Machel performing? Jeez. Inviting someone to a fete in Trinidad can be so predictable. I would challenge any linguist to prove that "Machel" is not the most used word in Trinidad around carnival time.
In fact, Machel and Trinidad carnival has been one of those long lasting, symbiotic relationships where each party has depended on and grown on the strength of the other with Machel emerging as its premier star and his resultant ascendance placing a spotlight on both carnival and soca music. Or a least that was the way it was.
It was maybe that way before he sold out the historic and renowned Madison Square Garden arena in New York with a thrilling performance that earned several rave reviews even from sources that were hearing soca for the first time.
Or probably before his list of collaborations shattered geographic and stylistic boundaries; ranging from Maximus to M.O.P. and Bunji Garlin to Busta Rhymes with room for a Japanese singer called Minmi. Or at least before he became fourteen albums deep, became the first high definition (HD) human and newly finished wrapping up the sixth installment of Alternative Concept which will go down in history as the fete that killed the legendary Brass festival.
No my friends, it seems that Machel Montano HD is now a snowball to big for the hills of carnival and soca music which is both good and dangerous to the local art form.
To be quite honest though, carnival without Machel is not a far-fetched possibility; it has happened before. Somewhere around the early portion of the new millennium when Machel was under a recording contract to some degree, those who attended fetes around that period would note that he was supposedly not ‘allowed' to perform and was absent from Xtatic performances.
During this time, Peter C. Lewis was basically at the forefront of the Xtatic band and although he had a major hit that year for carnival with "Tay Lay Lay", Machel's absence in the band and carnival as a whole was heavily felt. I remember how I felt at the time, which was a mere four or five years after Machel's major breakthrough with the phenomenal hit "Big Truck", and even then I was worried about soca's future (imagine that!) because even then, almost every one of my best carnival memories was tied to one of his songs!
Well, history can be funny some times and Machel eventually lost the contract somehow which some say delayed soca's chance at mainstream notoriety but has indelibly linked Machel to Trinidad carnival, blessing him with unending commercial and critical acclaim and unprecedented nation-wide fame. In the face of concert incidents, a nightclub brawl and even accusations of being a member of a secret society, Machel's brand has grown stronger than ever and the quality of soca music in a given year is largely related to the quality of his tunes with almost 80% of his album tracks receiving regular rotation during some carnival seasons. What a position we have gotten our self into!
So what if Machel goes now? And what if oil in Trinidad dries up? We would just have to diversify, that's all. Similarly to the way in which many alternative sources of Trinidad revenue are being under-developed due to our dependence syndrome and sometimes laissez-faire attitude, many artistes and genres of music in Trinidad are being denied because of our dependence on the dominant talent that is Mr. HD (not his fault of course).
His huge reservation on local radio would, if he's not there, let at least a dozen new artistes ‘eat ah food' and promoters would be forced to get more creative than just hiring Machel. With the virtual CEO of the soca business gone, lesser artistes would be thrust into a greater role and be forced to maintain it with the same tireless creativity and indomitable work ethic that previously defined it. Maybe our ears, which together with our brains, have been programmed to be addicted to that mischievous baritone rasp capable of coaxing women in business suits to ‘buss a wine' on Frederick Street as well as let the country know that "we not giving up", will now have room for different voices that also have something to say.
Stars like Machel Montano HD only come like once every century so it's not wholly surprising that he graduated from a child prodigy to the main attraction of our grand cultural circus. It will be agony for a few carnivals when he's gone (it's bound to happen sometime people) but eventually I think we will be ok. Face out.