Don’t worry, this is how we do it.
Don’t get scared!
And with these words, Machel Montano sent the 20,000-strong crowd in Madison Square Garden into a frenzy, with his 2011 Road March, Advantage.
He is known by many names – Soca Boss, Soca Star, Soca King. Billboard, the global entertainment media brand, says Machel “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.”
Whatever you choose to call him, Machel’s influence on soca music is indisputable: 2011, Advantage; 2012, Pump Yuh Flag; 2014, Ministry of Road; 2015, Like Ah Boss; 2016, Waiting on the Stage. Machel’s domination of the Road March competition was only briefly interrupted in 2014 by the veteran icon SuperBlue with Fantastic Friday and last year by the Ultimate Rejects with Full Extreme.
The younger generation is also staking their claim to calypso (which by the way is not dying), stepping into the pathways opened up by pioneers like Kitchener, Singing Sandra, Spoiler, Sparrow, Chalkdust and others. In 2011, Karene Asche won the Calypso Monarch with two powerful songs. In Careful What Yuh Ask For she cleverly mixed political commentary with a statement on the decisions that women make in relationships – “The old people used to say if yuh eye too long, trouble will befall yuh/ And when yuh lying in good house, sometimes bad house does come and call yuh/... But sometimes woman leaving/ Many saying they going for better/ And the new one they embrace turn out to be a monster/ Careful what you ask for ... careful what you wish for ... what you prepared to die for.”
Her song Uncle Jack satirised Jack Warner, former FIFA president from TT – “...The Udecott fiasco/ The church in Guanapo/ But through it all/ One man keep standing tall (Uncle Jack)/ ...They try all kinda trick and chadoo/ But now he’s the world first black Hindu.”
Interestingly, global events of 2011 created an intense atmosphere of scrutiny of the “powerful” that would ultimately haunt Warner and others like him. In Tunisia, a young man set himself on fire after being denied a permit to sell fruit to earn a living. This action sparked demonstrations against inequality and corrupt leadership.
Tahrir Square in Egypt became the symbol of primarily youth outrage, as millions took over the square to demand the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. Their actions fuelled protests in Yemen, Sudan, Bahrain, Libya, Morocco and Syria as people across the region signalled their disgust with injustice and demanded changes like constitutional reform.
As young people in the Middle East protested, “following a Sunday Times investigation into wrongdoing during the World Cup 2018 and 2022 bidding campaigns,” senior FIFA officials were banned, causing a global enquiry into FIFA’s operations.
At home, young people also made their voices heard in the Calypso Monarch competition. Roderick “Chuck” Gordon won twice, in 2014 and 2015, with funny hard-hitting lyrics from offerings like Whey Yuh Think, while Duane O’Connor and Devon Seale showed their skills with no-nonsense songs like The Hunt is On and Respect God’s Voice, respectively – “What you grinding for?/ Since the voice of the people, you say is the voice of God/ The people make they choice/ Now respect God’s voice.”
As we explored music over the past weeks, we saw how artists waged their own war against racism and inequality, and provided the soundtrack for the quest to bring love back to the world. Today, young artist Voice is leading another movement for love and nation-building. In so doing, he is continuing the legacy of pioneers like Andre Tanker, Mungal Patessar, Jit Samaroo, Rudder, Valentino and too many to mention. For me, Buss Head by Machel and Bunji represents another important shift, calling the name of the great stickfighter Joe Talmana, one of the leaders of the 1881 Canboulay/Kambule riots that saved our Carnival. I used to be worried about our festival, but not anymore. We are searching for her soul again, and the artist is the one who will ensure we find it.
So, to Machel the last words. His song Take it Slow cautions women to be careful about how they live their lives, but is important advice for all of us – “I just want to see you shine/ Gyal show me yuh light/ You go be alright.”
Our nation will be fine; I just know it.
Dara Healy is a performance artist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN