years have been influenced by the style and structure of international electronic dance music (EDM).

Since the late 1990s, Machel Montano has emerged as the most successful architect of the modern Road March, blending an understanding of the lyric as supporting framework for the music with a master’s touch in the production of the final work. Montano has won eight of the Road March competitions since 1997, five of them since 2010.

In 2018, the traditional calypso tent, once the stamp of artistic approval for a calypsonian, has shrunk almost into insignificance, subsisting on a lifeline of state support. Local radio and the Carnival party are now where music is auditioned for public consumption, and the range that’s offered represents only a fraction of the music actually created for the festival.

The calypsonian now finds himself in the position of the chantwell he replaced more than a hundred years ago, losing ground in Carnival to a more popular music with aggressive, focused practitioners. But, as the recent success of Calypso Rose in Europe demonstrates, the form still has a lot of life to it. The Road March and the creators who compose for it once more look to all the music that makes people dance — whatever its origins — for its influences.

 

The “revenge” Road March

The Calypso Monarch competition once required finalists to sing two songs for a marking system that encouraged the performance of a “serious” calypso and a party number. In 1974, Sparrow won the competition with a pair of songs tailor-made for the requirements of the competition, “We Pass that Stage” and “Miss Mary”. That year, Shadow performed “Bass Man” and “I Come Out to Play”, two songs popular in parties. From J’Ouvert on Carnival Monday, it was clear that masqueraders were intent on redressing the Calypso Monarch judges’ verdict, demanding “Bass Man” for two days and making Shadow’s vertical prance the dance of the festival.

“That wasn’t revenge as much as it was pure street justice,” recalls Gordon Rohlehr. “There is an element of mischievous fun in the Road March.”

 

The Road March as zeitgeist

There’s an argument to be made that the celebration of Carnival on Monday and Tuesday has been influenced deeply by the music of each era of its development. The shuffling march of the earliest Carnivals proceeded to the staccato, almost military beat of bamboo percussion. As the music grew louder and more melodic with the entry of the steelband, the words of the songs became less of a chant and more of a sing-along. The celebratory blast of horns from big bands added the miming of brass playing and the celebratory raising of arms to mostly sunswept skies.

In this heated competition, what made one song the Road March and the others merely popular?

The earliest recorded road marches are distinguished by a subversive wit and topical humour. Between 1935 and 1941, the Roaring Lion (Rafael De Leon) won four of the six competitions with calypsoes that managed to be both bawdy and socially concerned. Lord Kitchener’s return from England was formally heralded with “The Road”, a song that remains, to this day, the unofficial anthem and reference point for summarising the annual street party. It was also a gauntlet thrown down to Sparrow, and for the next two decades the pair would battle for the attention of revellers on the road.

Kitchener’s melodies were wildly successful on the steelpan, and he would increasingly turn his attention to that instrument as the decisive interpreter of his compositions, with unparalleled success. His last Road March, “Flag Woman” in 1976, was both a final coda to the supremacy of the steelband as the driving force for music on the road, and a paean to the woman charged with bearing the band’s standard and clearing a path for the heavy steel drums as they rolled through crowded streets.

The next year, Calypso Rose would win with “Tempo”, a song crafted for brass bands, beginning an era that would run from 1977 to 1990 — upbeat songs for dancing that increasingly abandoned commentary for catchy hook lines and tip-of-the-toes prancing.

That trend would go to another level in 1991 with a resurgent Blue Boy, now singing as Super Blue. His astonishing troika of winners, “Get Something and Wave”, “Jab Jab”, and “Bacchanal Time”, put down a template for dance-focused soca that fundamentally changed the pace and approach of composers, arrangers, and musicians who would find the fast time and heated pitch of the songs difficult to maintain on the road.

It was here that two things happened in the Road March competition. First, the gulf between the songs that got played on stage to stoke the bands and the music played on the actual road grew wider. Then it became clear to bandleaders that the music, now prepared in special “road mix” recordings, was more easily played by disc jockeys, who also happened to be cheaper than full live bands.

That opened the door to more multi-tracking, sharper cutting on chord changes, and deeper use of electronics in creating the songs, just when it became possible for almost anyone to create music on their computer at home.

On its surface, at the level of the lyrics, Road Marches became instructions to revellers. “Moving to the left,” sang Nigel Lewis. “Hold on to the big truck,” urged Machel Montano. “Footsteps . . . on the ground,” demanded the late Wayne Rodriguez.

On a deeper level, this was music that did more than invite the listener to get up and dance — it was designed to take people already committed to prancing to another level of euphoria and excitement.

It isn’t surprising, then, to find elements of electronic dance music (EDM) showing up in recent Road March contenders, and to see the influence of dance soca bleeding back, as it did in 2014’s “Antenna”, the breakout single by Fuse ODG (Richard Abiona).

 


Ten for the road

Of the eighty-plus songs that have won the official Road March title, some are little remembered, some have become “back-in-times” favourites, and a few are considered landmarks — whether for their musical qualities or for trends they ushered in. Here are all the recorded Road March winners up to 2017 — and our picks* for an all-time Road March top ten.

 

1930
Lord Inveigler
Captain Cipriani

1931
King Houdini
Mr Huggins

1932
King Radio
Tiger Tom Play Tiger Cat

1933
King Radio
Wash Pan Wash

1934
Railway Douglas
After Johnny Drink Me Rum

1935
Roaring Lion
Dingolay Oy

1936
Roaring Lion
Advantage Could Never Done

1937
Roaring Lion
Netty Netty

1938
Roaring Lion
No Norah Darling

1939
King Radio
Mathilda

She take meh money and run Venezuela . . . With a perfect combination of plaintive lyrics and jaunty melody, King Radio (Norman Span) lamented the unfaithfulness of a wife or girlfriend who stole the cash hidden in his mattress and headed for the mainland. Nearly eight decades later, it remains one of the most immediately recognisable calypso choruses, and not just for Trinbagonians. Harry Belafonte’s 1953 recording became an international hit, later covered by performers as unlikely as the Greatful Dead. Needless to say, King Radio never saw a cent in royalties.

– Philip Sander

 

1940
Lord Beginner
Run Yuh Run

1941
Roaring Lion
Whoopsin Whoopsin
Though there were no official Carnival celebrations from 1942 to 1945, at the height of the Second World War, informal “Road March” titles are recognised for the most popular songs in calypso tents in those years.

 

1942
Lord Kitchener
Lai Fook Lee

1943
Lord Invader
Rum and Coca-Cola

1944
King Radio
Brown Skin Girl

1945
Roaring Lion
All Day All Night, Mary-Ann

1946
Lord Kitchener
Jump in the Line

1947
King Pharaoh
Portuguese Dance
(Vishki Vashki Voo)

1948
Lord Melody
Canaan Barrow

1949
Roaring Wonder
Ramgoat Baptism

1950
Mighty Killer
In a Calabash

1951
Mighty Terror
Tiny Davis

1953
Vivian Comma / Spit Fire
Madeline Oye / Bow Wow Wow
Two separate Road March competitions this year produced rival winners.

1952
Spit Fire
Post, Post Another Letter for Thelma

1954
Lord Blakie
Steel Band Clash

1955
Obernkirchen Children’s Choir
The Happy Wanderer
(German pop song)

1956
Mighty Sparrow
Jean and Dinah

The greatest calypsonian of all time? The Birdie would certainly agree. It’s a reign that started with a bang in 1956, with the song that won him both the Calypso King and Road March titles. Sixty-two years later, “Jean and Dinah” is more than a calypso classic — it’s a cultural touchstone and a symbol of that brash, confident era between the end of the Second World War and Independence in 1962.

