Clearly out-performing nine other contenders, a female newcomer to calypso / soca Saturday night / Sunday morning won the New Song Competition in New York, as Vincy Mas kicked off in Brooklyn, coinciding with the official launch of the national carnival in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
In her very first entry in the calypso/soca world, the Philadelphia-based Michelle-Ann Hillocks, singing under the sobriquet Hibiscus, stunned her competitors — most of whom were veterans — and the ebullient crowd in rendering “Riddim” at the Bamboo Garden Restaurant and Lounge, at the corner of Avenue L and East 95th Street, in Canarsie, Brooklyn.
Hillocks, 40, also won the “New Breakout Artist” category in the competition, organized by the Brooklyn-based Level Vibes Promotions, headed by Ainsley Primus.
Primus — who is also president of the Brooklyn-based Dynamite Calypso Tent, the lone Vincentian calypso tent in the United States — is assisted in Level Vibes Promotions by popular Vincentian DJ Joseph Ciaphus “SupaEyes” Cuffy.
Adorned in an all-in-one, yellow outfit, Hillocks out-classed her competitors in rendition and stage performance in capturing the 10th annual title.
Defending champion, Toronto-based David “Chang-I” Morgan, did not defend the crown. Primus said Morgan’s new song was not ready for competition.
With one “dancing lady” waving miniature Trinidadian and Grenadian flags on the make-shift stage, and several ladies, with an assortment of flags, including Vincentian’s, dancing around the stage, Hillocks offered a soca-infused “Riddim” that caught calypso bards and aficionados off-guard.
Even veterans Dennis Bowman, a former New Song New York winner, and John Dougan “couldn’t touch her.”
Hillocks, who also wrote “Riddim,” rendered in part: “West Indian possé / Are you ready to party / We have to get the party going / We’re not going to let it go / It’s our culture.”
“I give thanks to Almighty God,” said Hillocks after she was declared the winner, by co-MC Hailes Castello, just past 3 am Sunday. The other MC was Bennett Straker. Both Castello and Straker were former elementary school teachers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“I want to give thanks to Ainsley Primus for opening up the door,” Hillocks added. “Thanks to Cauldric Forbes [Vincentian singer and song writer] for writing me a song. It’s my time to shine.”
Before partying with her fans, Hillocks told Caribbean Life that Primus, recognizing her talent, had asked her to compete.
“I said, ‘why not, I’ll give it a shot,’” said Hillocks, who is also a daycare owner in Philadelphia. “It’s in the blood; my family has it in the blood.
“I have a long list of songs,” she added. “I know I was going to start singing, but did not know when.”
Primus also told Caribbean Life that Hillocks, indeed, comes from a singing family, stating that one of Hillock’s uncles, Al Wilson, a former singer with the defunct Vincentian band Asterisks, was a St. Lucia Calypso King.
“She grew up with music; she’s in the Dynamite Calypso Tent,” he said. “I recognized the talent, and I encouraged her to participate.
“We want to have more females [competing],” Primus added. “She brought up a whole entourage from Phillie [Philadelphia],”
The other female contender was Prim Adonna Bascombe, who rendered Kamasutra, with a Japanese slant and accompanying dance, complemented by three bare-chested young dancers.
Prim Adonna placed fifth; Bob MC [Mervin Bobb] was fourth with “Get Off Ah Me”; Bowman took the third spot with “Get Close”; and Jakie [Kenroy Jack] was first runner-up with “We Jammin.”
“It’s been a long time [coming],” said Jakie after receiving his trophy from Desmarie Greenaway, a member of the newly-formed, Brooklyn-based Cultural Association of Vincentians in the U.S.A. [CAVUSA], part of the St. Vincent and the Diaspora Committee of New York, chaired by Maxwell Haywood.
CAVUSA, whose president is Owusu Slater, this year awarded trophies to the top three contenders in the New Song Competition and a plaque to the winner of the “New Breakout Artist.”
Other New Song contenders were: Shadi [Shadique Paul] with “Soca All Year – 365;” Striker [Francis Brown} with “Gimme Piece Ah Dat;” Zeagay [Maxwell Samuel] with “Stop Smoke De Cocaine;” and De Original Honey Boy Bells [Dennis Jackson] with “Fire Power.”
Shaddi and Zeagay also debuted in the New Song Competition.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Culture Minister Cecil “Ces” McKie and New York Counsel General Selmon Walters addressed the crowd in the pre-competition ceremony, with McKie issuing five season passes to anyone wishing to attend Vincy Mas events at Carnival City, Victoria Park, Kingstown, the Vincentian capital.
“The launch of Vincy Mas U.S.A. is very important to the advancement of culture in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” said McKie in his debut address at the launch of Vincy Mas U.S.A.
“You are the largest [of all groups and / or cities] who come home for Vincy Mas,” he added. “We appreciate what you’re doing up here because you’re helping to promote Vincy Mas.”
Primus said he was very pleased with this year’s standard.
“The competition was good; it was one of the best for 10 years,” he told Caribbean Life. “The standard was very high. It’s the first time we got two females against the males.”
Calypsonians in the Dynamite Calypso Tent will be judged, by officials from the National Calypso Association, on June 4, at Café Omar in Brooklyn, in the national competition’s preliminary round.
Vincy Mas 2016 runs from May 7-Jul. 5.