Machel Montano: one more time

The master musician has new tricks up his sleeve for T&T Carnival 2012

  • Montano and models showcase the costumes of K2K Alliance, a brand new Carnival band. Photograph by Marlon Rouse

Machel Montano is rethinking the whole thing…again.

Late last year, the man defending the International Soca Monarch title was toying with the idea of entering the Calypso Monarch competition too, and also having fun with the 49 tracks he had shortlisted to work on for Carnival 2012. He would choose 12 or perhaps 15 out of those 49…No, it was too soon to choose – there was a good chance he would keep getting raw beats and song lyrics from both experienced and upcoming producers and songwriters.

Of the new work, Montano said, “I am focusing on lyrics, point of view – both with the producers and the songwriters. It is tricky to get something to work on the road and make an impact on the radio.”

But it’s a trick he’s mastered. And at 37, after 30 years in the business, he’s still hungry. He’s still setting the trends. He’s pushing forward with reinvention, even as he embraces the new generation of songmakers.

“I am obsessed with the news, with trends, with changes, and I use them to gauge where I am in terms of my consciousness. So that’s where the songs and offerings come from. Last year was about taking a risk, trying something new.”

That wasn’t the first time he’s tried something new. Montano has already changed many aspects of Carnival music, in terms of the way concerts are presented (via his Alternative Concept shows), the way it’s performed, through his use of theatrical elements, special effects and dance, and the technology used in production.

He also wants to change the way its success is measured. Achieving international stardom might mean too great a compromise, he feels.

“People used to ask me: will soca make it? But I wonder what is their definition of ‘making it’. Because I could say my fan base is growing, my shows are 99 per cent successful, the music is good…

“The definition seems to be tied into things like BET, MTV, the Grammys. I wonder if they realise that that is a machine and a system in itself, and to be part of that, we have to sacrifice something of ourselves, of what we do.”

In the last five years he has also worked on changing himself: “Making a lot of personal changes, changing structures, spiritual changes…I realised that the peace needed to increase and the focus needed to strengthen.”

In between gigs, Montano has been hanging out at clubs, dancing to pumping electronic house/dance music. It might seem a world away from the bright brass and cadence of calypso and soca music, but Montano picked up on a connection.

“When you go in there, you realise they are singing about love and peace and togetherness. There are no gunshots, no fighting. I got inspiration from that kind of music and I felt, ‘That music sounding like soca.’” There’s a musical relationship too, he says.

“The beat – soca – is a speeded-up cadence beat and all of a sudden everybody using it.” He rattled off a list of Billboard Top Ten performers: “Pitbull, Ne-Yo, Rihanna…It’s not just dance music that’s using this beat. Without even singing soca. I can tell it has arrived in the psyche, in the hands, in the feet,” he added excitedly. “When I listen to Taio Cruz (‘Dynamite’) I hear soca phrasing, soca speech.”

Will the influence go in both directions? Since his double success in 2011, winning both his first Soca Monarch title and the Road March, Montano has been working with young producers and songwriters like KC Phillips, Erphann Alves, Full Blown Entertainment, Nebula 868 and Shaw songs like the emotion-driven “Masqueraders” and the pumping anthems “Break Away” and “On the Floor”.

For someone so driven, it’s hard to pin him down with a question about his plans. You’ll get answers like: “You have to love your story and it will take you where you want to be.”

But for Carnival 2012, one thing is certain: Machel Montano will have worked very hard to produce new, exciting music and spectacular performances.

