Machel Montano, TOK, Alpha, Lion I & Vert-X
@ Mindoo Phillip Park, St. Lucia Jazz Festival
5 May 2006
Photographs & review in
order of stage appearance.
Click an image to enlarge.
I felt a little nervous attending the official opening of the
15th annual St. Lucia Jazz Festival. It had been nine years since
my last visit to the Island and I was unsure of new venue locations
and protocol. Fortunately I was soon made aware, though there have
been many changes regarding the St. Lucia Tourist Board’s
chosen venues, presentation and commercial strategy - The overall
outcome seemed positive.
I was determined to cover this specific event, though many travelling
journalists had decided not to attend due to the fact that: “The
artist line up would not have a large commercial following...!”
The musicians on this page are not Jazz musicians, they may not
feature in my personal collection, but I considered this event to
have great local significance. I came to St. Lucia not only to photograph
and review musicians in a glorious setting, but to also soak up
as much of the local vibe as possible.
The Mindoo Philip Park Sports Stadium in Castries may have been
void of world press, but journalists do not make an event!
With the above uplifting thought still in mind… It took some
time for this venue to fill. The start time was printed as 8:00p.m.
Patrons did not start to arrive in force until nearly 9:00pm. Then
- at a blink of an eye this large open-air venue was jammed solid.
Home-grown vocal band Vert-X took the lead with
a decidedly false and overused R&B format. They were unable
to generate much more than polite applause from the expectant crowd.
Rehearsed lines such as “Stop the violence, yeah we must stop
the violence”, only highlighted the fact that this young group
had little else to offer in the way of substance and vocal quality.
Smooth Reggae vocalist Lion I, together with tight
munificent backing from resident band, did manage to raise the temperature
slightly. From this point forward you could see, and feel the crowd
(specifically female patrons) begin to come alive.
Soca Monarch Wenhal James aka Alpha proved just
why his popularity is increasing with each live performance. Mixing
soca, reggae with a splash of soul, Alpha wooed both female and
later, male patrons with the inclusion of stylish leggy dancers
to give an overall polished performance.
Reggae dancehall crew TOK did not have a smooth
ride into the mainstream, or have an immediate effect on the charts.
It took a great deal of persistence, hard work, and a little pain
before success would knock at their door. Alistaire McCalla, Roshaun
Clarke, Craig Thompson and Xavier Davidson formed T.O.K (Touch Of
Klass) in the early 1990’s. After a series of unsuccessful
releases and various label changes, the group joined forces with
engineer Richard Browne, who was on course to set up his own label.
TOK signed to Browne’s label, but their initial release went
unnoticed. The second single “Hardcore Lover” (a collaboration
with Lady Saw) reached number 4 in the reggae charts. The group
had finally arrived.
I had my back to the stage – It was the broad smiles, gleaming
eyes and ear piercing screams from the now rambunctious crowd, which
alerted me of TOK’s arrival. The party was now in full swing,
with TOK in full control.
Not content with the substantial stage floor space, individual
band members took the brave decision to throw themselves into the
front row of hot, writhing women, who were… let’s say,
dressed specifically for the occasion. Surprisingly, each band member
was able to return to the stage without loosing limbs, or any items
Though TOK’s performance is now geared towards the hard-hitting
dancehall crew, you can still hear remnants of their earlier R&B
harmony sessions. After all, this group was inspired by R&B
crooners Boyz II Men. To completely eliminate such a powerful influence
from any group or individual would surely take time. And why remove
such a positive element anyway.
Trinidadian born Machel Montano, definitely needed
no introduction to the Mindoo Philip Park patrons. Montano, together
with his power charged band Xtatic, have played a key role in soca
festivals and major events throughout the Caribbean, New York, Toronto,
Miami and London. Montano has been described as a Stevie Wonder
of Soca. With such high praise, I presume the comparison is
due to Montano’s singer / songwriter and bandleader status,
as well as his band’s recognition internationally. To date
Montano and band have performed with the likes of TLC, Shaggy, Destiny’s
Child and Bounty Killer to name a few.
Machel Montano is not the king of crooners; he will not provide
heavenly harmonies. Instead, Montano delivers raw soca / reggae
dancehall, in a style his boisterous fans love. His fans expect
no less than full-on dramatic storytelling, and that is exactly
what they get. His facial expressions and on stage antics are entertaining,
and occasionally a little shocking to the more conservative, but
if there were any true conservatives present, I suspect their blue
rosettes would have been left at home tonight.
Thankfully, Montano did not throw himself into the crowd. Photographs
of a man being stripped naked may appeal to some...!
Montano has an on stage energy which, if tapped, could generate
enough power to drive the Caribbean’s air conditioning units
for a year. From the outset his intention was clear – To ensure
the St. Lucia Jazz Festival would begin with a BANG!