Music buzz (January/February 2007)

Soca star Machel Montano celebrates his 25th anniversary in the artform with a “High Definition” theme for Carnival 2007

David Reid. Photograph courtesy David ReidMachel and Xtatik in 1989. Photograph courtesy Machel MontanoMachel in 2006. Photograph by Mark LyndersayMachel Montano in 1986. Photograph courtesy TNT News Centre

Soca HD

You may have heard of high-definition television, or even high-definition sound, but Machel Montano High Definition is going to raise some quizzical eyebrows.

Fans of the Trinidadian entertainer have a lot to look forward to this year — the 25th anniversary of the launch of his music career. As his star continues to rise, Montano is determined to keep pushing back the boundaries with his stage performances and his approach to shaping a new soca sound.

Between gigs last October, he was eager to share his plans, and bursting with excitement. The goal for 2007: to shape a “High Definition” sound and image. Inspired by technological advancements, his own spirituality, the camaraderie shared with his bandmates, and the antics of American magician Criss Angel (whose show Mindfreak is a staple on the cable channel A&E), Montano is promising a magical stage show to celebrate the big anniversary, complete with lights, smoke, pyrotechnics, holograms, and “flight”.

“I want people to have a magical experience. We are trying to go to another dimension with our creativity. It goes beyond just a technological change. It is also a physical change. A change in the way we process music, the kind of music we make, the direction that we are looking to take the music,” he explains.What exactly does he mean by “High Definition”? “Machel Montano: half angel, half android. Think of the most beautiful angel you can imagine, and think of it hardwired, with hydraulics and wi-fi.

“High Definition to me is touching that spiritual soft-side and knowing what you have to do to be the best; and then you have to be technologically advanced in this time, because the technology is going to help us communicate with each other.”

The changes also run in tandem with plans to launch the Machel Montano brand. Plans are in the pipeline to enhance the fans’ experience on his website, and also for the development of a clothing line and an energy drink. Montano’s mother, Elizabeth, is also working on a book about her son’s life-story.

Montano and his band Xtatik are also continuing their relationship with the Island People mas band, taking a section titled “Jumbie” to the streets. “Jumbie” the song, written by Montano and Kernal Roberts (son of the late, legendary Lord Kitchener), is expected to go over well with masqueraders, and the thumping call to take to the streets dancing should sit easily into the repertoire of any professional steelband.

Montano explained that a special kinship developed with Roberts during the gruelling touring year, and the pair easily slipped into a comfortable, creative partnership. (Roberts was the writer behind the 2006 Road March “Band of the Year”.) “With Kernal, I think songs are pulling up like buses in a terminal in his head, and I’ve seen times when songs just come to him like lightening bolts. I think it is a direct, hereditary thing from his father.”

The new sound Montano intends to take to his fans vibrates with the hiss and thump of electronica sprinkled over sweet soca melodies. He sings dance music, love songs, and conscious lyrics. “I am trying to engage more fans. Draw more people to the music, because I know now that nobody is gonna come and sweep up soca and save it. Nobody gonna come and say, OK, this is the next music. Soca is taking a real turn right now, and it will evolve beyond soca, it will be soca HD.

“In 2007, I am not seeing the death of soca, but I see soca taking on a new look, a clearer picture, a cleaner picture. It is going to be half conscious and half technologically advanced, and I see myself at the head of the march to become that. To create more of a presence on the Internet, to raise the standard of our product, make more sales, make myself more of a person who spreads positive messages,” Montano says.

“The songs are generally talking a lot about love, freedom, flight, energy, positive messages. So we have ‘Solar’ — the energy that have us jumping. And we have ‘Higher Than High’. The last two years have seen us use more acoustic sound, but this time we are incorporating the digital, but keeping it musical.

“So while we have the masqueraders covered, and the love songs covered, we are also experimenting with some new beats, doing some new things to touch some new people. We doing work this year with TOK again, we have some real positive interaction with them — and a few other surprise combinations in store, some ‘Billboarders’.”

And he laughs heartily.

Tracy Assing



From pan to “island soul”

The premiere of MTV Tempo on Trinidad and Tobago’s cable television in 2005 drew curious audiences eager to see which of their local artistes would be the first to help put soca music on the map via this new medium.

At first, there were no surprises. Machel Montano, of course, was present, with videos that chronicled his rise from a boy too young to soca to the reigning king of Carnival music, along with Shurwayne Winchester and his supercharged, superhero-themed video for that year’s Road March, “Dead or Alive”. But there was one other performer starring in a video credited to Trinidad and Tobago, which was shot along the scenic North Coast Road.

The unfamiliar name and face of the singer left most of us wondering, “Who is he?” He turned out to be Tobagonian David Reid, a pannist turned singer, currently based in California.

Formerly a member of Tobago’s West Side Patience Hill and Our Boys Steel Orchestras, Reid abandoned the national instrument, and music overall, after he settled in the US, and concentrated on getting a degree and an eight-to-four job. Then a call to fill in for a pannist in a band reignited Reid’s passion for the instrument, which he had been playing from childhood. But it was the invitation to play in the band Insomnia, formed by friend and former Atlantik bassist Wayne “Lemo” Lemmessy, and encouragement by another friend, Lisa Wickham, to give singing a try, that transformed Reid into a vocalist.

After a year, Insomnia disbanded, and Reid became the lead singer and musical director of his own musical ensemble, called Tambrin. Today, however, he is best known as a solo artist, performing his own compositions, which include “Memories”, the first song he penned when his passion for singing persuaded him to try his hand at composing and producing his own material.

As beginner’s luck would have it, that was the song that pushed him out of obscurity and into our homes, when its theme, of picking up the pieces in the aftermath of a failed relationship, resonated with listeners.

The video for “Memories” was produced by Ezone Entertainment, owned by Wickham and shot by Militainment. They were also the production team behind Winchester’s “Dead or Alive” video. Thanks to Tempo, Reid picked up fans around the region, and immediately began plotting his foray into the local market. His quest: to become a household name around the Caribbean and, in particular, in Trinidad and Tobago. That he intends to do with his recently launched debut album, Memories, titled after the single.

Laura Dowrich-Phillips



On Memories, there are a lot of songs that focus on relationships — are these based on your own experiences?
There are a few songs where I draw from my past, my experiences, as well as the experiences of other people. But for most of them I just put myself in the moment to paint a picture. For example, for the Carnival songs I pictured myself jumping up in Port of Spain.

Do you have a favourite track?
I have two favourites, actually. One is a track I recently completed at Shaolin Studios, called “Sweetness”. I love the music and the melody on that. The other is “Be AfrAIDS”, which I like for the lyrical content and the message it is sending out. It basically is a song letting people know they are responsible for their lives.

In the video for “Memories”, you are captured posing with a pan. Are there any pan songs or references to your past as a pannist on the album?
I featured pan in that video because without pan none of this would have happened. I started out playing pan. When I was small I learned to play guitar, but I couldn’t afford to buy one. But my love for music was strong, and pan was the cheapest musical instrument around, so I ended up playing it. Putting it in the video was just a way of giving back the love — but there are no references to it on the album.

Have you collaborated with any other soca artistes on the album?
Because of time constraints, I decided to just make this album about me, but definitely for the next album I plan to work with some other artistes.

Many soca artistes are incorporating reggaeton, dancehall, and even old-time calypso melodies into their productions, to make the music more universally appealing. Have you incorporated other musical influences?
Yes, I have mixed other genres into the soca. “Memories” is a mix of R&B and soca, “50/50” is a lovers rock, “Dream Lady” is pure R&B, “Moving On” is R&B with a sweet calypso rhythm. A lot of experimenting went on to see what could be done with soca.

You are a newcomer to the local soca scene. Why do you think this album will give you the edge?
Because it is different. I think soca is at a crossroads; it’s trying to attract a different market. The fact that the album has such a mix of genres and soca gives it an edge. People are looking for something new.

Fellow Tobagonian Shurwayne Winchester has won the Road March twice, plus the Soca Monarch and Groovy Soca Monarch competitions within the last three years. Do you think the doors are now wide open for artistes from the sister isle?
The door has been wide open for years. Looking back at Tobago’s history, we’ve had people like Calypso Rose and Shadow blazing the trail, and now, in recent years, Shurwayne, who I admire for not giving up the struggle. I think it is up to Tobago artistes to put out work that will be recognised and accepted.

Who have been your biggest influences musically, in and out of soca?
Outside of soca, Sting, R Kelly, and Steel Pulse. I like Sting because of his business approach to the music, R Kelly for his lyrics, the way he tells a story, and Steel Pulse because of the way they manipulate their voices. As a pannist, Kitchener influenced me. Pan sides always played his music, and the type of melodies he created always had this jazz feeling. I must also mention Machel, because of his stage performance.

Some have described your sound as “island soul”. How would you define your music?
That is a compliment. When I first started, people used to tell me I sounded too American, but I am always trying to keep the Caribbean flavour in my music. My description of what I do is just “music”, though — according to what I am feeling, that is what I’ll be putting out.