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… Read the rest of this entry
In previous articles I revealed genius Trini musical talents who’ve had global impact- to give context to Machel. Let’s examine Machel now:
In 2003 I wrote: “Machel is the pure distillation of the phallic power in Trinbago music. There’s a direct line between him, Sparrow, the original Shorty, and a whole band of cocksmen- musical and village-ram alike. He’s that in presence as performer as he’s it as songwriter. His music is shot-through with that pure life-force that at times even he does not know how to control. He’s been the channel the music has chosen- just as it chose Super Blue years before… He’s the one transforming the festival and thus the country and taking a generation of celebrants along with him…” I stand by those words.
We need to understand persons who embody our collective self- like Kitchener, Shorty, Rudder… For more than a decade Machel projected himself into the centre of our Carnival. He’s matched that ambition with material and performing skills that place him there on merit. He provides the premium soundtrack for the 300 Trini-style carnivals and is their biggest draw. All our festival musicians aspire to this- he’s done it. He’s our biggest home-grown talent at present, raking in tens of millions annually- far outstripping his closest Soca peers. His presence is so seismic that at least 2 Carnivals in the last 15 suffered economically and otherwise by his absence. He draws crowds up to 45,000 locally and up to 15,000 in the metropolitan diaspora. However the global mainstream career he’s dreamed of has eluded him. Thus far… Apart from interesting forays I will map, Machel remains largely unknown outside of Caribbean diaspora circuits- although buzzes exist on fringes of metropolitan markets. Read the rest of this entry
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… Read the rest of this entry
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… Read the rest of this entry
This is our music: one person makes $54 million a year. 7 make $1.7 to $2 million (if you remove prize money- $.7 to $1.1 million). The rest mostly subsist… What I have just described cannot be called a music ‘industry’.
The fact however is there’re about 60 artists who can be making $50 million, about 200 who can make $20 million, and another 200 who can make $1 million easily. This money will be made touring between 65 to 150 days a year in places with favourable rates of exchange. Most not in Caribbean diaspora markets. What I just described is an ‘industry’.
Music-insiders know the artists who can be earning these incomes. As I said last week- it aint who you think! If you did the maths you’d realize that musicians alone could be earning about $2 billion TT- as net foreign-exchange earners for the economy. Why then is this not happening?
To be a player in the mainstream industry you must attend certain expos. It’s there you acquire tour managers, booking agents, and record deals. If you’re not present- you don’t exist. We don’t exist. T&T attended the leading music expo- MIDEM– only 4 times in the last 17 years (government partnered only twice). The returns on those trips were over $125 million. The local investment? Less than $500,000. Where else can you legally get those returns on investments? That’s the brilliance of the Creative Sector! There’s an artist (not Machel) who scored a Billboard top 100 hit and pocketed over $2 million from a song he recorded for $6,000 TT. He just received a $20 million signing bonus from a major label. This is how the real world of music works. Read the rest of this entry