Machel Montano has been the biggest name in soca for over a decade. The superstar Trinidadian does it all in the music industry; singer, record producer and songwriter.
He is the frontman of the immensely popular soca band Xtatik, and is noted for his high energy, fast-paced, and often unpredictable stage performances.
A child star in talent contests, during his long career, which spans over 30 years, he has recorded numerous songs alongside many of Caribbean music's most popular acts, including Alison Hinds, Beenie Man, Calypso Rose, Burning Flames, Red Rat, Shaggy, Sparrow, Denise Belfon, Destra, Wyclef Jean, Vybz Kartel, G-Unit, Black Stalin, Mr Vegas and Doug E Fresh. He is indisputably the most sought after soca act in the world.
Machel Jesus Montano was born in 1974, in Carenage, Trinidad and moved to Siparia at a young age. He attended Siparia Boys’ Roman Catholic School and then completed his secondary education at Presentation College, San Fernando.
At the age of 9 he performed his first soca song, ‘Too Young To Soca’. In 1984, Machel along with his older brother, Marcus, formed the group Pranasonic Express and five years later it became known as the band, Xtatik. Aged 9, Montano performed alongside the Mighty Sparrow, in Madison Square Garden, New York. Then, aged 12, he entered the Caribbean Song Festival in Barbados.
Montano graduated from Ohio’s Recording Workshop in 1993, where he studied recording engineering. In 1995, he signed to the now-defunct US independent Delicious Vinyl, releasing the soca/house hit ‘Come Dig It’. Throughout the remainder of the 90s Montano and his band Xtatik (now the Monk Band) streamlined and accelerated soca’s beat, fusing it with elements of hip-hop and dancehall reggae, striving to make Trinidadian music palatable to a younger generation. The formula yielded numerous carnival hits including ‘Big Truck’, the 1997 Road March Winner, which solidified Montano’s soca superstardom, a status he has preserved through his tireless work ethic and hit-making consistency.
In 1997, Machel won his first of five Road March titles with ‘Big Truck’. He won the title again eight years later with ‘Band of the year’, a collaboration with his fellow band member, Patrice Roberts. He won again the following year by a landslide with his smash hit ‘Jumbie’. In 2011, he took the title with ‘Advantage’ and again in 2012 with ‘Pump yuh flag’.
Machel is also the reigning Soca Monarch. He first won the Power Soca Monarch title in 2011 and in 2012, won in both categories, Groovy and Power Soca Monarch. Over his career he has received many awards and achievements including the Bob Marley Award for Entertainer of the Year at Martins International Reggae and World Music Awards held in Queens, New York. In 2010, he made history as the only two-time recipient to win this award.
Montano was also instrumental in the promotion of soca music during the BBC's radio show called 1Xtra.
While Machel's diversified musical partnerships have helped to broaden soca's appeal, he also consistently celebrates T&T's musical roots. Thus, ‘Wining Season’ includes collaborations with two of T&T's most venerated artists. Machel is joined by the high priest of soca David Rudder on ‘Oil and Music’, which honours two of Trinidad's most valuable commodities and ‘Congo Man’ with calypso legend The Mighty Sparrow is an update of Sparrow's uproariously risqué 1965 classic.
Machel wrote all the CD’s 13 tracks, with eight co-written by Kernal Roberts, the son of calypso icon the late Lord Kitchener, including the carnival 2008 hits ‘Unconditional Love’, ‘Rollin’ featuring Patrice Roberts and ‘Make Love’ which boasts Buju Banton on its remix.
Soca was created in the 1970s, when the late Ras Shorty I blended the musical expressions of Trinidad's dominant African and Indian populations and called that fusion the soul of calypso, aka soca. Two decades later Machel and Xtatik modernised soca, injected it with hip-hop beats and dancehall rhythms, and made it palatable to a younger generation. "Before that, young people in Trinidad couldn't relate to anything local," says Machel, 42. "So I started adding slang, we started producing our own music and saw a big change in the crowd’s reaction."
Having made a fortune performing and performing soca, Machel’s burning ambition is to make it more mainstream. He said: "We have had the chart success of Kevin Lyttle with ‘Turn Me On’ and Rupee's ‘Tempted to Touch’ (both songs entered the Billboard Hot 100 in 2004) but we need more than that. I have been trying to revolutionise soca, trying to improve its quality.
“It is very difficult to bring soca to the mainstream and stay grounded at home but we have created a sound that we believe is palatable to all markets and can play on the radio in rotation with other popular songs. That is a dream I have always had and something I look forward to achieving."