A Minister of Soca

This piece is an update of an article I wrote in 2014:

A while back I asked my Facebook friends to identify their favorite Machel Montano songs.  I was surprised that so many people indicated songs that I had long forgotten about- from Bubblenut and Carry on to Madder dan Dat, Unconditional, and Miss Good Reputation.  In fact, it is difficult to name the greatest soca songs of all time without mentioning Machel Montano.  With a career that spans about thirty years, there’s no denying that Machel is one of the greatest soca artistes in Trinidad and Tobago, and that his Soul Train Music award for Best International Performance was well deserved, particularly for his 2014 hit, Ministry of Road (M.O.R.)

M.O.R. (written by Jelani Shaw, Kasey Phillips, Nikholai Greene, and Machel Montano) is one of Machel’s best compositions to date.  In a time when power soca tunes were on the decline, M.O.R. was a sure winner for Soca Monarch and the Road March.  The song was basically an ode to him being one of the greatest soca artistes of all time because of his 6 road march wins (which has now increased to 9) and other accomplishments in soca music. It also demonstrated how much more writers could do with the jump, wave, and wine themes that originally defined the power soca genre.

Machel’s persona as a Minister, whether literal or metaphorical, was significant in the composition.  Besides  boasting about his accomplishments, the song was an obvious play on his presumed association with the People’s Partnership government and the benefits that he allegedly received from this association (with specific reference to the TT$5 million payment by the government for the creation, production, marketing, and performance of the Going for Gold album in 2012).  The reference to the Minister could have been another ode to the construction mogul, Junior Sammy, whose brand was visually dominant in the accompanying music video. As all Trinbagonians know, Mr. Sammy has been the real Minister of Road long before Machel.  In this sense, it is interesting that another blogger asked if the song was public support for the construction of the Debe-Mon Desir leg of the highway and a throwing of shade at Dr. Kublalsingh and the Highway Reroute Movement. Keep in mind here that the Debe- Mon Desir project would have provided more contracts for Mr. Sammy. This tribute to the construction giant forced the listener to question the financial relationship between Montano and Sammy, Sammy and the government, and Montano and the government.

Or, could it be that Machel, like other politicians, referenced road construction to gain electoral support?  In his case, he needed fan support for his Soca Monarch and Road March intentions which depended on audience approval. But what was obvious in the lyrics was Machel’s discontent about the annual congestion to cross the savannah stage on Carnival Tuesday and possibly throwing support behind the Socadrome as a source of relief, which would become his new road.  The Socadrome was established in 2014 by big bands, Bliss, Tribe, Harts, and YUMA as an alternative to the Savannah stage.  It is important to note that these bands were dominated by MM constituents. The Socadrome is also located in the national stadium which is home to MM’s massive Machel Monday show and his numerous Soca Monarch wins; in this regard, it is his constituency. Like a true politician, he used the fix-the-road ploy to gain the support of his constituents (the masqueraders) because they too, were fed up of the route issue and the long wait at the Savannah stage.

In another interpretation, the song also scoffs at authority. It’s no secret that Machel has some issue with authority, which really came to light with the guilty verdict related to an assault incident back in 2007. The song scoffed at this charge and he did not seem remorseful when he bragged that even the set back couldn’t keep him down.  How dare they tried to “lock up’ the Minister of Soca?

Nobody cyah stop we
If it’s not ah charge tuh pay money
Kill de road we have authority

No matter the interpretation, the song was a big up to Machel by Machel. And why not? He deserves it.  He has a long list of hits and titles, a longstanding position in the soca industry, and a vision for the genre that makes him a true Minister of Soca…but like our government Ministers, he has several shortcomings, which are hardly recognized by his voters…

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