King of Soca Machel Montano Talks 40 Year Celebration “Machel 40: One Show,” Wanting To Collaborate with Bad Bunny and More
Interview by Michael Narain & Ejima Baker-Morales
Machel Montano is widely known throughout the Caribbean as the King of Soca; and rightly so. With 40 years of soca under his belt, Machel has created music that he describes as “the songs that propel the frenzy of Carnival on the road.” Machel is taking his four-decade-long career and pouring it into his label, Monk Music Group.
“We also want to make Soca music a world sound recognized across the globe,” says Montano. “We want to work with artists to help them express their visions, and their goals and bring the standard up to a world standard.” To date, Monk Music has signed X artists and is continuing to expand and “take soca to the corners of the globe.” Machel shares that his plan with Monk Music is to further develop the brand of soca music and the sound of the Caribbean. He says, “we feel that our purpose is to provide the artist with the proper platform, proper distribution, management, direction guidance, and the ability to take soca music to a global audience.
Soca music is derived from Calypso music. The name was formulated as the Soul of Calypso (SoCa), and it was given a faster party-geared beat, similar to reggaeton. “It’s the soundtrack of today’s Carnival. It’s the sound of the Caribbean; the sound of the islands.”
Soca music is originally from Calypso music. The original genre name was Sokah, derived from the Soul of Calypso, however due to a spelling error by journalist it was spelled Soca, and the name stuck. The music is faster party-geared beat, similar to reggaeton. “It’s the soundtrack of today’s Carnival. It’s the sound of the Caribbean; the sound of the islands.”
Montano plans to work “with the traditions of the sounds and the technology of the day.” Which is not just the ideas of the young people, but the actual technology of the music industry. We also want to make Soca music a world sound recognized across the globe and we want to work with the artists to be able to express their visions, and their goals and bring the standard up to a world standard.”
Machel is producing the “Machel 40: One Show” concert on Carnival Friday in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. The show will feature Nigerian Afrobeats superstars WizKid and Rema as headliners for the show, performing their hits. Machel will also take on the One Show stage at The Meeting Place for his first full concert in Trinidad & Tobago since the shutdown. “I haven’t performed in Trinidad for over 2 years, except for a few minor intimate situations,” says Machel. “So, I think coming back with a huge show after doing my final Machel Monday, which was the biggest soca show in the Caribbean, this will be an exciting moment for everybody.”
What’s incredible about this year is that it’s both the 40th year of Machel Montano’s career, and the 50th year of soca music. The beat of soca was created by merging the African beat of Calypso with East Indian rhythms by Ras Shorty I, also known as Lord Shorty, in 1973 with the first-ever soca hit ‘Indrani.’ Machel says, “[Lord Shorty] was a Calypsonian, and he became the flagbearer for soca music.” He continued, “This all happened in Trinidad & Tobago, but today’s soca music is being created in all of the islands. There’s a distinct version of Grenada soca. There’s a version made by the Bajans and many more.”
Soca music has become more recognized by the mainstream in recent years, however, it still has a way to go before it fully takes over the way reggaeton has. The King of Soca wants soca music to reach all corners of the planet. His goal is to spread the positivity and togetherness of soca across the airwaves and connect with global artists as he has already done. Machel has shared stages and collaborated with acts like Rihanna, Major Lazer, Ariana Grande, Sean Paul, Drake, Pitbull, Nicki Minaj, DJ Khaled and more.
When asked about whether or not he would want to collaborate with reggaeton artists, he quickly responded with, “[I’ve] been dreaming of doing work with people like Ozuna, J Balvin, and Bad Bunny. Back in the day, I was a big fan of Don Omar and Luny Tunes.” Many mainstream reggaeton artists sample from Soca and other Caribbean artists’ sounds, such as “After Party” by Alex Sensation featuring Prince Royce, Mariah Angeliq, Farruko and Kevin Lyttle, which sample Kevin’s melody; and Ozuna and Tokisha, who sample “Rich Girl” by Louchie Lou and Michie One in “Somos Iguales.”
Machel explains that Reggaeton music originated from the dancehall-style beat. “[Soca artists] see a high prevalence in the beats of reggaeton, but basically, this is the soca beat. It’s a beat that came out of Africa and came together with Calinda and Calypso. It’s been there,” says the King of Soca.
Expanding more on this, Machel explains that soca artists see value in what reggaeton has done. “[Reggaeton artists] commercialize and take the sound beyond the borders. There’s a lot that we can share in terms of working together and breaking into the Latin market. A lot of what we grew up with in Trinidad, back in the day, sounds like El General out of Panama. We always find there is a stronger vibration when we cross our borders and share these sounds to both our audiences.”
Machel Montano’s music has empowered millions and will continue to do so. His music is about oneness as well as happiness. He carries this notion even outside of his music career. “I have chosen the path of acceptance and inclusivity because, in my experience, this is the truth. I see our entire existence as one organism with very privileged individual experiences for all of us.”
It’s that oneness, the connection, that fuels Machel’s excitement. He believes now is the time to celebrate each other’s similarities rather than focus on the differences. “In that way, we become more of a cohesive unit. We become more of what the world is trying to move forward and achieve.”
Be sure to stream Machel’s latest singles “Shake The Place” with Destra, “Like Yuh Self” with Patrice Roberts, as well as “The Meeting Place,” which is a collaboration with the late South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela & the Siparia Deltones. Machel will perform this, along with many of his classics on February 17th, 2023 at Machel 40: One Show. Visit machelmontano.com for more information and to grab your ticket.