Machel Montano on Why Art Is Power

Posted by | February 24, 2014 | News, Uncategorized | No Comments

I’m probably flying over Jamaica right about now, 87000 feet in the sky, en route to Trinidad once again. It was exactly 1 year to this day, since I flew there last, and it feels cosmic to be writing about this as I’m heading back.

Every time I come to Trinidad it’s some kind of epicness. The first time I visited was for my sister’s wedding on Maracas beach. It was a full Hindu ceremony and they ended up on the cover of the local newspapers. The second time I visited as part of the official Canadian delegation to the Summit of the Americas, in the company of the Presidents and Prime Ministers of all the Western Hemisphere with the likes of Obama and Chavez. The next time was when my brother AG invited me to visit the islands for Machel Monday and connect with Jonathan Paty, who soon became an amazing friend and our official family and connector of Trinidad. We were only supposed to stay a few days, but Director X and I ended up extending our tickets and living on Jonathan’s boat for a week attending tons of fetes leading up to Carnival and Carnival itself. Yes, epicness. We have now been invited back by Machel for his legendary Machel Monday, to work on some major projects together and to spend more time with this prolific artist, at one of the highest energy performance events I’ve ever been to.

If you don’t know who Machel Montano is, get familiar. Machel Montano is a Soca singer, record producer and songwriter based out of Trinidad and Tobago. He is pretty much the biggest thing out of Trinidad other than Carnival itself. Think the Jay-Z of the Soca game. What Bob Marley was to Reggae; or what Michael Jackson was to pop, is what Machel is to Soca. He has sold out many shows at Madison Square Garden and is known for his ultra high-level energy performances. He has recorded songs alongside artists such as Wyclef Jean, Beenie Man, Buju Banton, Busta Rhymes, Doug E, Fresh, Pitbull and the list goes on. His most recent collaborations, and the reason we are here, are ‘Can’t Let Go’ with Boyz II Men and a track with Major Lazer. The Boyz track has been released in Trinidad in time for Carnival and will be released worldwide soon.

I caught up with Machel before heading out here and this is how the conversation went down.


How did you get into music?

My brother had to learn to play the guitar and sing and he couldn’t do both at the same time so he used to pull me in the room and force me to sing things that he had to learn while he played the guitar. I was about 7 years old at the time. My real passion and what really ignited me was watching things like Solid Gold, I remember watching that on TV and being fascinated by electronic drums. I would like the keyboards and the lights and I was really into the technology. So I started liking music and my brother and I were trying to figure out how do they get all this music into this one thing that plays it back. I started going into DJing and cassette decks, and building my own studio with multiple cassette decks, while trying to record stuff. So I left school at that age of 17/18 and I went to study sound engineering and still today that is the thing that drives me. You know, how they create sound? How do they make beats, you know, how they put technology into the vocals. How do they get things to sound like that? That has really been my passion; I became an artist by default and by singing forms and becoming good at it.

That’s such a funny journey for you to jump into where you are now. So since that time, how would you say art has changed your life?

Well at an early age, you know, my life had its course and its purpose was set. Because I started singing and as I’m singing, my brother would say ‘sing this’ and my mother would pass and hear my voice and say ‘Ey you should go for singing lessons’, and I would said okay. The singing teacher would say ‘you should sing in choir’. In choir they would say ‘you should compete in the school competition’ but it was Calypso. So I got into Calypso. I started singing in Calypso and I liked it and I started winning immediately. I would always win when I entered any competition. I was thrown into performing in places like Madison Square Garden, singing with adults in a professional environment. Every time I went to sing at these shows, it would only be old people as this time was 1984. Old artists, old people in the audience, and I would ask my mom where are my people? Where are the young people? So she got a show for me to perform at a club in Trinidad and when I started to sing Calypso, everybody was turned off. All of the young people went to the bar, they turned their backs and they started booing. You know they didn’t really appreciate Calypso. So right there and then I had to make a decision, you know, do I sing R&B, do I sing Reggae? What do I do? But something in my mind clicked, and said you know what, you have to make this music different. You have to make it so they like it and my journey started right there and it was like a mission to make the music youthful, make it hip, make it stylish, make it attractive, and I think I have been doing that from the age of 11 all the way until now. Making it more modern, making it reach people like Pitbull, making it reach different parts of the world, making it better. Making it compatible and able to compete against world standards.

