The end of September may be officially considered autumn, but try telling that to the organisers of SumSplash 2019, scheduled for 27 Sept. Touted to be the first of many annual summer festival events, SumSplash is bringing the big guns in the form of headliner and soca sensation, Machel Montano, along with Jamaican dancehall recording artist, Konshens.
This new addition to the calendar has been designed to showcase reggae, soca, pop and rhythm and blues music, although nothing is off the table if it is a crowd-pleaser. The organisers are hoping to attract not just locals to the event, but tourists as well. The venue is Festival Green at Camana Bay, long known as the site for professional concerts and Taste of Cayman.
Montano is a bit of a legend, not just in his home country of Trinidad, but also throughout the Caribbean and beyond. In 1984 he was only 9 years old when he formed his first band, Pranasonic Express. His debut album ‘Too Young to Soca’, released a year later, was an instant success.
Those of us who remember ‘Star Search’ on TV, the talent show precursor to the ‘America’s Got Talent’s and ‘X Factor’s of this world, will be impressed to know that Montano appeared on it when he was just 11 years old. One only has to see the confidence in that performance to understand the powerhouse he has become over the years.
Since those early days, the awards have kept piling up to the point that the man must have a separate cabinet to store them all. He won Song Writer of the Year and Song of the Year in 2004/2005 at the 7th Annual Copyright Organization of Trinidad & Tobago Awards, and in 2005, he swept the International Soca Awards, winning six categories in total.
He was awarded the Bob Marley Award Entertainer of the Year for 2007, Best Calypso/Soca Entertainer and named the Most Outstanding Stage Personality at the International Reggae and World Music Awards at the historic Apollo Theatre in New York.
In Jan. 2010, Montano became the first soca artist to attain a headlining slot at the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival and in May of that same year, he embarked on a five-week tour as a special guest artist with Pitbull on his Mr. Worldwide Carnival tour.
Montano doesn’t just write and perform soca music; he seems to live and breathe it. His goal is for soca to gain a wider audience and become more recognised in the international music industry. “We want to use our experience to take soca international,” he says. “I have been pushing the envelope, trying to revolutionise
soca, trying to improve its quality.
It is very difficult to bring this music to the mainstream and at the same time, stay grounded at home, but we have created a sound that we believe is palatable to all markets and can play on the radio in rotation with other popular songs and genres.
That is a dream I have always had and something I look forward to achieving.”
In Oct. 2011, Montano was nominated in the Best Caribbean Performance category for the song ‘Bend Over’ at that year’s Soul Train Awards. Other nominees included Rihanna, Vybz Kartel, Movado and Kes.
He is the only artist to win the International Power Soca Monarch title five years in a row, from 2011-2015, and a documentary of his career thus far – ‘Machel Montano: Journey of a Soca King’ – was released in 2017, featuring vintage footage and covering his tour with Pitbull, selling out Madison Square Garden, and his Coachella 2016 performance with Major Lazer.
Dancehall artist Konshens was born in Jamaica and started his first band with his older brother, Delus, called
Sons of Jah, also known as SoJah. The duo began releasing music in 2005 and their inaugural single, ‘Medz Pon
Di Corner’, became a hit in Japan, leading to a tour of that country and the release of a Japan-only album, also
entitled ‘Sons of Jah’.
In 2008, Konshens branched out on his own with his first solo single, ‘Winner’, a blend of dancehall and
hip-hop, and in 2013, he collaborated with female dancehall star J. Capri on ‘Pull Up To Mi Bumper’, a throwback to ‘90s dancehall styles which became a hit across Europe, leading to more international collaborations like ‘Policeman’ with Dutch EDM star Eva Simons and the official dancehall remix to The Chainsmokers’ Top 10 single ‘Don’t Let Me Down’. He would score the biggest hit of his career to date in 2016 with ‘Bruk Off Yuh Back’. That track, which has received over 100 million plays on YouTube, gained even more legs the following year when Chris Brown added his voice to an official remix., ‘Know No Better’.
Even while making moves abroad, Konshens is fully focused on elevating the music of Jamaica and bringing dancehall to its rightful prominence within the global music sphere.
“I am trying to bring dancehall back to the glory days — the Sean Paul days, the Shaggy days and the Beenie Man days,” he says. “I am trying to reintroduce dancehall to them from the ground up.”