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The ‘Viking’ and ‘MM’

By Matthew Woolford

The first time I saw the ‘Fete King’ in concert, I knew he was going to be a global superstar! The year was 2001, the venue was the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain and the event was the Coca-Cola sponsored Youth Fest, a concert created for the young people of Trinidad and Tobago to enjoy a slice of Carnival within a safe space.

To me, he is to Soca Music, what Picasso was to the world of painting: an unbridled genius! Every word is intentional and meaningful, used to delight, tell a story, or inspire a reinterpretation of reality.

His freestyles are legendary and galvanise an already strong command of the stage and showcase a calypsonian’s contemplation about society.

According to the VP Records website, “His debut in the music industry in 1998 came after Garlin made a name for himself performing at small venues and local events.” (Bunji Garlin | VP Records).

By my calculations, 2023 marks Bunji Garlin’s 25th anniversary in the music business, and I am grateful to have been alive for all of them thus far.

The first time I saw the ‘Soca King’ in concert, I knew he was a man on a mission. The year was 2007, and the venue was the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain. The event was the Alternative Concept Concert and Machel Montano was magnetic!

His energy level was high, his engagement with the audience genuine and his use of technology and dance choreography masterful. What grounded my connection to Machel, however, was his spirituality. He stated expressly that he was on a journey of self-discovery, not dissimilar to the one I was just about to embark upon.

He spoke about his belief in God and of his music being an ongoing prayer, a hymn even, being offered in thanksgiving for the talent and opportunities afforded him.

According to the Machel Montano website, “Machel’s career began in 1982 at age seven; at age nine he formed his band, Pranasonic Express.” (Biography — Machel Montano). By my calculations, 2023 marks Machel Montano’s 41st anniversary in the music business, and I am grateful to have been alive for most of them.

Even more impressive, however, are the struggles these two titans had to endure in pushing Soca music up the proverbial hill.

This is from an article ‘Bunji Garlin puts the soca into socially conscious’ written by Ben Beaumont-Thomas in the UK Guardian April 10, 2014: “He puts the ‘soca’ in ‘socially conscious’ via tracks such as ‘Down in the Ghetto’, which disputes his government’s housing policy, and ‘Licks (Yuh Want to Rape)’, which goes after child molesters and rapists, still with the style’s manically peppy demeanour. The soca old guard, who went for ‘a less in-your-face approach and a more in-your-waist approach’, reacted angrily… ‘They would have radio station call-ins for months, saying this shouldn’t be allowed to exist and that does a lot to you as a young artist. You’re never prepared to hear something like that. I came on to the scene innocent, and you never think you could offend so many people, to the point where they’re creating petitions to get you out of the industry.’”

And this is from an article titled ‘Winer Man’ written by Pat Ganase in Issue 25 (May/June 1997) of Caribbean Beat: “Liz, his mother, is telling the story about how Machel was ‘born dead.’ “Up to now I don’t know what the doctor saw, but he took up the child and slapped him, and slapped him — whaddap — and he give the tiniest little whimper. Then he started slapping him again. I think he even threw cold water on his chest. He must have given him oxygen. He slapped and slapped and slapped until he got a cry. The Doctor said, ‘You have a boy. He will be well, and never be ill in life.’”

As for their support systems, I don’t think Bunji could have asked for a better riding partner than his wife Fay-Ann Lyons, and when Machel had performed for over four hours at Machel Monday 2015, he asked everyone on his team to take the stage. After 60 persons, I lost count.

From a commercial perspective, the work both have put into their brands has shown the younger generation how to capitalise on marketing and revenue generating opportunities within the music industry.

Congratulations to Machel Montano and Ian ‘Bunji Garlin’ Alvarez on the work accomplished thus far.

And if the careers of the Godparents of Calypso, The Mighty Sparrow and Calypso Rose, are benchmarks to go by, with the grace of God, they both shall continue to create great music well into the future.