Lady Montano talks life as a ‘mom-ager’
As an educator, Elizabeth ‘Lady’ Montano stands firm in her belief that knowledge has no power if it is not shared. The mother and manager of soca superstar Machel Montano, who is currently in Jamaica promoting her book titled King of Soca, told The Sunday Gleaner, “knowledge is here, we just need to use it and share it”.
She added, “The book I’ve written is subtitled, ‘The Ultimate Insider, How Machel Montano Became One of the World’s Most Popular Soca Artistes’, and it actually didn’t start out as a book, but as my thesis when I graduated with my masters in philosophy in 2018. So, it was more on the academic side but I thought I needed to take it to the streets.”
Lady Montano romanced the idea of her thesis, ‘The Making of Monk Monte: Creativity and Commodification in Trinidad and Tobago’ doing more. This she did for over two years, between 2018 and 2020, until it finally gave birth to the book where she shares not only the beginning of her son’s career, but highlights the contributions of some of his major influences such as Lord Kitchener and Might Sparrow, whom he would have been a supporting act for from as early as nine years old when he performed in Madison Square Garden in 1984.
“I wanted everyone to understand what it took Machel Montano 40 years to achieve and that it wasn’t easy. People always ask me how proud I must be of my two sons, because my eldest, Marcus, is a captain with Caribbean Airlines, and, of course, Machel is a musical star, and my first answer is always that both myself and my husband took our time to teach them core values,” she said. “Now, as adults, we see these core values manifesting in them as men and in their professions. Things like integrity, hard work and sharing – of themselves and their knowledge – is what has made them who they are today.”
The Montano matriarch boasted modestly about the relationship between herself and her sons and took credit for Machel’s return to school to pursue his master’s degree in carnival studies, as a direct likeness of her in him. Lady Montano proudly accepts the title of ‘mom-ager’, having quit her job to become the manager of the Mr Fete hitmaker and truly focus on his career. From participating in the writing and recording of songs, to travelling and touring with him, she has dedicated her life to making sure he became the success she knew he would become from the first time she saw him perform on a stage in 1982 at age seven.
She shared, “Moments like that are etched in time. I remember how I felt when he won the Caribbean Song Festival held in Barbados and this was people from all over the region participating, and he didn’t even perform a soca song, but a ballad dedicated to me. With that, he became the first Trinidadian and youngest to ever win. Prior to that, it was him bringing soca to mainstream television on Star Search in Hollywood … another proud moment. After all his accomplishments, he’s interested to gain more knowledge so that when he talks it is from an informed position – following in the footsteps of his mother (laughs). All this is in the book and I’m grateful for my own experience, as it helped me to raise Machel and help in his journey.”
In the midst of her reflections, she touted Machel for being an educator of a different nature, having exposed her to advanced technology. “At 73 years old, I can use Instagram and all these apps, and he is the one who taught me the ins and outs. He also instilled consciousness – that acronym ‘MONK’ used to mean ‘movement of new knowledge’ and now we say ‘movement of now knowing’. Remember, knowledge is there, but it’s about when a person becomes aware of something, that awakening of consciousness and spirituality came from him.”
Lady Montano retired as Machel’s manager in 2014 but said that the journey continues. It started with her husband, Winston ‘Monty’ Montano, when the two of them came to Jamaica in 1976 to study at The University of the West Indies, Mona campus. “We were participating in soca events from then until now but, back then, it was with Byron Lee and it was labelled as something for uptown people. And by uptown it meant no ordinary man in the streets partaking of the celebration. As the years grew, it really took a turn where everybody became involved.”
Although she watched Machel work with Jamaican dancehall artistes like Red Rat and Beenie Man, fusing the genres since the ’90s, Lady Montano expressed her wonder at Jamaica’s gradual acceptance of soca over the past four decades as though, and even if a clairvoyant could have foretold her of its future, she would still be as surprised.
There is a lot more work to be done, she said, revealing that she has observed that competition continues to exist within the carnival community.
“I see where bands are competing and the reason this is happening is because we are not all seeing it clearly, that the more people cooperate, rather than compete, the more growth,” Lady Montano offered.
Using Trinidad as an example, she said the International Soca Monarch competition is less of a necessity and that coming together for a big concert which showcases the talent is much more beneficial to the culture.
“We say we are doing it for young artistes but they don’t win, the big artistes enter and always win. There needs to be more unity on the developmental side. That whole thing about unity and working with and as a team, Machel doesn’t do anything alone, (so) that is why something like the collaboration for Wi Fete music festival here in Jamaica will please him. We tried it in federation [West Indies Federation], that idea of coming from one place and one route, doing it together, it can be done. When we do that, all industries will see improvement. We’ll be a force to be reckoned with ...,” Lady Montano explained.
The King of Soca will be launched officially in Jamaica on April 13, when she will delve into the journey and share more of her thoughts on the carnival sector. She has partnered with the Faculty of Humanities and Education, where she started out, “to share the experience with the UWI students, which I once was” and she will be working with the deputy dean, Dr Sonjah Stanley-Niaah, to host the special event.