Above all, it tells a story of social evolution. Well, the girls in town feeling bad, no more Yankees in Trinidad . . . As US troops withdrew from the bases around Port of Spain, a surging sentiment of nationalism culminated in the general elections of September 1956, which returned Eric Williams of the PNM as premier and cleared the path to Independence negotiations. But Sparrow portrayed this moment of change in more personal, down-to-earth terms. With the Americans out of the way, Sparrow and his fellow “glamour boys” were “back in control” of Port of Spain’s nightlife scene. “Jean and Dinah, Rosita and Clementina,” the good-time girls who had reserved their favours for the US servicemen, now had to make do with local trade. In for a penny, in for a pound. A tide was turning, in personal relations as much as in politics, and Sparrow’s preening delivery suggested who he thought would end up on top.

“Jean and Dinah” was oral history and penetrating social commentary, cocky and risqué, with lyrics deserving literary analysis and an unforgettable tune: a calypso to engage listeners’ wits as much as their waists. For most Trinbagonians, it’s as familiar as the National Anthem, a song of similar vintage and asserted confidence. And the famous last line of the chorus — “Sparrow take over now” — was an accurate prediction of the Birdie’s calypso dominance of the coming decades.

– Philip Sander

 

1957
Lord Christo / Nap Hepburn
Chicken Chest / Doctor Nelson
As in 1953, separate Road March competitions produced rival winners.

1958
Mighty Sparrow
Pay As You Earn

1959
Lord Caruso
Run the Gunslingers

1960
Mighty Sparrow
Mae Mae

1961
Mighty Sparrow
Royal Jail

1962
Lord Blakie
Maria

1963
Lord Kitchener
The Road

1964
Lord Kitchener
This Is Mas

1965
Lord Kitchener
My Pussin

1966
Mighty Sparrow
Obeah Wedding

1967
Lord Kitchener
Sixty-Seven

1968
Lord Kitchener
Miss Tourist

1969
Mighty Sparrow
Sa Sa Yea

1970
Lord Kitchener
Margie

1971
Lord Kitchener
Madison Square Garden

1972
Mighty Sparrow
Drunk and Disorderly

1973
Lord Kitchener
Rainorama

Only once in the past century has Carnival’s traditional connection with the start of Lent been severed. In 1972, faced with a polio outbreak, the government threatened to cancel the festival — then, faced with public outcry, postponed it from February to May, and from the dry to the rainy season, so that masqueraders were predictably drenched. A year later,
Kitchener’s “Rainorama” recounted the drama — and won the Grandmaster his ninth Road March title.

The song’s laid-back rhythm and sweet melody almost disguise the fact that “Rainorama” is an uncompromising defence of Carnival and its place in T&T’s national life, a riposte to those “so and so hypocrites” who call it an unneeded distraction or waste of time. This is calypso as history lesson and as protest, but so seductively composed, it allows no resistance. And for Kitchener it was such a big hit that when he built his dream house in Diego Martin, on Port of Spain’s western outskirts, he named it “Rainorama” — proudly declared in an illuminated sign on the front lawn.

– Philip Sander

 

1974
Shadow
Bass Man

It was the song that broke the Sparrow/Kitchener monopoly on the Road March title. I wasn’t even born when “Bass Man” won the Road March — but, growing up in a house with Shadow being played constantly, I decided early on that he is the greatest thing that ever happened to music in Trinidad and Tobago. Although he’s won the Road March title only twice in his long career, Shadow’s skill at storytelling and the way he plays with melody, his bizarre vocal range and the sweet sadness of his musical arrangements, make him the most avant-garde street philosopher we’ve ever had.

In “Bass Man”, Shadow manages to capture the frustration of the calypsonian who can’t make a living from his art, yet the impetus to create is greater than the frustration. I don’t know how this thing get inside me. Which artist doesn’t know that truth? This song is the strong foundation on which Shadow has created an entire universe of feeling in his music: a different language and energy, a way to channel all the pain, all the sadness, all those feelings of inadequacy into the ability to have hope and dance in spite of it all.

