Soca star Machel Montano's first feature film, Bazodee, is being described as a soca musical, but that's a tad simplistic. Derived from a French term meaning "to be crazy in love," it's the story of an Indian woman set to marry a wealthy Londoner when she encounters local singer Lee de Leon (Montano). Now she must decide between the life set out for her and the possibility of true love. It's set in Trinidad amid the backdrop of Carnival, and it's just one more way the king of soca is introducing the genre to the entire world.
Montano likens the film to Jimmy Cliff's The Harder They Come, which did for reggae what he hopes Bazodee will do for soca.
"I think it's important to embrace each other's culture," Montano told REVOLT. "Especially in the Caribbean, we were brought from Africa, we were brought from India, we were brought from all over and we live there as a tight-knit community. So now we reaching back out, and the sounds are all related to each other. One day we'll wake up and we'll all be dancing to one beat."
To understand Montano's passion for embracing other cultures, you have to know that it's been in his musical DNA from the beginning. He started out singing calypso as a kid, and was an opening act before a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden at age 9. Back then, however, reggae and hip-hop were popular, and he briefly considered switching his style. But, Montano told REVOLT, he realized had a duty not to abandon his culture but to adapt the sound to broaden its appeal. He reached out to different genres. He performed with artists like Shaggy, Pitbull, Beenie Man and Doug E. Fresh — and now he's still at the forefront of collaboration. Just this year he's worked with Afrobeat artists Timaya and Wizkid. And his song with Major Lazer and Ariana Grande was a global hit, opening the way for a Coachella set.
"The different musics of the world are starting to converge on each other," he said. "You're listening to dancheall; you're hearing soca in it. You're listening to soca; you'll hear dancehall because that's where we mixed it. But now we on the top of the charts and we're hearing soca in songs like Justin Bieber's "Sorry," Drake's "One Dance," Rihanna "Work" — you can hear the Caribbean influence, you can feel it."
And Montano, who headlined Drake's OVO Fest in Toronto this July, doesn't mind when the mainstream artists incorporate soca into their music. "When we hear Justin Bieber reaching or the producers and the writers reaching out and dipping into Caribbean music it's because they're saying hello. They're saying, 'We come in peace,'" he said. "And now we now have to reach back to them and talk. ... The only way to spread that sound is to converse with each other, is to interact, so for me there's no stealing, there's no crossing over, there's only conversation and only relationship, and I think it's healthy because it's unity."
Above all, soca's themes of unity and love are what Montano wants to promote. It's a music for coming together and celebrating life, no matter what you have going on. When asked what American culture specifically can learn from the music, Montano explained: "We have so many challenges right now like gun violence, Black Lives Matter, police brutality. Soca music can really celebrate getting to know each other. ... Soca music is all about let's look for the good, so let's look beyond the struggle."
Watch REVOLT'S entire interview with Montano below: