THE GENIUS OF MACHEL MONTANO Part 1

Last article attempted to expand people’s conception of T&T music by showing massive income disparities in the sector. It also indicated 60 artists who could earn $50 million plus and hundreds that could earn millions annually. I explained how this can happen- drawing evidence from how international expos worked for us in the past. I placed the blame on why it was not happening squarely on politicians- who’ve failed to create enabling systems for the sector.

Now I turn to our present largest home-grown artist- Machel Montano HD, who looms large in the nation’s consciousness. It is absolutely essential we analyse Machel- the phenomena. It’s especially important industrially because of his potential to affect the industry for good or ill. We have to get to grips with his successes, failures, and potential. Such analysis may also offer avenues for him to take his career further.

For naysayers and groupies alike– Machel is in need of context. He is neither angel nor devil- he is important. Clarity is necessary especially for clueless politicians who seem more obsessed by celebrity than their responsibility to an entire industry. Continuing careless missteps by politicians around culture- with Machel unfortunately at the centre- may be dangerous to Machel and the industry…

We have to locate Machel within T&T’s pantheon of brilliant performers. All offer pathways. In this analysis it’s important to break artists down to: those who stayed in T&T; those who left; those performing indigenous forms like Soca and Chutney; and those performing global forms like ‘pop’.

Let’s begin with the band that started everything: Lovey’s Band were a bunch of local pioneers who recorded the first calypso 100 years ago- making Trinidad the 2nd oldest recording ‘industry’ in the world. Many industries came and leapfrogged us because their politicians created proper systems… Lovey’s did not become international sensations- but that recording from Lovey’s is now one of the world’s greatest musical Heritage treasures. Lovey’s began a musical revolution which saw Calypso cement itself as the source music of the entire Caribbean Basin- as far North as New Orleans, far east as the Atlantic coast of  Central America, far south as Northern Columbia and Brazil, and as far west as West Africa… For all these countries Trinidad calypso was mainstream popular music. Lion, Melody and early incarnations of Sparrow and Kitch were particularly influential…

Important to note were artists like Macbeth the Great and Sir Lancelot who “mainstreamed” calypso in America and who influenced Harry Belafonte- who would then produce the album ‘Calypso’ in 1956- the first platinum record in the world (beating Elvis in the charts). In Belafonte (a ‘Jamaican-American’) calypso had its first pop superstar. ‘Calypso’ (the album) platinum appeal culminated calypso (the music’s) and Trinidad’s Golden Age which began in the 1930s. For 2 decades America had toyed with Calypso as its next ‘pop culture’- after jazz. More than 35 Calypso movies were created. Songs like ‘Rum and Coca Cola’ spent 10 weeks at the top of Billboard. This was the peak of the power of calypso- it has been searching for a champion and form to mainstream dominance ever since.

The other T&T 50s phenomenon was Winnifred Atwell- arguably our most successful musical artist. Atwell was a multi-platinum artist who sold out international tours and had numerous world records to her name. Heralded as the greatest in her craft she earned a fortune from her career having properties all over the world. She played ragtime piano.

Jump forward to our most successful global artist- Billy Ocean from Fyzabad: most successful European black musician; 3 US #1s; a Grammy; numerous world charters; successful international tours;  appeared on Live Aid; over 30 million records sold; wrote songs for other artists; MOBO Lifetime Achievement Award… Currently touring the world- a career spanning 30 years. He did not perform calypso… Billy’s career was facilitated by master T&T producer Keith Diamond who also produced hits for Dionne Warwick and Michael Bolton…

Another comparable T&T great would be Ralph MacDonald-3 Grammys, multi-platinum percussionist, song-writer, and producer whose hit ‘Just the Two of Us’ was written about Trinidad and Tobago. His albums actually contain calypsoes . Heather Headley has one Grammy, multiple other awards, and charting albums and singles- singing R&B and Gospel. T&T producer Dexter Simmons has Grammys for working with Outkast and Michael Jackson…

T&T’s Foxy Brown- over 3 million albums sold, iconic rapper, 2 #1 albums and numerous charting singles. Jump forward to Nicki Minaj- first female solo artist to have seven singles on Billboard at the same time,  her song ‘Super Bass’ sold more than four million digital copies. Minaj has received numerous industry awards. She’s already considered “the most influential female rapper of all time”. Who knows what Nicki will do with Soca, Chutney, or Pan? We should tastefully cultivate these ideas with her…

I’ve only began to scratch the surface. When we examine the scale of the Trini musical House then we can better understand Machel and our future.

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Posted on July 26, 2012, in President's Blog and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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