– Attillah Springer

 

1975
Lord Kitchener
Tribute to Spree Simon

1976
Lord Kitchener
Flag Woman

1977
Calypso Rose
Tempo

Port of Spain too small for the Carnival . . . T&T’s capital considers itself ground zero for the festival, but Calypso Rose dared sing this infectious tune about heading south to San Fernando, and took her first Road March title. It was history-making: for the first time ever, the Road March was won by a woman, and Rose successfully defended the title a year later, when she also became the first woman ever to win the Calypso King title, which immediately had to be renamed. After Rose, it was twenty-one years before another woman, Sanelle Dempster, won Road March, and only two others — Fay-Ann Lyons and Patrice Roberts (duetting with Machel Montano) — have taken the title.

Some say Rose’s Road March breakthrough should have come a decade earlier, with “Fire in Me Wire”. For years, rumours have had it that the 1966 Road March invigilators fudged the figures, unready for a woman calypsonian to win. Whatever the truth, if longevity is the best revenge, Rose has come out on top, enjoying a huge surge of international success in recent years with her Far From Home album.

– Philip Sander

 

1978
Calypso Rose
Come Leh We Jam

1979
Poser
A Tell She (Smoke Ah Watty)

1980
Blue Boy
Soca Baptist

Almost any Road March by nine-time winner Superblue — formerly known as Blue Boy — could make a top ten. But his first-ever Road March does something extraordinary. Without a single historical reference, Blue tells the story of how we masked our spiritual traditions in our popular artforms, as his observation of the Spiritual Baptists “bacchanal” brings him to the conclusion that the ecstatic nature of the doption is the same as what happens in the soca fete.

Some loved it for the music, and some thought it was another example of the trivialising of non-mainstream modes of worship. But if you’ve ever seen or heard a gathering of Spiritual Baptists on a street corner, or observed that moment in an Orisa feast when the repetitive nature of the drumming and the call and response of the chants propel some dancers into a state of possession, then you understand that “Soca Baptist” speaks deep truths about the ecstatic nature of Carnival music.

When I hear it now, I think it is a classically non-Western way of not seeing a distinction between what is sacred and what is profane. Indeed, beyond the perception of the profanity of jam and wine, soca is a spiritual encounter.

– Attillah Springer

 

1981
Blue Boy
Ethel

1982
Penguin
Deputy

1983
Blue Boy
Rebecca

1984
Mighty Sparrow
Doh Back Back

1985
Crazy
Soucoyant

1986
David Rudder
Bahia Girl

In his breakthrough year, David Rudder won it all, taking the title of Calypso Monarch with “The Hammer” and both Young King and Road March with “Bahia Girl”. So simple and pure in its sweetness, this is a classic Caribbean love song, the chipping pace perfect for the road. But the secret to why “Bahia Girl” is so significant is in the last verse: Ile Ife Ile Ife, she make me to understand. Ile Ife, the mythical home of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, is the reason Rudder shares so much in common with “this girl from Bahia.” It’s no accident this was the same time scholars and spiritual leaders of the Orisa community were starting to share information on shared spiritual retentions in Brazil, Trinidad, and Cuba.

In the post–Black Power era, when T&T’s black middle class started reconnecting with African spiritual forms that had been shamed into secrecy, music became a way to reclaim what was lost. It was common to hear stories of people “ketching power” when Rudder was on stage, then ending up in an Orisa yard soon after to consult with an elder. It terrified many and delighted many more. Still others missed it completely, distracted by the infectiousness of the music.

– Attillah Springer

 

