MACHEL Montano on Sunday brought all his soca theatrics to wow the crowd at the Calypso Monarch finals at the Dimanche Gras show at Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, with his song, Soul of Calypso.
He later told Newsday that he had never imagined standing there as calypso monarch, but said his current studies in Carnival Arts had led him to an appreciation of the origins of the art form that had proven invaluable for him in penning his winning composition, Soul of Calypso.
He won a $350,000 Grand Vitara into which he seated his mother Elizabeth "Lady" Montano, plus $500,000 in prize money. It is his first calypso crown, having competed twice before as an 11 year old in 1986 and at 16 in 1991, when finalists sang two songs.
Montano, 49, told Newsday, "I feel very overwhelmed, because I could not have dreamed of this happening. In all my years I could not have seen this happening. That will take some stepping back."
"Going to school (university) and being someone to write a calypso and realising what an experience it is. I did not have that kind of confidence within me but something flowed. Something flowed from somewhere."
Montano said at university (the University of TT) he had learnt about the roots of calypso.
"That was the key which just unlocked the door, that wrote this song for me." He said it had now all led to a moment beyond his expectations.
Newsday asked if his soca-laced calypso performance, with dozens of performers on-stage, had changed calypso contests forever.
Montano, a ten-time Road March champion and six-time Soca Monarch, replied, "I think it has enhanced the perception. Because we perceive separation between soca and calypso. But what we are saying is that there is no separation. We see variation, but at the very roots we are one."
Former monarch Karene Asche placed second with her song urging citizens no never resort to crime however hard things might seem at the time with her song, No Excuse. Placing third was past monarch Roderick "Chuck" Gordon with Charlsie, a call to King Charles III for slavery reparations. Young Kings winner Mical Teja placed fourth, but gave a performance which was constantly punctuated with the roars of the crowd. While Montano had topped the Calypso Fiesta semifinals on February 3 at San Fernando with his song Soul of Calypso, Teja seemed to be hot on his heels on Sunday with his hit DNA.
It was a night of very high standards of performance from all 12 contenders but Montano and Teja were clear crowd favourites. Ultimately Teja placed just fourth, but has been the toast of this season, and a hot prospect to win Road March on Monday and Tuesday.
Montano began his song in a traditional calypso style akin to a kaiso by multiple past monarch Hollis "Chalkdust" Liverpool.
Indeed he almost seemed to be "channelling" Chalkie, in terms of poise, cadence, finger-pointing and even facial expressions.
However, he later removed his scholar's robes to unleash a blast of soca, to make the point of the compatibility of the two art forms.
When he reached the point of wondering if he had calypso in his bloodline – "Sometimes I wonder if my real father could be Trinidad Rio" – Rio suddenly appeared by his side, along with former calypso monarch Weston "Cro Cro" Rawlins. The crowd cheered.
In his performance he sang an extract from Movin', Nigel Lewis's 1996 Road March, "Moving to the left, moving to the right." He later played an extract from Garfield "Ras Shorty I" Blackman's anti-drug anthem, Watch out my children.
A small boy in the crowd of dancers started to play a steel pan. Montano asked who had taught him to play and he pointed out his mother, calypsonian Terri Lyons. When Montano asked who had taught her, she in turn acknowledged her father who appeared nearby, soca legend, Austin "Super Blue" Lyons. The crowd lapped it up, gleefully. He truly pressed every emotional button for lovers of calypso and soca.
After that performance which left the audience on an emotional high, it was really a tough task for others to follow, simply in terms of the energy level or buzz that Montano had left there. Teja came on-stage some time after, fortuitously, perhaps allowing the stage to cool off a bit from Montano.
Teja's arrival elicited a huge roar from the crowd. His delivery was an infectious joyousness. It was positively life affirming. The crowd let out huge roars two or three times throughout his performance. They cheered when he had finished, and again after he had been off the stage when the MC recapped the fact that he had just sung.
Other great performances came from all other contestants, in order of appearance being – Aaron Duncan, Ta'zyah O'Connor, Montano, Helon Francis, Kurt Allen, Dillon Thomas (the 2023 Tobago monarch), Chucky Gordon, Winston "Gypsy" Peters, Brian London, Karene Asche, Teja, and Stacey Sobers. All contestants who had sung at Calypso Fiesta kept their song choice. O'Connor, defending monarch, sang Focus, while Thomas sang about Tobago political personalities' rivalries in his song, It wasn't me. The Calypso Monarch finals ran from 8.15-10.20 pm but results were announced at about 2 am on Monday due to the lengthiness of the show which included several guest artistes plus the King and Queen of Carnival competitions.
Calypso Monarch results:
1. Machel Montano
2. Karene Asche
3. Roderick "Chuck" Gordon
4. Mical Teja
5. Helon Francis
6. Stacey Sobers
7. Aaron Duncan
8. Kurt Allen
9. Duane Ta'Zyah O'Connor
10. Winston "Gypsy" Peters
11. Brian London
12. Dillon Thomas