Reporting by Tracy Assing

Machel’s milestones

Born November 24, 1974 in Port of Spain, Trinidad
Attended Siparia Boys’ RC and Presentation College, San Fernando
1982    Began performing
1984    Launched his first band, Pranasonic Express
1985    Released his first album, Too Young to Soca
1986    Appeared on the US talent show Star Search
1987    Youngest person and first Trinidadian to win the Caribbean Song Festival
1989    Pranasonic Express renamed Xtatik, one of  many evolutions
1991    Won T&T’s Young Kings Competition
1997    First Road March title, for “Big Truck”
2006    Second Road March with Patrice Roberts, “Band of the Year”
2007    Third Road March, “Jumbie”
2011    Fourth Road March, “Advantage”
2011     Released his 35th album, The Return


Montano’s mega-hits

“Too Young to Soca” (1985)
“Dream Girl” (1986)
“School Days” (1987)
“Take Me Back” (1991)
“By All Means”(1994)
“Big Truck” (1997)
“Music Farm” (1997)
“Footsteps” (1998)
“Toro Toro” (1998)
“Powder Puff (It’s J’Ouvert)” (1999)
“Big Phat Fish” (1999)
“Outa Space” (1999)
“Water Flowing” (2000)
“Wrecker” (2000)
“Break” (2002)
“Tay Lay Lay” (2002)
“It’s Carnival” (2003)
“Craziness” (2004)
“No War” (2004)
“Dance With You” (2005)
“Madder Dan Dat” (2005)
“We Not Giving Up” (2005)
“You” (2005)
“Band of the Year” (2006)
“Higher than High” (2007)
“Jumbie” (2007)
“One More Time” (2007)
“Defence (The Anthem)” (2008)
“Jamishness” (2008)
“Push Yuh Bumper” (2008)
“Doh Hold Meh Back” (2010)
“No Behaviour” (2010)
“Wooeeii Gal Wooeeii” (2010)
“Thiefin” (2010)
“Advantage” (2011)
“Illegal” (2011)
“Vibes Cyah Done” (2011)


Machel and friends – collaborations

“Toro Toro”, Shaggy, 1998
“Outa Space” Beenie Man, 1999
“Real Unity” Drupatee, 2000
“It’s Carnival” Destra, 2003
The Xtatik Experience album, 2005: “Mor Tor”, Rikki Jai; “We Not Giving Up”, Doug E Fresh; “You (Remix)”, Wyclef Jean
“Roll It Gal”, Alison Hinds, 2007
Flame On, 2008 album: “Oil and Music”, David Rudder; “Congo Man”, The Mighty Sparrow; “Defence”, Pitbull and Lil Jon
“Wooeeii Gyal Wooeeii”, Busy Signal, 2010


Winning ways

Copyright Organisation of T&T Awards:

Song of the Year: “Big Truck” (1998), “Footsteps” (1999)
Male Composer of the Year 1998 – 2000
Male Composer of the Year (2000)
Songwriter of the Year (2004, 2007, 2008)
Song of the Year, Soca of the Year – “Jumbie” (2007)

International Soca Awards:

Best Male Soca Performer, Overall Favourite Male Soca Artist 2003
Overall Soca Band of the Year 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009
Soca Performer of the Year – Male 2004, 2005, 2007 – 2009
Soca Songwriter of the Year 2005, 2008
Overall Male Soca Artist of the Year 2005, 2007 – 2010
Soca Artist Album/CD of the Year 2005 – 2009
Soca Song of the Year 2006
Best Ragga Soca Collaboration 2006, 2007
Best Soca Collaboration, Uptempo 2006, 2008
Best Soca Music Video of the Year 2005, 2007
Favourite Uptempo Soca – Male 2007
Favourite Groove Soca – Male 2009
Best Groove Soca – Male 2010

International Reggae and World Music Awards:

Bob Marley Entertainer of the Year, Best Calypso/Soca Entertainer 2007, 2010
Most Outstanding Stage Personality 2007, 2011
Most Outstanding Show Band 2010
Best Caribbean Entertainer, Best Male Soca/Calypso Entertainer, Best Soca Band and Award of Honour, Most Outstanding Show Band/Group 2011

BET J Virtual Awards: Best Caribbean Artiste of the Year 2008

International Soca Monarch 2011

Factfiles compiled by Mirissa De Four

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