Icons are associated with symbols of cultural movements that have produced profound changes in society. In a Carnival culture, such as T&T, iconic expressions are embossed in the echelons of soca rhythms, which form the bedrock of the festival itself. For many years, artistes have propelled themselves by seasonal demand for the music, only to disappear until the next year. However, one iconic figure has been “blazing D trail” and setting new standards for the cultural art form that extends far beyond the festive season of revelry. This emblematic persona is none other than the King of Soca himself, Machel Montano. Montano is the quintessential soca artist, who has pledged to take soca “to the corners of the globe.” This year’s Carnival was an historic trilogy of triumph for him, as he won triple crowns, soca monarch, groovy soca monarch and the road march, gaining the respect of those who didn’t think he could do it again and the envy of many others. He was one of the first artistes to mix dancehall and hip hop with Soca, accomplishments that have allowed him to expand his scope and envisage the world as his stage. He has won countless awards both internationally and locally, which attest to his truly supernova stardom appeal. In 2011 alone, the International Reggae World Music Awards bestowed six honours of achievement upon the Soca King.
Mr Fete, so named after a single off his 2012 album, has sold out arenas from West Indies to the East Indies, North America and Europe, thus increasing Soca audiences. As a young artist he gained fame during his primary school years, where he was undaunted by critics who felt he was “too young to Soca.” Years after, he grew into the handsome winer boy who would gyrate with energetic pulse and pulverising palpitations to Soca beats. For consecutive carnivals, he gave us “one more wine” some “Hard wuk” and made his fans “So high” on his performances. Montano has written the pages of life’s book before the all-seeing witness that is T&T, as he put it, “my life is an open book.” “By all means,” Montano has managed to stay in the soca arena for 30 years with his unique style and blend of music, untimely sex appeal, and multiple transitions over the years, that have made him the celebrated artist he has become. One might even suggest that Montano is to soca, what Michael Jackson was to pop, but in order to truly measure the value of this soca artist, one must first measure the value of his contribution. The Sunday Guardian had a chance to interview the king up close and personal, to get an idea of the empire that is “Machel Montano and HD” and how he achieved greatness, standing resolute in the face of obvious challenges.
Montano, in tune with God, self and life
Montano was in tune with his purpose in life as a Soca artiste from a tender age of nine. His parents were very influential in his life and nurtured his ambition for the stage. “The first person who attracted me to soca was SuperBlue. I remember seeing him on a spectacular stage throwing the mike and moving his feet, I said he looked like Michael Jackson. I also liked Kitchener and I had seen Sparrow, who had a debonair, statesman vibe on stage, like Frank Sinatra.
Spirituality was also crucial in the Montano family and up to this day, Machel would say the same prayer his father started in 1986, before he graced any stage. “Lord, make this performance pleasing to ourselves, our fans and most importantly pleasing to you.” “I developed that voice with God early in my life and now. I practise a mix of Catholicism and Hinduism, and in that unity, I have grown and developed spiritually.” Montano admitted he wanted to become a family man like his father, but the sacrifice of who he is has taken away that dream. Married life is something that once attracted him but he said, it would take a woman who is understanding, flexible and open minded enough to accept that Machel belongs to the bigger picture. Despite being married to soca, Montano tries to be a model father to his children. “I haven’t been there for my kids as much as a father should, but they adore me and what I do. Sometimes they will be laughing in amazement by the way fans react,” said Montano. Montano’s children are Nicholas, age 13, born March 9; Melanie, age 12, born October 25; and Malaya Journey, age 11, born November 9, “They’re all scholars,” said Machel.
“My youngest daughter was one of the top four in SEA, and my other daughter goes to school with Robert De Niro’s kids in a prestigious arts school in Brooklyn. Nicholas goes to one of the top schools in Atlanta and he is a major actor, singer, record producer and computer genius. My children are very loving and learning from them is what I love most about fatherhood.”
Montano has revolutionised and exported Soca
Montano did not gloat about the fact that he has sold out many arenas, some even bigger than Madison Square Garden, such as in Belgium with 40,000 people. However, he humbly suggested, selling out arenas is not what he has done for soca. Instead, he wished to focus on the bigger picture of exporting soca. “I have brought people to this music, made new fans and lovers of soca. People in Los Angeles who never heard soca now love it. “My mission has always been to take Trinidad to the corners of the globe, to make soca hip and mix it with hip hop, with R&B which is always a developing thing for me. Soca needs its Bob Marley.” Montano introduced a barrage of international artistes to Soca, by pursuing collaborations that revolutionised the sound of the music. He worked on tracks with Doug e Fresh, Wiclef Jean, Pitbull, Beanie Man, Red Rat and Shaggy. He believes revolutionising soca would make young people want to participate in it, and see it as a lifestyle and career.
Advice for young and upcoming artistes
Montano could not achieve his success without looking up at those who came before him and respecting their life’s work. When asked about what advice he could give to young artistes he said, “one of the first things younger artistes should do, is embrace the story of Machel Montano.” “They should understand that I have embraced Sparrow, Kitchener, Stalin, Denyse Plumber, David Rudder and others. There is not an artist that came before, that I would talk bad about. I rate them and I bring them on my stages and I embrace SuperBlue and everybody that was there before me. I am the only one who is on top of the game for 30 years and celebrating 30 years. Yet, younger ones wouldn’t embrace me; they wouldn’t embrace my story. When they embrace that they would understand what I have done and what worked for me.”
Machel in business and philanthropy
Machel Montano is an enterprise unto himself. He currently has a young talent pool of over 50 producers and 30 writers from all islands, all parts of the world. One of the greatest things that he has now is the young talent pool that he worked with this year, like Erphaan Alves, precision production, full blown entertainment, Kerwyn Du Bois, Kernal Roberts, the drama studio, home base entertainment, who has been winning successive road marches in Grenada and producing rhythms like Hard Wok, Ticky Wine for benjai. Dwayne Anthrobus is my keyboard player; he did Jones and wukup. There is a major song that he wrote this year, he did one for Patrice Roberts. Darren bailey, our other keyboard player has worked with Swappi. Montano said if people only dive into the HD camp they will find that 65 per cent of all the music being made is by HD. We have so many of our people in our camp contributing to so many other people.
He also revealed that Def Jam Records had over 30 writers responsible for writing major hit songs, for a secret writing camp at RAMA during the Carnival season. During the Carnival season, Mr Fete launched his 3 Zero Rum which is a hand-crafted platinum rum, mixed by one of the greatest legends, Patrick Patel, Angostura’s master blender and distributed by Hadco. 3 Zero is the star brand of the product, with the gold version soon to come. Montano said, he is constantly trying to bring Trinidadians back to their roots and engage people to feel proud of everything we are in the Caribbean, in Trinidad about self. And instead of popping bottles of champagne as in the MTV culture, we should go back to the roots of our culture, with a hip kind of rum. One of the major things on his agenda for this year is Machel’s foundation which is called “The foundation for greatness” and it directly aimed at counteracting mediocrity. The base of the foundation is about reading and literacy and then I want the young people to read about great people in their community like Dwight Yorke, Brian Lara, Anya Ayoung Chee, Gandhi, Muhammed Ali, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X. I want them to read life stories. I want them to read the stories of the great to inspire greatness in themselves. I wanted to show every person in life is really normal, it is just that they have done great things and they made great sacrifices to make these great things greater and they become great for staying dedicated to it for a purpose and the purpose has always been to help humanity and move the world forward. It is a noble purpose. The foundation will choose one or two children with potential to become a great singer, a great footballer or a great dancer.