TRINIDAD & TOBAGO: Monk Evolution - Machel Montano
Updated: Mar 21
A bundle of fun with distant associations with the jewel in the crown of London’s annual calendar to make it just that little bit more special.
Machel Montano’s music on Monk Evolution is a broadly crowd-pleasing set of fun soca tunes meant to get you up on the dancefloor. For that, it works perfectly well. Soca, short for soul of calypso, is a very popular genre in the Caribbean that initially was a combination of calypso (obviously) and East Indian rhythms, but over time has diversified and changed, to the point where we can listen to Machel Montano and hear that musical heritage, but also understand that it is similar to a lot of pop music from the West as well. This is also possibly due to the crossover success that some soca artists have had, and thus the cultural confluence is going both ways. I also must acknowledge my own biases here. I don’t really like soca music all that much. There’s nothing I can say is bad about it or anything, it just happens to be a genre that, throughout this process, I haven’t found a great deal that I have loved, and I haven’t returned to it a great deal. That said, there is a lot I like in Monk Evolution by Machel Montano, and so far, for me, it is one of the best of the bunch. It is an enjoyable collection of catchy tunes, all of which I like. There isn’t a bad song on the album, and coming in at just under 40 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. There’s just enough variety in the moods and tones for it to be interesting to listen to, as well as fun. On My Way is a slightly more serious song, and Go Hard is in a similar vein. This can be contrasted with the opener Temperature, Like So, or Road Trip, which are just pure upbeat joy. Therefore, though soca is usually not for me, I can say that Montano has created an album, in a genre I don’t love, that I like very much, and one that challenges my preconceptions about said genre. Maybe there is more similar soca that I will enjoy as much as I did with this. I look forward to finding out.
“Whenever I am in the need of a pick-me-up, soca music is so often the remedy, as it reminds me of the joyous carnival atmosphere that I love”
Despite personally having no Trinidadian heritage, this album still inadvertently makes me feel proud of the place that I am from. Whilst this could sound like I am appropriating Caribbean culture as my own, I am not. Rather, what I am doing is celebrating the multiculturalism of the city which has in some way shaped part of who I am as a person – London. For me, the melting pot of international culture in London is perhaps best showcased at the Notting Hill Carnival, which certainly in the last few years has become the weekend in the calendar I look forward to the most. It is a pity that this weekend, when it was due to go ahead, it has, for obvious reasons, been cancelled. However, I am sure that next year will be bigger, brighter and louder than ever.
Having been to other incredibly fun carnivals in other European countries, most notably in Germany and in Spain, one of the things that sets Notting Hill Carnival apart from other European counterparts is that unlike so many carnivals it is in no way nationalist or regionalist, and instead its global nature makes me so proud to be (well, four miles away from being) a Londoner. When I am abroad and I am asked where I am from, I keenly say London, rather than England or the UK, and it is partially due to the international representation that London celebrates during days like the carnival that I do this. This is because it embodies the tolerance of the city that makes it more beautiful than the Houses of Parliament or Tower Bridge. Whilst I may feel down about the insular, anti-immigration sentiment that has grown in the UK over the past decade, it is events such as Carnival that make me simply forget about my sadness and instead bask in the glory of the atmosphere, the colours of the parades and most importantly the music that epitomise the multicultural metropolis that London is.
Whilst music at the carnival comes from an array of genres that I love including reggae, dancehall and jungle, perhaps the genre which stands out the most and I associate strongly with the event is soca. This is because whilst at other festivals, as well as in certain bars and nightclubs, I may get my more Jamaican fix of music, nowhere that I have ever been to do I hear soca apart from at Notting Hill Carnival. Whenever I am in the need of a pick-me-up, soca music is so often the remedy as it reminds me of the joyous carnival atmosphere that I love. Whilst I regularly listen to the likes of Fay-Ann Lyons, Bunji Garlin, and Farmer Nappy, when I am in the mood for it, no other artist in the genre quite has the power of lifting my spirits than the ‘King of Soca’ himself, Machel Montano. For me Monk Evolution is my most preferred album of his impressive back catalogue (of which if you like the genre you will find some other great stuff, particularly in his two previous records Monk Monté and Happiest Man Alive). There is not a single weak track on the album with so many dancefloor bangers, my favourites being Temperature, Memory, Carnival Groupie, Waiting on the Stage and On My Way, in addition to maybe the best of the bunch, the rather appropriately named Road Trip, which for me evokes nostalgic memories of cruising down the highways of Austria belting out the chorus with great friends from all over Europe.