Open Up and Say Reunion

There's no downtime for soca music's international ambassador.

So how do the Pixies fare? Remarkably well considering their infamous in-fighting and the passage of time. By allowing themselves to reveal their own humanity and accessibility, each offering demonstrates in its own way that while one might mellow, it doesn't have to be at the expense of passion or purpose. At the very least, it's a case worth considering. Lee ZimmermanLa Vida Soca

After Carnival's sequined costumes have been discarded and the body glitter has been scrubbed off, Ash Wednesday restores a sense of calm to the twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Most Trinis recuperate from the weeklong celebration by washing away their sins in Maracas Bay or receiving religious recompense at a Lenten Mass. But not Machel Montano. For the crown prince of soca, the party never ends. The past two decades have been one long blur of grinding bodies, alcohol-fueled fetes, and high-energy performances.

"Soca music is made for Carnival," Montano says in a voice rough with exhaustion. He's a busy guy, trekking around from Jamaica to Toronto and New York and nearly every Caribbean island. But he's been around long enough to handle the jet lag. Montano's 24-year career has allowed him to observe slow, socially conscious calypso evolve into the pulsing, manic rhythms of soca. After years of being marginalized during Carnival and in insular Internet communities, soca is finally on the crossover border. "I think that it's something that takes time, and it is happening," Montano says. "Big things are coming for soca music.

"I was there when it was [Lord] Kitchener and [the Mighty] Sparrow. Then the change came with people like Scrunter. Then there was David Rudder, Tambu, and Charlie's Roots — they did a little more socially conscious music. And to see the change come up to the infusion of dancehall and hip-hop — now it's all in the youths' hands."

Montano and his band, Xtatik, have performed alongside musicians ranging from TLC to Destiny's Child, Shabba Ranks to Buju Banton. In Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'" video, Montano drizzles dollar bills on an enthusiastic crowd. But despite the recognition and the celebrity pals, Montano sounds weary. "I think I've come to the end of the major part of my career, and now the rest of it will be focused on helping others and leaving behind a different kind of legacy. I'm trying to make music that will be around years from now."

Montano's ambition is to make the new material from Xtatik more structured, melodic, and unique. His latest album, The Xtatik Experience, features collaborations with Wyclef Jean and Doug E. Fresh. While Montano and others are now making their big push stateside, soca has flirted with mainstream recognition for the past two decades.

"Learning the essence of writing good, meaningful, long-lasting songs," he says, "is one of the things that I think is going to help us develop our music further towards international success." — Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik Machel Montanoperforms Friday, August 18, at Ole Ole Mexican Grille, 300 SW First Ave., Fort Lauderdale. The show starts at 10 p.m. Tickets cost $20. Call 786-319-1477.

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