It doesn’t take much to intimidate Michael Mercer. He is the title-holder of the Strongest Man In Barbados. But last Monday the sight of two flights of stairs shook him.
It took me less time to arrange the interview than it took for him to climb the steps. That is because he still is cognisant of a knee injury he suffered a couple years back that makes stepping up and down a bit of a challenge. But he loves a challenge. He said so a couple times during the interview.
So he tackled the steps how he has tackled life and music . . . with a smile on his face.
There are four sides to the man many see on various platforms. There is Michael Mercer the athlete. Michael Mercer of Team Mikey Charity. Michael Mercer the family guy. And Mikey the performer.
“Michael Mercer is about family,” said the dad of a son, adding, “I am quiet and shy, believe it or not. You can find me home 80 per cent of the time. I enjoy sports and watching Criminal Minds.
“I am pretty cool and laid-back. I have learnt to appreciate my time and family time. To be honest, if you see me out partying, it is mostly at soca events as I love soca, and unfortunately you don’t get those limes much outside of Crop Over,” he said, adding he loves Christmas also.
Mikey the entertainer is a different beast. He calls himself the “little chubby fella from the Grassskirt Posse that started to sing”.
He joined the dance group in 2000 and he is also a former member of X-TA-C, G-Syndicate and Electrik bands.
He made his debut in the soca arena in 2004, the same year he also won his first crown Tune Of The Crop with the self-penned Come Together. He also came second in the Party Monarch that year.
His next win would be the Party Monarch in 2011 with Pavement Anticipation and he also went to the International Soca Monarch competition in Trinidad.
He calls the years between 2004 and 2011 a dip.
“You see that gap? I had to find myself and try to establish myself and find out more about the music business.”
He made history in 2012 when he not only successfully defended his Party Monarch crown with No Behaveya, but also won the Sweet Soca crown with We Loose and took the People’s Monarch and Tune Of The Crop crowns. If you are counting, that is four titles.
In 2013, he was dethroned as Party Monarch king, ironically by himself and his bandmate Blood as the group Soka Kartel, which was the first group to win
a crown. Mikey himself placed second and Blood, third. In the Sweet Soca he lost to Blood and placed fourth but successfully defended his People’s Monarch title. If you are counting, that is three titles.
The artiste, who left Headliners Tent in 2013 to join De Big Show, tried his hand for the first time at social commentary and went all the way to the finals of the festival’s premier calypso competition in 2014 and 2015.
He was one of two to make it to Soca Royale in 2016 in both competitions, placing seventh in Sweet Soca and fourth in Party Monarch.
Last year was a wake-up call for the artiste, who sat out the Pic-O-De-Crop. He cited it was difficult to balance all three and wanted to place his efforts into Level Up (a Sweet Soca song) and Feting And Brass, which he placed fourth with in Party Monarch.
“Last year didn’t go as planned. Level Up didn’t do well. I wanted to try something a little different and it didn’t take off. I even didn’t get as much bookings for shows.
“So right after Crop Over I decided I had to go back to the drawing board; so that my impact this year will be more momentous.”
He said what also forced home the revamp were fans asking him if he had released songs last year.
“I took that to mean that I didn’t really make an impact if fans were asking me if I released any new music. I try to be honest and real with myself. So my team and I put in a lot of work this year on the five tracks we put out.”
He has a collaboration with Lil Rick called Trouble Start; there is Feting Family (Sweet Soca entry), We Out There and My Kinda Party, his Party Monarch entry. The last one is Move Out The Way.
This year, Mikey has shown his vulnerable side, throwing his penmanship skills into the fray by writing his ragga soca song with no help.
“This is a first for me. It was kind of forced. I had the concept for a few years and I was reaching out to a couple of songwriters and they were not too receptive.
“So I chalk it up to God telling me, ‘Boss, if you want this you gotta do it yourself. You are the only person who can execute this how you want it done’.”
So he took the risk, putting all his experiences and “all of me” into the song.
