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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Minister of Soca...

A while back I asked my Facebook friends to identify their favorite Machel Montano songs.  I was surprised that so many people responded and many called out songs that I had long forgotten about. With a career that spans almost 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 is well deserved, particularly for his 2014 hit, Ministry of Road (M.O.R.)

Machel Montano at the 2014 Soul Train Awards

In my opinion, 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 demonstrates how much more writers can do with the jump, wave, and wine themes that originally defined the power soca genre and like calypso, it can also take on contemporary socio-political issues in Trinidad and Tobago.

His persona as a Minister, whether political or social is the main message in the composition.  His self-presentation is an obvious play on his presumed association with the People's Partnership ruling government and the benefits that he allegedly receives 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 Minister could also be an ode to Junior Sammy, which is obvious in the video, and as all Trinbagonians know, Mr. Sammy has been the real Minister of Road long before Machel.  This feature forces us to question the financial relationship between Montano and Sammy, Sammy and the Government, or all three.  Could it be that Machel is making a statement on the age old ploy of road construction to gain electoral support?  Or as another blogger pointed out, is he supporting the construction of the Debe-Mon Desir leg of the highway and throwing shade at Dr. Kublalsingh and the Highway Reroute Movement?

But what is obvious in the lyrics is 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.  And like a true politician, he uses the fix-the-road ploy to gain the support of his constituents (the masqueraders) because they too, are fed up of the route issue:

See fuh dis Carnival, nobody waitin long
Cyah stay in de traffic jam
Or wait by de hospital
Help me tuh make ah mas
De trucks dem Line up in town
People ready tuh run
One million comin down

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 scoffs at this charge and he seems unremorseful when he boasts that even that set back couldn't keep him down:

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

In essence, the song is 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 his shortcomings, which are hardly recognized by his voters...