“What goes around comes around.”
This was the view of one of the many victims of Selwyn “Robocop” Alexis’ crimes.
Machel Montano was born in Trinidad, attended school in Jamaica and spent much of his life travelling around the Caribbean working with producers, other musicians and singers and entertaining the masses. His life as the quintessential Caribbean man was the backdrop against which he preached the gospel of Caribbean unity to a group of West Indian students earlier this month. Montano was the keynote speaker at the Florida Association of Caribbean Students (FACS) 40th Conference on Leadership at Miami Dade College, North campus, Florida. “Now is the time to unite and speak to the world. In numbers we are a greater force,” he said, urging the students, many of whom showed up to the event with the various flags of their countries.
In an impassioned speech punctuated with singing, dancing and a brief roll call of the islands represented, Montano stressed we are all one and that the future of the Caribbean is in sharing music and technology but more importantly sharing ourselves. “We must do away with the attitude, as we unite, of the individual, king of the rock. I think of a unified bloc pooling resources and promoting the unique USWI, the United States of the West Indies. Remember Caricom has failed but we have music, art, the computer, social media…,” he said, invoking squeals as he urged the students to follow him on Instagram.
Montano said he began promoting regional unity early on in his career when he decided to promote calypso and soca over the foreign genres preferred by his generation. When he chose to do soca, he developed a treaty in his mind to make it attractive to the younger audiences by incorporating the popular music such as dancehall into it. “I started to mix it with reggae…Beenie Man, General Degree, TOK, Shaggy, Red Rat…in the beginning I was ridiculed…what yuh bringing Jamaica in for?” Revealing to the audience that he was dead for the first six minutes of his life, Montano, 39, said he pulls strength in low moments from knowing he had to struggle from the very beginning to survive. “It says to me I have a purpose,” he said. “If you find your purpose half your job is done. When you do find your purpose you have to own it.”
Montano said once he knew his purpose laid in making soca popular and using his music to unite the Caribbean, he was determined to achieve greatness. “I am not the best dancer, I am not the best singer, I am not the best musician but I have a good education and was smart. I knew how to put enough together and use the purpose and philosophy of unity and make something great,” he said. Stating that every time he wanted to be great, he returned to spirituality, which keeps him grounded. “To be spiritual is to know yourself and to know that voice yourself and lead with that,” he said, noting that leading sometimes means fighting for change. “I had to fight for better dressing rooms, screens on every stage, for young people voices to be heard and respected, for higher wages,” he recalled.
Leadership, he said, also means leading into the unknown and he had to innovate and change in order to deliver a better quality sound. That is how he turned into the first High Definition (HD) human, he said, as he sought to transmit his messages in a clearer voice. Speaking on the topic of success, Montano said one yardstick he uses to measure success is the number of people he has made successful such as fellow vocalists Patrice Roberts and Farmer Nappy. “We are here on this earth for relationships, to communicate…we are here for individual reasons within yourself but none of those purposes would be executed if you don’t have relationships, if you don’t share with other people, share ideas, share dreams, share stories.” Montano ended his speech with words of advice to the students, among them that they should criticise less and compliment more, that they should try to be great thinkers, skilful managers, be humble, noble and be inspirational leaders with vision, compassion and integrity. “We are one by history, blood, sweat, tears. I want you to nurture this home, manage this Caribbean with good fathers and good mothers,” he said. Montano ended his address with an impromptu performance of his song, Happiest Man Alive.