1987
Mighty Duke
Thunder

1988
Tambu
This Party Is It

1989
Tambu
Free Up

1990
Tambu
We Ain’t Going Home

1991
Superblue (formerly Blue Boy)
Get Something and Wave

1992
Superblue
Jab Jab

1993
Superblue
Bacchanal Time

1994
Preacher
Jump and Wave

1995
Superblue
Signal to Lara

1996
Nigel Lewis
Movin’

1997
Machel Montano
Big Truck

It was the coming-of-age song for the generation of Trini xennials: too young to remember Black Power, too young to attend curfew parties in 1990, but old enough to remember the disappointment of 1989’s World Cup football defeat — all defining moments in T&T history. The popularity of dancehall in the 1990s had led to a kind of apathy towards mainstream soca and calypso. That apathy was challenged by the advent of Kisskidee Karavan, which advanced a new frontline of local rapso, ragga, and hip-hop artists unfraid of articulating their reality in their own language, and also made you want to dance. What Machel Montano — who himself had grown up with us — was able to do was take soca and turn it on its head again, pull it away from the establishment and open the way for a whole new era of celebratory defiance. “Big Truck”, the first of eight Road March titles for Montano over the next two decades, set the pace and defined a generation. The nostalgia the song evokes for a time of innocence, adventure, and experimentation is bittersweet, hardened by the cynical jump-and-wave formula for winning prizes and fete money. It remains to be seen if the direction soca has been going since “Big Truck” is what the music needs or what the Carnival deserves.

– Attillah Springer

 

1998
Wayne Rodriguez
Footsteps

1999
Sanelle Dempster
River

2000 (tie)
Superblue / Iwer George
Pump Up / Carnival Come Back Again

2001
Shadow
Stranger

2002
Naya George
Trinidad

2003
Fay-Ann Lyons
Display

2004
Shurwayne Winchester
Look de Band Comin’

2005
Shurwayne Winchester
Dead or Alive

2006
Machel Montano and Patrice Roberts
Band of de Year

2007
Machel Montano
Jumbie

2008
Fay-Ann Lyons
Get On

2009
Fay-Ann Lyons
Meet Superblue

2010
JW & Blaze
Palance

It was a song that seemed to come out of nowhere and rampaged over all opposition. Radio DJs Jason “JW” Williams and Ancil “Blaze” Isaacs —the former skinny and antic, the latter stocky and serious — looked like a classic odd couple on stage and in the wildly popular video (which inexplicably featured a man in a Cookie Monster costume, a triumphant touch of the absurd and a reminder that a whole generation of young Trinbagonians grew up watching Sesame Street twice a day on the state-owned TV station). “Palance” took its title from a Trinidadian word meaning “have a good time,” a concept exhaustively represented in our vocabulary. Repeated endlessly in the chorus, “palance” was the cue for fete-goers and masqueraders to fling themselves from side to side, arms outstretched, en masse. It was totally senseless, and resistance was futile.

– Philip Sander

 

2011
Machel Montano
Advantage

2012
Machel Montano
Pump Yuh Flag

2013
Superblue
Fantastic Friday

2014
Machel Montano
Ministry of Road

2015
Machel Montano
Like ah Boss

2016
Machel Montano
Waiting on the Stage

2017
Ultimate Rejects, featuring MX Prime
Full Extreme

On the Wednesday before Carnival 2017, a building caught fire in downtown Port of Spain. Pedestrians and office workers stopped to gape as firetrucks wailed through the city. Two blocks to the west, another crowd gathered, taking part in a company’s giveaway game. The speakers blared as the flames rose higher: the city could bun down, we jamming still. Was MX Prime — formerly known as Maximus Dan and the main voice of Ultimate Rejects’ “Full Extreme” — poking fun at Trinbagonians’ inability to take anything seriously? Maybe.

Undeniably, the song was the biggest of last year’s season. Like all great Road March songs, it captured the desires and fears of the people in the most straightforward language. Ultimate Rejects sang the ultimate jammette song — a song of defiance and also a sad understanding that the systems that exist in our society are not really made to benefit the people anyway. We wine as the city burns: a prophecy fulfilled. I stormed Panorama champs All Stars’ band on Carnival Tuesday afternoon as they chipped through town playing their “Full Extreme”. All those people, all that rum, all that choking in the cloud of talcum powder in a sea of sailors. It was the most beautiful non-J’Ouvert Carnival experience I’ve had in years. Carnival is the mirror that reflects that Trinbagonian ability to seek joy and beauty even in the worst situations. It is as much a blessing as it is a curse.

– Attillah Springer

 

* So how did we choose our ten standout Road Marches? By the not very scientific method of polling all the members of the Caribbean Beat team at MEP Publishers, plus a handful of the magazine’s past and present music writers. Disagree with our picks? Have your say at www.caribbean-beat.com/roadmarch.