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Machel Montano performs with Destra Garcia

Machel and Destra
Photo credit: Xtatik Ltd./Jermaine Cruickshank

“My struggle is not to take soca international, we been international long time, my struggle is to do what I do better and influence the world with something huge. Soca music isn’t just Trinidad, it is the Caribbean and we are considered paradise, beaches, sand, sun, sea, women, holiday! Everywhere else seems to be all about jobs, bad weather, economy, destruction, everywhere else is grey and we are colorful. And I think our time has come.” – Machel Montano, Trinidadian Musician

Boss of All Bosses: Machel Montano at Machel Monday
Throughout the five-hour duration of his 6th annual Machel Monday concert, soca star Machel Montano delivered with consummate professionalism, seasoned composure, and incomparable audaciousness, career-defining traits summarized by the title of his irresistible Trinidad carnival 2015 hit, “Like Ah Boss”.

Held on Monday, February 9 at Port of Spain’s Hasely Crawford Stadium, one week before carnival’s climactic Monday and Tuesday, Machel Monday is a premier carnival event offering meticulous production, superb sound and lighting and dazzling special effects with multiple outfit changes by Montano, the concert’s co-producer, sole host and headlining act.

A former child star currently celebrating 33 years in the music business, Montano, now 40, introduced and performed alongside his numerous guest acts, mostly collaborators on his carnival 2015 hits, including Jamaican dancehall superstars Shaggy (“Remedy”) and Sean Paul (“1 Wine”), dulcet-toned Jamaican singer Christopher Martin (“Soak”), New York City radio personality/promoter/rapper Fat Man Scoop and six-year old Papa J The Prince (“Jump”), and Brooklyn-born, Trinidad-raised songwriter/singer Angela Hunte whose writing credits include Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ multiplatinum, Grammy Award winning single “Empire State of Mind”.

Hunte’s carnival 2015 duet with Montano “Party Done” marks her debut within the carnival/soca arena and she was visibly overcome with emotion following the audience’s enthusiastic response to her Machel Monday appearance.

Machel Monday 2015 was subtitled The Triangle of Monk; late last year Montano renamed himself Monk Monté. At the concert, which attracted an estimated 35,000 patrons, Montano screened his recently released video for “On My Way” directed by Marcano Hee; filmed partially in Egypt, the video juxtaposes the north African nation’s famed Pyramids with images of southeastern Trinidad’s Trinity Hills and three generations of the Montano family: Machel, his son Nicholas, and his father Winston. “All through my life the universe has been talking to me in threes, so the idea for Machel Monday is to present the show based on the threes in my life, the three sides of a triangle; tradition, truth and technology; the past, the present and the future,” Montano explained.

The past was represented by Montano’s renditions of his carnival hits from previous years, the future signified by popular young soca acts including Fadda Fox (“Ducking”), Lead Pipe and Saddis (“Ah Feeling”), Lyrikal (“Cloud 9”), and Carnival 2015’s Groovy Soca (slower paced) Monarch Olatunji (“Ola”). However, Machel Monday was predominantly focused on the present where Montano not only thrives after more than three decades in the soca business but also continues to expand the genre’s possibilities with his annual crop of carnival hits, high profile collaborations, genius branding/ entrepreneurial savvy and a live show that rivals the best performers in any genre, anywhere.

Machel Monday commenced with Montano, attired in a black beret, sunglasses, a crisp white uniform, juxtaposing Che Guevara trademarks with (carnival’s) soldier masquerade, while leading marching, militarily clad regiments of dancers and drummers as the introduction to an exhilarating version of “Like Ah Boss”, the soca brigade’s route to the stage visible to the audience on the two large Jumbotrons flanking the stage. Machel Monday’s powerful, precisely executed opening segment established a lofty standard that was consistently met except for lackluster sets by a few guest acts.

Five days later, at the same venue, Montano won carnival’s Power Soca (fast paced) Monarch competition with another spectacular, crowd cheering rendition of “Like Ah Boss”. As carnival 2015 raced towards its Tuesday, February 17 conclusion, “Like Ah Boss” gained even greater momentum and was adjudged Carnival 2015’s Road March, the song played the most often as bands of masqueraders crossed judging points along the parade route in Port of Spain.

Although he is renowned for his frenetic, adrenaline pumping performances, Machel Monday’s most compelling set was, ironically, a daring, stripped down, acoustic turn with Montano, seated, strumming a ukulele, accompanied by a guitarist, bassist, percussionist and two singers.

“This is how Bob Marley would do it, just strum a chord,” acknowledged Montano as the ensemble played a steady, one-drop reggae riddim over which Montano sang his 2015 groovy soca hit “Come Back”, while his collaborator on the song, the Queen of Bachannal, Destra Garcia strode onstage, resplendent in white lace and took a seat beside him.

The pair’s beautifully meshed harmonizing throughout a medley that included Adele’s “Someone Like You”, Whitney Houston’s “Your Love Is My Love”, U2’s “With or Without You”, Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” and their current duet, was completely savored in this slower paced acoustic set, a sonic trait not fully allowed by the breakneck speed of their previous outing, the beloved “It’s Carnival”.

With the inception of his Alternative Concept back in 2003 (rebranded as Machel Monday in 2010) Montano popularized a model for soca artists to perform their original songs at carnival fetes and parties; previously the various bands all covered the same big songs of the respective carnival season. Given his wide-ranging hit-filled repertoire Montano didn’t need to incorporate cover versions into Machel Monday’s acoustic segment but should have instead adapted his social commentaries such as “Real Unity”, “No More War” “We Nah Givin Up” to that platform so their topical, timeless lyrics (characteristics not typically associated with soca’s “jump and wave”, party identity) could have been wholly appreciated.

Carnival in Trinidad, the larger, more cosmopolitan island of the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago boasts multiple events for its indigenous steel pan, soca, calypso, chutney and various hybrids of the aforementioned genres, performed in an array of settings but Machel Monday stands unrivaled as the season’s most impressive musical offering, with Montano, the boss of all bosses.

“Each year we strive for a show that represents Trinidad and Tobago as a first world nation for entertainment. Another promoter might cut back on lighting or on sound but we really go all out,” Machel told Audio Allspice.

“That is our major selling point, come to Trinidad, see our show because Machel Monday is my truest and most elaborate statement to the world.”

Patricia Meschino

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