February 9, 2015

Words by Jesse Serwer
Machel Montano photo by Sherwin Dyer
Carnival photography by Colin Williams


In the first installment of our three-part video series featuring Trinidad’s King of Carnival, Machel Montano breaks down the birth of Bacchanal, how it’s evolved over the years from an annual slavery-era rite to one of the world’s most colorful and hedonistic street parties, and the role that soca music plays in the Carnival celebrations.

Last summer, during the calm before the storm of NYC’s own Labor Day Weekend carnival, (and Machel’s explosive appearance on our LargeUp Sessions radio show) we took Mr. Fete to Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park for some quietude amidst the urban fauna. In a rare relaxing moment for one of the world’s most high-energy (or, should we say, high-definition) performers, Machel morphed into Monk Montรฉ, meditating on his love and embrace of Eastern relaxation techniques; the unlikely and unexpected influences that have shaped his spin on soca; and, naturally, the topic that seems to stay on the minds of Trinidadians all year round: T&T’s world-renowned pre-Lenten carnival.

As someone who’s been active in the Carnival business since age eight, Machel has a unique window into the phenomenon at the center of Trinidad’s social calendar. And, as the person most directly responsible for bringing its soundtrack, soca, to its current place and position, he has an impeccable knowledge of where it’s been, and where it’s going. So whether you’ve just heard of Machel and soca via Major Lazer and Ariana Grande, or you’re a seasoned bacchanalist who lives to play Mas, the Minister of Road has something for you to learn from, as he weaves together the various narratives that make up the creation story behind the Caribbean’s most magical event. Bringing things into further relief are some of our favorite Carnival portraits by Trini photographer and LargeUp contributor, Colin Williams.

Watch “The Meaning of Carnival” belowโ€”just in time for tonight’s sure-to-be-transcendental Machel Monday fete, “The Triangle of Monk,” and Friday’s Soca Monarch competitionโ€”and look out for part two of our King of Carnival series on Wednesday.