THE GENIUS OF MACHEL MONTANO Part 2: MACHEL IN CONTEXT

Last article I began situating Machel within the context of other genius Trini performers. This is necessary because we’re clueless of locals who’ve pioneered trails for us. Only by mapping these collective and individual pathways can we understand ‘Boy’- simply the latest in a long line. Then we can craft effective strategies for our creative industry. Everyone below are nationals who’ve blazed music industry trails. Last week I mentioned Lovey’s Band, Golden Age calypso pioneers, Billy Ocean, Winnifred Atwell, Foxy Brown, Heather Headley, Ralph MacDonald, Nicki Minaj, and the role of Harry Belafonte. Let’s continue:

Right now there’s Theophilus London– heralded by Kanye West, Jay-Z and others as the future of R&B and hip-hop- darling of magazines like Vanity Fair and Esquire. Signed to Warner Brothers, London’s currently touring Europe supporting his debut album. London joins a line of born or raised Trinis who’ve enjoyed mainstream success in global forms- such as Ryan Leslie- respected R&B/ hip-hop producer and artist. This Harvard prodigy scored Billboard hits and is working on his third album.

There’s K-os– considered Canada’s top rapper with 2 Canadian platinum albums. ‘Brownman’ Nick Ali- considered one of Canada’s top jazz artists- has played on over 250 records. There’s Kwame Ryan- music director of major European orchestras who’s conducted premiere ballets and recordings. Phife Dawg of Tribe Called Quest-regarded as one of the 25 Best Rap Groups of All Time- has numerous gold and platinum records. There’s Chip Fu of the avant-garde rap group Fuschnickens. There’s also Spliff Star from Busta Rhyme’s Flipmode Squad. All these artists are operational- unclaimed by us…

In the 70s Tony Wilson was bassist, vocalist and songwriter for multiple Gold record supergroup Hot Chocalate- until quitting for his solo career. He was especially big in Latin America. Trini super-group Kalyan had Billboard hits. Robert Bailey co-founded Osibisa- considered creators of World Music. None of these pioneers are recognized- none facilitated in their time.

T&T has world-acclaimed instrumentalists like Errol Ince who played with Sinatra and was Europe’s top jazz trumpeter. Fitzroy Coleman is still on most lists of top 100 guitarists. Most Trinis don’t know the inventor of reggae is Trini- Nerlyn Taitt. The inventor of English reggae is another Trini- Joseph Mansano! All are Trini pioneers- instrumental in world music history. We’re clueless of them.

Let’s expand the context to other global ‘calypso’ acts. Arrow’s ‘Hot Hot Hot’ remains the world’s biggest selling calypso- selling tens of millions. It’s been covered by Buster Pointdexter, Menudo, and Kanchan and Babla. There’re groups like Squirrel Nut Zippers and David Byrne of Talking Heads that employed calypso in hits. Eddy Grant‘s been crossing over calypso-rock fusions into international charts for decades- mainstreaming them in movies. Then there’s Anslem Douglas’s massive deal with ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ which earned tens of millions. The global reach of these songs is extensive- however in them calypso is still ‘exotic’.

Kevin Lyttle’s ‘Let Me hold You’, Rupee’s ‘Tempted to Touch’, and KMC’s ‘Soul on Fire’ were the tracks that found mainstream formulas to crossover our sound into Billboard. Both Rupee’s and Lyttle’s deals fell through- although both still tour internationally. KMC’s talent earned him a multi-million dollar deal with some of the music-industry’s biggest names. Other crossovers: General Grant had Billboard reggae and R&B charters; Fireball’s European hit ‘What I Want’; Sugar Daddy’s ‘Sweet Soca Music’ went Gold in Europe… Groovy Soca has serious crossover potential- once we attend music expos…

Domestically the successful model is Joey Lewis who’s played weekly for 4 decades.  Lewis’s model is a remnant of the 60s band scene- which Trinidad destroyed… Within calypso Rudder was in the same place as Machel- 20 years ago. Rudder ruled the diaspora the same way- performing to more cross-over audiences. The question is always: “What pathway to cross-over?” Island Records (label of U2, Bob Marley…) said they reached 1 day too late to sign Rudder- who signed with Warner Brothers. Island believed Warner lacked the know-how to cross-over Rudder. They were right…

Ras Shorty was also poised at that same place- before retreating to the land… Local rock-band Orange Sky’s label forced them to change their sound- which many believe sabotaged their chances. Artists who break out of the diaspora circuit include Brother Resistance who performs in World Music circuits- but needs boosting to the next level.  Calypso Rose- success story of attending music expos- won mainstream European and American tours plus a PBS movie deal. Marlon Asha- through Jamaican networks- performs to tens of thousands in Scandanavia and Africa. Issac Blackman’s ‘To the Ceiling’ is big all over Africa- but needs deals to connect to audiences…

Champion acts who outgrew diaspora circuits are Sundar and Sparrow. Both took local forms planet-wide. Sparrow in particular headlined small to large shows as far as the Artic. Whilst never having mainstream chart impact (even though signed to a major label once) Sparrow’s legacy is the performing circuit he pioneered where no local had gone before…

Next: Now Machel has context, I divide his career into 7 stages

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Posted on July 30, 2012, in President's Blog and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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