Yeah man you’re killing the game with it! So now they don’t stay at the bar anymore, now the vibe changes when you perform! They don’t turn their backs?

I have seen it all. I have seen young girls come to the front of the stage, and that’s what I want, young people coming to the front of the stage. Now they run from the bar to come to the stage, when we start singing.

Okay, this is the one. This is the big question! So the statement, “Art Is Power”, what does that mean to you on ALL levels of the meaning? You know on the spiritual meaning, on the business meaning, on the transcendent meaning, on all levels, what does “Art Is Power” mean to you?

Well, the question is simple. The power of art is creation. Art is not a job, you know, art is not a requirement. I think for people to participate in any art, it comes from a deep, passionate place. It comes from a place where they are compelled to do it, you know they aren’t required to do it. They are not driven to do it by something that’s invisible, something that’s intangible. You look at dancers, you look at painters, you look at poets, you look at musicians, sometimes they can’t even stop doing it, even if they not successful, they are driven to do it! And its all about creating something from inside of you, something you are inspired to create, sometimes you create something that has never been created before and I think that gives you the power of the almighty and that gives you the ultimate power that exists. That gives you the opportunity to add something to this story that is called life. To add something to this world, to the planet, to the universe and we have people who have come along and their art has been the light bulb or their art has been the television, but the added something to history. When you have that sort of power it helps you to understand why we are here. We are here to sometimes not even question the unknown but just to do what we are driven to do and it becomes your art. And when you do it feeds your soul, it feeds you and it gives you a power. When I create a song and I see hundreds of thousands of people loving it, singing it as their own, I see it making them happy, that gives me a lot of powerful feelings. I feel fulfilled, I feel magical and I feel the strength and the energy to do it again. So it’s fuel. Power is fuel, fuel to live and when we perfect our art, it’s a non-stop power, non-stop shield.

Straight truth, straight truth! So what’s going on for Carnival this year, it starts obviously on Monday every year at your jam. What are you looking forward to?

I mean, Machel Monday is going to be the biggest Machel Monday ever. We already are the biggest Soca show in the Carnival spectrum only rivaled by Soca Monarch, which is another big show for me, where I have to defend both my titles you know, the Groovy Monarch and the Power Soca Monarch, which is up-tempo and down-tempo, but this year I’m focusing a lot more on my show than on the competition. I will take part, but I’m putting a lot of passion into the message of my show. You know the first song I released for Carnival this year is called ‘The Happiest Man Alive’ and I wanted to project happiness onto others. I wanted to be happy about what I was doing with my life and the way it was going, so many great things happening for my music and my industry. So, I named Machel Monday, The Definition of Happiness, and the name of the show is Happy Nation. I want to raise up against crime in the nation, I want to raise up against racism in the nation, political differences, I want to flood the nation with happiness, and I want them to tell me, what would make a happy nation and what is your definition of happiness? I want to hear from them because my definition of happiness is going to be displayed on Machel Monday, by the people I work with, by the things I create, I mean by my sheer joy as I perform. This season has been hard, because I recently got signed to Universal France, and I have been preparing an album for release in the summer and I have been working on my local Trini album and its all happening all at the same time. Yet I am able to maintain happiness and love the fact that I have work and I have great things going on. So it’s going to start on that Monday, every single day we are going to have a show. I mean, I’m coming off of three shows last night from night to morning my last at eight o’clock this morning, in the rain, so you know, it’s just about keeping a smile on your face.

