Words by Deejay Theory
Photos by Kristelle Laroche and Brooklyn Shanti

Austin, we had a Carnival!

In what was easily the closest thing to a Caribbean Carnival atmosphere this part of Texas has seen, Machel Montano, Mr. Vegas, Kabaka Pyramid and crew shelled down South by Southwest at the first annual Sounds from the Caribbean showcase on Friday night. Pouring rain couldn’t stop a capacity crowd of die-hard, flag-waving bacchanalists and curious music-industry folks from squeezing under the tent at The Palm Door on Sixth patio for the event, media sponsored by LargeUp as part of a double bill organized by Winnie K. Mgmt, RDPR and Coyah Productions, and which also included the Sounds From Africa showcase inside the same venue.

Nyla, Laza Morgan and Gyptian also took the stage for brief sets while host DJ Gravy and yours truly held down the sounds. Guests including Angela Hunte; Jahdan Blakkamoore; El Freako Collectivo from Colombia; dancehall deejay Alandon; Virgin Islands rapper Paebak; Trini rapso king Ataklan; and LargeUp’s own EchoSlim all passed through, while Trinidad, Barbados, St. Lucia and Guyana were well represented—in both human and flag form.

Making one of several appearances at this year’s SxSW, Kabaka Pyramid and his band, The Bebble Rockers, set things off with a crucial set of roots and culture. In what was a night of gradually increasing tempos leading up to Machel Montano’s frenetic power soca, Jamaican pop princess Nyla next touched the stage next with a mix of solo tunes and music from her group, Brick and Lace, while Laza Morgan got the ladies in the crowd ready for Gyptian with smooth selections including his own island-pop smash “One by One.” Gyptian performed a brief set including two different versions of “Hold Yuh” that left the crowd hungry for more, a void that was quickly filled by Mr. Vegas who went into overtime with an hour-plus set that included classics “Heads High,” “I am Blessed” and his latest dancehall hit, “My Jam.” There’s few performers out there who have a better connection with their crowd than Vegas, and this was fully in evidence in Austin, as he led enthusiastic female fans through a “Bruk it Down” contest and serenaded a couple in front of the stage with promises of beautiful babies in their future.

Vegas is always a tough act to follow, but fortunately we had just the right man for the job in Machel Montano. As DJ Gravy remarked, this man is like the James Brown of soca. You just can not beat his energy, or describe it. (You can see it, though—in the pics below, and our recent “The King of Carnival” mini-doc series). In his first full U.S. performance since Trinidad Carnival last month, Machel took the crowd to Port of Spain from Texas to T&T with “Happiest Man Alive,” “Vibes Cyah Done” and this season’s biggest soca anthem, “Like Ah Boss” with an assist from Trinidad’s DJ Stephen. Pop songwriter, singer and proud Trini Angela Hunte joined Machel on stage for “Party Done,” a sleeper hit from Carnival that looks like it could become soca’s next international crossover hit.

This was an incredible event all around from each of the performers, to our host DJ Gravy, to every Caribbean music fan in attendance. It felt as if the Caribbean people—rarely a presence at rock-centric South by Southwest—came out the woodwork in the rain to show their support, wave their flags and cheer on their favorite artist. There was an overall feeling that we were all a part of the first major event of its kind at SXSW, as if history was being made with each moment, and it was.

Until next year, Austin. And for those of you headed on to Winter Music Conference in Miami, we’ve got a major announcement for you today. Stay tuned!

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