Drake Co-Signed Soca Star Machel Mon­tano talks mak­ing a Global Im­pact and head­ing to the Big Screen

The Star (St. Lucia) - - ENTERTAINMENT -

Whether join­ing Ri­hanna to per­form “B*** Bet­ter Have My Money” in her na­tive Bar­ba­dos or ap­pear­ing in Nicki Mi­naj’s Trinidad-set “Pound the Alarm” video, Machel Mon­tano is the go-to for pro­vid­ing is­land-ready as­sists to pop stars. Though his name may not be fa­mil­iar in the United States, Mon­tano’s mu­sic - soca, the up­beat, fever­ishly fast de­scen­dant of ca­lypso that fuels Car­ni­val cel­e­bra­tions around the world - has in­flu­enced ev­ery­one from Ma­jor Lazer (which paired him with Ari­ana Grande for the 2014 track “All My Love”) to Drake who booked the 41-yearold Trinidad na­tive to head­line his an­nual OVO Fest in Toronto on July 30.

To cel­e­brate the sev­enth edi­tion of Drake’s an­nual OVO hip-hop fes­ti­val, or­ga­niz­ers added a Caribbean con­cert fea­tur­ing soca and dance­hall artists to launch the se­ries at Toronto’s Echo Beach.

“Drake was just No. 1 on the Bill­board Hot 100 with ‘One Dance’ - a hip-hop song in­flu­enced by soca mu­sic,” says Mon­tano. “We’re con­tribut­ing to the main­stream in a ma­jor way: there’s soca in Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry’ too. That makes me even more fo­cused on my role right now.”

Hav­ing taken the genre from New York’s Madi­son Square Gar­den (five sold­out shows, most re­cently in 2011) to the White House (twice dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion), Mon­tano’s role as the global am­bas­sador for soca is ex­pand­ing. On Au­gust 5 the artist made his act­ing de­but as the star of ‘Ba­zodee’, a soca mu­si­cal that also draws in­spi­ra­tion from Bol­ly­wood (Trinidad and In­dia were both Bri­tish colonies).

“It’s im­por­tant to put a film out that tells the story of Caribbean cul­ture, along­side the story of soca mu­sic,” says Mon­tano of the movie, which Ser­afini Re­leas­ing will re­lease to 200 screens na­tion­wide. “Reg­gae mu­sic did what it did, and I think now soca can do the same.”

Raised in South Trinidad, Mon­tano first hit the is­land’s Car­ni­val cir­cuit in 1986 as a pre­co­cious 11-year-old sing­ing the fit­ting an­them “Too Young to Soca.” By his late teens, he had started in­cor­po­rat­ing elements of hip-hop and dance­hall into his mu­sic to cre­ate a mod­ern soca sound, with mid-’90s Car­ni­val clas­sics like the fre­netic “Big Truck” and “Toro Toro” cat­a­pult­ing him to the top of the genre.

Hav­ing con­quered the lo­cal fes­ti­val scene, Mon­tano turned his fo­cus global: 2014’s “Hap­pi­est Man Alive” (Mad Bull Mu­sic), for ex­am­ple, fea­tured both Nige­ria’s Ti­maya and Boyz II Men. His en­er­getic live per­for­mances, though, re­main the back­bone of his celebrity, re­li­ably trans­form­ing au­di­ences of tens of thou­sands into ec­static, flag-wav­ing and gy­rat­ing (or as is­lan­ders call it, win­ing) masses.

“Machel is the great­est at fus­ing soca with every­thing else go­ing on in mu­sic, which is why he’s so suc­cess­ful,” says fel­low Trinida­dian and Grammy Award­win­ning song­writer An­gela Hunte (Jay Z, Brit­ney Spears), whose Mon­tano col­lab­o­ra­tion “Party Done” will ap­pear on the ‘Ba­zodee’ sound­track. “He’s as close as he ever has been to a main­stream break­through.”

To Mon­tano, there never has been a bet­ter time for soca to go in­ter­na­tional - and fans like Meghan Trainor and Sean Paul (who joined Mon­tano for “One Wine”) agree. “It has been a re­ally de­lib­er­ate fo­cus by my man­age­ment to look to­ward the in­flu­ence Caribbean mu­sic can have on the world,” says Mon­tano. “Soca is based on see­ing past bar­ri­ers, and that is more rel­e­vant to­day than ever.”

Machel Mon­tano re­cently head­lined one of Canada’s big­gest mu­sic fes­ti­vals.

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