I think you are one of the hardest-working men I know. You grind! How many shows, would you say, since you were eleven years old, have you done in you’re career, approximately?

Wow, I would never be able to put up an answer. I might say five maybe ten thousand and I might be more.

What are the most amount of shows you’ve done within a 24-hour period?

We were just discussing that tonight with dancers, and it had to be 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. From 8pm to 8 am and then we would do another 8 pm that night and then we would do Mania at 12 that night so probably from 8 pm one night to 3 am the next morning we would do 5, 6, 7, 8 shows.

And each of these shows is like an hour high-energy show. I don’t think people will even understand.

One hour and a half at 165 bpm.

You have mastered the Omnipresent! So last question, speaking on that, so with the busy schedule, how do you maintain happiness? Like I always say that countries and nations should be measuring their success of GDH, not GDP, Gross Domestic Product, but Gross Domestic Happiness. You know what I’m saying?

That’s exactly the point, so many people in Trinidad preaching happiness.

So, how do you take care of yourself? What’s your diet like, food wise, your meditation schedules, like you’re telling me how you’re going to work out at 3am, tonight, how do you take care of yourself, in the mix of all of this?

Well, I think I have some extra human powers somewhere in there. I hardly get sleep, but I take it when I can. I try to be mental about things. You know going to the gym is meditation for me, because I would stay very quiet and focused. I can’t say I love going to the gym, I mean I love losing weight and looking good because other than that, I love to eat and it gets me fat (laughs). I love Carnival so much and I was just appreciating that this year, I was thinking about how we think it’s so hard to go and write more songs and do another album and try having successful shows and try to win competitions. But thank god for that, because that helps me to get serious. You know I cut down on my drinking; I kicked my cigarette habit totally cold turkey. I eat really healthy, a lot of greens, a lot of proteins, the good carbs, like sweet potatoes, you know I go on a mission because there’s a goal and the goal is to be able to be fit, look good and I know people expect my shows to be high energy and expect them to be great. I don’t want to be going out there, looking slobby, looking heavy and being tired; I want to go out there giving them something that would give them a wow, because it is all about that energy. Our music is light and energy. So when they see me up at that height, pumping and making them pump their fist and wave their flags they feel that energy. So, I do everything to stay healthy, I hire a cook, a vocal medic, an assistant, trainer, and I just like to be disciplined because I know what the prize is, the prize will really be having a successful season.

What’s the energy at Carnival for anyone who hasn’t been there?

Well two things. A lot of music. The music is the energy. You could hear it, you could feel it. It’s loud, it’s colorful, it’s vibrant, it’s busy. You get a sense of a buzz, you get a sense of a vibration and it vibrates at a high frequency, which means it’s moving fast. You know and you feel this burning, you feel this almost anxiety to do something, to get up. I have seen the vibe in music, you know, the energy and the people, because they all want to participate, they all want to come together, they all want to jump, they want to wave, they want to wine, they want to create costumes, you know, they want to play pan, they just want to be apart of this thing that’s vibrating so fast. So it’s a celebration of freedom, it’s two days we get to roam the streets, with no traffic lights, with no cars in it, with no restriction, with beautiful women, beautiful people, and good vibes. When we say good vibes and we say the ‘vibes cyah done’, it means that vibration, you know what I mean, it’s that vibration talking about that thing that makes you feel like your buzzing, like you feel alive. I think that’s energy and the most important part of that energy is that its the coming together of people, people come from way far, they come back if they came already, they’re excited to see what’s going to happen this year, they’re excited to see who they met last year and I think that’s the energy, the energy is the coming together, and that’s pure bliss, light and celebration.

Yeah man well I’m looking forward to it. You know we’re coming down again so it’s going to be a jam. I’m trying to round up the whole troop.

Yeah man, round them up, bring everybody, its just getting better man.

You can find the condensed version of this article on Huffington Post by clicking here