Machel Montano: Man with a mission

Whatever else you think of Machel Montano, he’s never dull. Tracy Assing follows the soca superstar in his latest new direction

  • Soca star Machel Montano on stage at his show at Madison Square Garden in New York. Photograph by Andrea De Silva
  • Montano performs at last year’s Notting Hill Carnival in London. Photograph by David Wears

Fresh from the high of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, Machel Montano is taking his Caribbean Planet brand on the road, as he firmly believes the Caribbean has something to offer to the evolution of the world.

“We in a time when we have to pay attention to our planet. The environment. The atmosphere. It is a time when we have to pay a little more attention to people’s differences, people’s culture, and we need to get to an understanding where we can see our differences and we can respect our differences. To get to a point where we can appreciate the oneness that we share.

“So I feel the Caribbean can bring it forth with our brand. Our brand must help to merge all the different fronts in the world. We are trained in cosmopolitan relations. We are trained in merging cultures. I believe we have something to contribute to that planetary focus and we could do it with our brand. And the brand is not just music; music is just the soundtrack to the lifestyle. And we not introducing it, we highlighting it.”

He believes that the distilled sound of the southern Caribbean will reflect “the oneness of the region.”

His offerings before and during the Carnival festival revealed influences as diverse as folk music from Barbados and the house/rave music popular in Europe. It is music to make you dance, from the production labs of veteran hitmakers like Montano, Sheldon “$hel $hok” Benjamin and American rapper/producer Lil Jon, and fresh work from Antiguan Herbert “Burger” Joseph.

There’s the usual HD musical cast of Patrice Roberts, Zan and Farmer Nappy. But Busta Rhymes, Pitbull, Serani, Ricky Blaze and Kat DeLuna have also bought into the concept of Caribbean Planet, and can be expected to join Montano at his live shows from time to time during his tour this year.

“Soca no longer belongs to Trinidad and Tobago,” he declared. “There was a time when we used to say dancehall come from Jamaica, soca come from Trinidad. Now if we take a look at the current picture, soca [is] being heavily produced in the southern Caribbean. So we are calling it the music of the southern Caribbean. We have these sounds that are emerging influenced by everything: hip hop, dancehall, conscious reggae, rap, house…and it is now coming forth as an original product from the southern Caribbean.”

The Caribbean Planet soundtrack is a compilation album and the new material shares space with remixes, refixes or mashups of the work that was released in late 2008.

If anyone can achieve this ambition, it’s Montano. He’s had a very successful career, rising from child star to being considered the most prolific and experimental entertainer/producer to come out of Trinidad and Tobago. The promotion and marketing of his music and his slick, high-energy performances add to his appeal.

In 2008, his Wining Season album was evergreen, with hits like “Defence” enjoying regular spins on radio stations late into the year, while songs like “Rollin” and “Blazin’ D Trail” ruled the streets at Caribbean-style carnivals around the world. He had sold-out shows in New York’s Madison Square Gardens for two years running, and played to bigger audiences in countries like the UK and Holland.

Montano is very clear about what he wants to achieve.

“At the end of the day I have three main objectives: my main objective is to wake up every day and make music reflecting the highest expression of who I am and I take it to the corners of the globe.

“The wider objective is to encourage cultural exchange and engagement. Creating harmony among different peoples, while empowering individuals.

“And we have to bring successful form and structure to entertainment. Bring form and structure to the production and distribution of entertainment in the southern Caribbean and establish a world-renowned brand. To be a strong force, we have to look at ourselves as a Caribbean unit. We are doing whatever it takes at any point in time to sell this music.”

For more information about Machel Montano’s touring schedule:

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
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