Photo: Anil Mathi
  /  09.20.2023

The 2023 Melé Destinations event was four days of live waist-twisting, back-breaking Soca music, good vibes and beautiful weather – and I didn’t want it to end.

In partnership with Tribe, one of the biggest – if not the biggest – carnival production companies in the world, the festivities were headed by Soca legend Machel Montano and took place at Moon Palace in Cancun, Mexico on Sept. 7-11. Aside from the obvious main theme being Soca music, I would even add that understanding was another. Let me explain…

If you’re familiar with Montano, you know that he’s been in the music game for decades. He was even bestowed with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the first-ever Caribbean Music Awards, hosted by Wyclef Jean, a week before Melé.

Spending the majority of his life blessing fans with classic tunes, Montano is also a man who’s aware that he has a bigger purpose outside of solely making music. “I always thought that my mission was to take Soca music to the corners of the globe,” he exclusively told REVOLT.

This idea is evident in his current pursuit of his master’s degree in Carnival Studies at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. With his love and passion for the genre, Montano aims to take Soca to the next level. What better way to push this mission than with a festival like Melé celebrating carnival culture?

“Tribe was looking for that next frontier and we had the concept of doing a cruise. Like, taking carnival on a cruise ship. But the pandemic happened, and we got derailed just as we were going to launch this collaboration. So, we switched gears… and came up with the Melé Destinations carnival at a resort in Cancun,” he added.

Soca has been a staple in Caribbean culture for decades. However, it has yet to kick off internationally like its counterparts Reggae and Dancehall, as well as other once-local genres that have crossed waters and boundaries. But, if it’s one thing that Montano is gunning to see through, it’s its international success.

“Soca music has yet to hit the globe in a big way – make its biggest impact – like Reggaeton or like Afrobeats. I think Soca has next once the right things are done,” the icon said.

The musician’s creation of Melé puts his goal on that right path. In its second year, hundreds of people from around the world – most who were of Caribbean ancestry and even some fans from Africa – pulled up to celebrate Soca during the long weekend this month. From the fun, wet and wild pool parties to the night concerts, the event was nonstop vibes. There was even a carnival that took place around the Moon Palace resort and a chill, but unforgettable “Unplugged” performance from Montano, himself. There was no time to sleep. But, who would want to at a place like this?

Some of the acts who took to the stage during the weekend aside from the event’s creator, of course, were Soca artists and favorites Nailah Blackman, Voice, Viking Ding Dong, Skinny Fabulous and more. Attendees showed out and proved they loved every minute by acting up with a dance partner – or several – during the performances. The Cancun nights were as hot as ever.

“I feel like there is something new that we can bring to the carnival manifestation or the carnival product, which will be really interesting for people’s lives, on the level of Woodstock. What Woodstock did for a generation of musicians and people, and for the statements it made about life,” Montano added. “This is the role that carnival will play once we understand our roles and tweak it to be the best it can be.”

Though the festivities celebrated Soca music, one of the biggest highlights was Dancehall/Reggae legend Buju Banton serving as Saturday (Sept. 9) night’s headlining performer. It was a slight, yet much-appreciated switch in the scene.

“I’m a big Buju fan. Buju is an icon,” Montano said before explaining the history between the two worlds. “For Reggae and Dancehall to really meet with Soca, it’s been tough in the past. One is conscious Reggae music and one is seen as fun, and sometimes it’s like mixing oil and water. But a lot of Buju Banton’s inspiration is in my music, and now, a lot of the music that Dancehall is making is inspired by Soca and Calypso. So, I feel like we’ve come full circle, and to be able to see eye-to-eye and meet in events like this where you have fans who love both sides of music is amazing.”

The Soca legend added, “It was really an honor for Buju to accept the invitation and for us to present that to our fans.”

And the fun only intensified from there. Though we were in the popular Mexican city, the Carib vibes were so high this weekend that they easily made attendees feel like they were back home on their respective islands. Nevertheless, the belief that Soca should be bigger, more celebrated and is so powerful that it should expand outside the Caribbean remained present throughout.

Recalling his reasoning for launching the festival, Montano said, “Taking these new frontiers like Melé, with Tribe, to places like Cancun and involving all of these Soca artists, these are platforms that we can reach out to people like Spring Breakers or we can reach out to people across the globe… There is some way we can find that version that would speak of what carnival does to the soul. What carnival does for the body and mind.”

To be completely honest, Melé was the best vacation I’ve ever been on – and I’m someone who’s traveled almost every year of my life since I was a baby. Unlike other music events, there was something special about this one, and I strongly believe it was because of Montano’s personal touch as well as his immense passion for the culture. Big corporations can make events happen, no problem. But, it takes a certain level of care to make people feel something in their spirit at a major – far from intimate — gathering. That is what Melé did for me.

Before closing out day four of the celebration on Sunday (Sept. 10) night during his headlining show, Montano shared a message to all of the Americans of Caribbean decent in the audience. “We want to take Soca to the globe. To the world. We need people like you to invite your friends – and when I say friends… I mean white people (whispers)… and African Americans,” he said as people giggled in the crowd.

If you ask me, Mr. Montano, you’re doing one hell of a job so far. But, I still got you.



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