Cymbals, snare drums and Souzaphones are not typically associated with Caribbean music. But at Trinidad’s Carnival 2004, soca superstar Machel Montano audaciously incorporated these instruments—courtesy of eight members of the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment Drum Corps—into his dynamic soca band Xtatik, christening the entourage The Xtatik Road Marching Band. Nattily attired in white and pink-trimmed regiment outfits, Montano and the Xtatik Road Marching Band delivered a highly energized two-hour performance before 20,000 fans at Montano’s own Carnival production Alternative Concept 2. Xtatik’s eight auxiliary members added martial drum beats, snare rolls and precision line percussion to the band’s frenzy-inducing repertoire, an amalgam of sweaty funk, raw dancehall, smooth R&B and their signature adrenaline-pumping soca.
Montano developed the concept for the Xtatik Road Marching Band after viewing Drum Line, the 2002 film documenting the competitive world of marching bands in U.S. colleges and universities; the film stirred memories of the marching bands he enjoyed in his childhood. “Every time we had a sporting event or a parade in South (southern Trinidad), the South Cadet Band would play the normal marching band songs and play some of the hottest calypsos on drums while marching,” Montano remembers. “I always watched how they marched so seriously and the people on the side of them will be wining (gyrating their hips) and really getting on bad (enjoying themselves); to me that was special because it was a contrast. So I thought it would be challenging to merge these two different musical formats together. We take risks like this to try and have more fun on stage and keep the crowd interested; we want to reach the world with this (presentation) because you can’t wait on a record deal or a song to become popular and it kind of gets depressing.”
Since the mid-1990s Montano has been cited as the artist most likely to break soca into the musical mainstream, yet he has experienced an inordinate share of bad luck with record labels. Signed to three international record deals (Germany’s Intercord, Los Angeles’ Delicious Vinyl and, most recently, Atlantic Records UK), Montano recorded dozens of songs for each company but none of the music has ever been released.