These articles about Machel have really been about the magnitude and state of our music industry. I’ve identified dozens of Trinis who’ve had Gold, Platinum, and award-winning careers internationally from the 40s to the present. Calypso’s international impact culminated in 1956 with Belafonte’s platinum album ‘Calypso’. Since then most Trinis having global impact have worked in mainstream forms like Pop, R&B, and Hip-Hop- like Haddaway. However in the last 17 years artistes like Fireball, Sugar Daddy, and KMC have crossed-over with Soca.

I identified a generational pattern of T&T’s greatest indigenous-music performers becoming diaspora massive- but unable to make mainstream leaps: Sparrow with a record deal brokered by Belafonte couldn’t; 10 years later Shorty retreated to the bush on the brink; 10 years later Rudder signed with a label who couldn’t do it; 10 years later Machel failed with his first deal… We must learn from this. We’re now 10 years from Machel’s first failure- he’s trying again…

Machel’s fourth Age was after Xtatic’s early 90s success in re-engineering the dying sound of Soca. Machel worked in Engine Room studios in Maraval with genius sound-engineer Robin Foster where he was around luminaries like Eddy Grant, Rudder, Shadow… He was pushed to earn his sound-recording degree in Ohio in 1993 which added to his arsenal. In 1995 he won his first deal with Delicious Vinyl. He had the minor dance hit ‘Come Dig It’, touring outside the Caribbean circuit for the first time- working on a record. It didn’t work. His first international failure was educational- his sound was still immature…

His fifth Age began with ‘Big Truck’ in 1997-the vehicle for our young generation’s entry into Carnival- alongside 3 Canal’s ‘Blue’ which brought the generation into Jouvay. Fruit of 10 years of experimentation like songwriting camps with bandmates Peter Lewis, Dean Williams, and Rodney Daniel- Machel also profited from the work of Amar’s Kiskadee Karavan and pioneer rapso tracks like ‘Rollin’ from Homefront which started the youth revolution changing the sound of Soca. The tipping point in Machel’s favour was Sheldon ‘$hel$hok’ Benjamin- possibly Trinidad’s greatest producer, who changed Trini music at least 5 times-bringing Trini music into the modern age. In 1998- with the supernatural force of ‘Toro Toro’ and ‘Footsteps’- Machel claimed the mantle of Carnival Muse from Super Blue. This culminated with the albums ‘2000 Young to Soca’ and ‘Here Comes the Band’. Laden with brilliant songs like ‘Water’, ‘Wrecker’, ‘Luv2 LuvU’ Xtatic finally found contemporary Soca’s sound…

Machel’s sixth stage was the 2001 major-label deal with Atlantic. 55 producers worked on over 100 songs-producing not one single… It was a major failure- but his final training. Working with the world’s best songwriters Machel learned pop music from inside. Listen to the difference in Xtatic’s music since! Xtatic began crafting crossover from within Soca with songs like ‘Bubblenut’, ‘Not Giving Up’, and ‘Dance with You’.  Machel focused on claiming his diaspora throne- having failed internationally- he re-created his brand- Xtatic Circus to HD. After major growing pains he cemented Machel Monday.

Machel’s not a genius songwriter- he’s a brilliant selector and interpreter of other’s material. He makes it his by tampering with lyrics, music, and production- owning the song in performance- the way Sparrow did. Most his best songs weren’t written by him but you’d never know. It feels like his essence. He’s been the main beneficiary of the rise of a generation of brilliant songwriters- Kerwyn Dubois, KMC, Kernel, Shaft… And producers up the Caribbean. Machel’s vocal limitations don’t leave him wiggle-room-his ‘Olympic’ song case in point. A decent R&B vocalist would’ve done the song justice. He has limitations and shouldn’t stray- find ways to express within it…

Machel’s seventh age is key. In the diaspora he removed fete-promoter middlemen and created events like Madison Square Garden- astronomically increasing profits. He followed weak releases with strong crossover and festival songs like ‘Higher than High’, ‘Rollin’, ‘Make Love’, ‘Push Bumper’, ‘Bumper to Fender’, ‘Bend Over’… He’s built a cultural force to make international audiences come to Carnival and Soca- rather than crossover to them… In so doing he’s opened doors. At the same time his presence and motion has blocked others… Machel’s work ethic and management are relentless. Whilst their ruthlessness and excesses have been matched by spiritual searching- there‘ve been serious problems… This is a Trinidadian crisis- we don’t know how to harness or counsel youth or genius. Dozens of sports stars have been in accidents- some lost lives- others had careers derailed. Evidence of youths who can’t control their power…

Machel must beware political and class manipulation- uptown versus downtown warfare. Politicians need to know Machel is one of many. There’re 460 potential multi-million dollar musicians- like Z-Star. Collectively they’ll land us Grammys and billions.

Nobody‘s brought us closer to the sensual experience of Carnival- musically, lyrically… but after 2 failures, record labels are wary. Duets with established acts may spark re-interest… Until then he’s like many ethnic-music phenoms- diaspora massive – unknown outside. Nevertheless, Machel’s fought the Dream-slaying monster that’s Trinidad and built an empire with music.

Posted on August 23, 2012, in President's Blog and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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