And it has paid off. The response he has seen for Feting Family has touched him. He admitted to wiping away tears at one performance.
The song is also into the People’s Monarch quarter-finals this week.
Mikey will be at Soca Royale next Sunday to see if he can create history again. He is doing the double in both competitions. Also doing the double is Bashment Soca king Lil Rick who is the defending Party Monarch and is also into the Sweet Soca competition. Pic-O-De-Crop king iWeb joins that list as he is into both and performs with Mr Blood as a duo.
We stick a pin here as I mention Mr Blood who, along with Mikey, were the faces and voices of the now defunct Soka Kartel band.
“Blood and I are good. There was never any bad blood between us. We still hang out. We still give each other feedback and are very supportive of each other. In my mind, Soka Kartel was not me and Blood, it was the entire unit. When the musicians decided to go on a different path, then that was the end of Soka Kartel. People still introduce me and Blood as Soka Kartel but that group no longer exists.”
It takes a lot of effort to put on a great performance and Mikey calls himself “blessed” when it comes to his sponsors who believes in his brand.
After Crop Over he is out the island, performing at Labour Day, Miami Carnival and hopefully Notting Hill.
“I get two days off to sleep then it is on a plane. My team and I also look at next year with where do we go, what worked, what didn’t. How can we strengthen and how can we get into this market.”
And do not count out Pic-O-De-Crop.
“I took a step back this year because it takes a lot of work. So when people asked me what I released last year it hit a nerve because I said, ‘Mikey, you didn’t make an impact’. So I told myself you gotta focus on the party, because that is where I come from and remind the people that you are here.
“But I will be going back at the commentary because I find it so interesting. It is a whole different energy at the semi-finals and finals. But again I like a challenge. And I aint frighten for licks. I can take my licks and go back again.”
He said that being in the De Big Show is the perfect example of a feting family.
“When we are at tent everyone is supportive of each other. We talk and joke around before we go and perform. And you can’t pay for the lessons and advice from the veterans in the tent such as Serenader, Ado, Biggie, RPB.”
But for today, he is focused on next week’s competition at Bushy Park. He comes right after Lil Rick in Party Monarch at No. 7 and he was No. 3 in Sweet Soca and Lil Rick at No. 4 before Lil Rick switched to No. 7.
“Rick and I seemed to always pull back to back. Last year he was at one and I was at two. I didn’t want to be too late in Sweet Soca. It is thing for me. I have got comfortable being in the first five. It is a lot of work, but I enjoy the rush of being in both. But my team and I are ready. They always have more confidence than me. The presentations were already planned before semis. It is going to be explosive and very visual.”
His fitness also comes into play when he is performing. The Strong Man title was happenstance. He started Bassa Bassa/CrossFit as part of recovery from a very, very bad knee injury he got from a karate tourney. The fitness team worked with him and got his knee back to a level of comfort. To work on his percentages they did some mass rep testing. It was then they realised he had some power in his lifts. A spur of the moment decision to enter after seeing the strongman poster ended up with the newcomer taking another title.
“We decided to enter again this year and we put a training regime in place. I have to thank Neil Forde who was not competing but trained with me to ensure I got through with everything.”
He said training was tough, more mentally than physically, especially with the diet. He said he couldn’t have done it without the support in the gym.
“They helped keep me going. They were so positive. And I think that also has a big part to do with my current mindset right now as Mikey and Michael. I am surrounding myself with more positive people.”
He is going back to karate, looking to earn his sixth degree black belt next year.
“I generally love competition so I am looking forward to getting back into training after Crop Over.”
On his humanitarian side, he is still focused on doing his charity work for Team Mikey. He stated that while times are rough they still try to do what they can. Not all donations are made public for privacy issues. There is a Team Mikey scholarship presented to the top girl in the recent 11-Plus at his alma mater Wesley Hall Primary.
He thanks sponsors and donors for always being ready to help.
“The charity is always about bringing smiles. Smiling is a big part of the Team Mikey Charity. No matter how much stress it is, when we see the smiles at the end it is all worth it.” (NS)