ST. CROIX — Soca artists of varying degrees put their talents on display Thursday night during the Crucian Christmas Festival’s Soca Party Monarch Competition, and by the end of the night an eight-year veteran of the event and a first-time competitor both walked away as winners.
Adam “Adam O” O’Neal, lead singer of Cool Breeze Band, was crowned champion in the Jumpy segment, which features upbeat songs, while Darnelle “Blackest” Phillip, who heads up The Fusion Band, claimed the Groovy segment title. That segment places an emphasis on mellower pieces, solid lyrics.
The competition, held in the Festival Village, paid tribute to Stylee Band lead singer Kyle “Kylo” Sylvester, who won both segments of last year’s competition, but lost his life in a plane crash along with four others in December.
Phillip, who has participated in the event the past eight years, said it felt great to claim one of the titles.
“This year was not much different from other years, other than the small window that we had following the hurricanes,” he said. “I was confident with my Jumpy song “Gimme Wine” from early out, but it was during Hurricane Maria that the beat for my Groovy song “We Shall Rise” was made. Surprisingly, the Groovy song gave me the win.”
His winning song called for the community to stay focused despite the damage wrought by the storm.
Phillip said he worked hard on his songs and had to push himself to meet all the deadlines and maintain his high standards.
“I’m my strongest motivator and my biggest critic, so all the pressure to put on a great show came from within me” he said.
Phillip, who is employed at Cruzan Rum Distillery, said music is a great part of his life and he plans to compete until he gets too old or loses his voice.
Jumpy segment winner O’Neal’s song “Sugar Daddy” wowed the audience members. They danced, jumped up and waved whatever they had in their hands.
O’Neal encouraged the crowd to participate as he sang — — and they obliged.
He has been involved in the local music scene professionally since 2012, but primarily sang R&B. He has since transitioned to soca.
“When that soca bug bites you it’s like an infection that you just can’t get rid of, it slowly just takes over completely,” he said. “As a part of the band, we’ve done parades and other things during Festival, but after I lost my brother last year and we lost Kylo ... they tugged at my heartstrings and I knew it was time for full Festival immersion.”
O’Neal, who served 10 years in the Marines, said he followed heart when he gave up the Marines for music. He said he is also a full-time aviation and engineering student.
Phillip and O’Neal agreed that the future for soca is promising and said they believed Sylvester would have been proud of their performances.
This year’s competitors included Bruce “KM1” Parilla, Horace “Bugsy” Matthew, Davina “Davina Mar” Martinez, Phillip, Jahreem“Jubal” Williams, Shamal Ferdinand, Jamal Miranda, “Red Planet Duo” Nadia and Kito Liburd, Dennis “D’Nice” Hospidales, Gilbert “Gillows” Roberts, Chantel Browne, and “The Beach Duo” Di’jon Baptiste and Chandy Jerimiah.
The Soca Party Monarch Competition is one of the Village’s biggest draws as it has grown exponentially since its debut 10 years ago.