Michael “Tano” Montano tells us about Kalpee’s new Tropical House/Island Pop track “NO ONE”, just hand-picked by SONY.
Christian Kalpee is one of Trinidad’s most promising young singers at the moment.
Not just a singer, he boasts an array of other skills as well: he’s a talented songwriter, producer and quite the vlogger. Originally “from South” (San Fernando) and a Presentation College old boy, he’s been a consistent performer all through primary school and secondary school, on stage at music festivals and recently as the frontman of the exciting young band, “The Entourage”.
So what’s all the fuss about? It might just be one of his latest releases, “No one”, which was produced by Kalpee, alongside fellow producer and friend Michael “Tano” Montano…(No relation to any Soca stars by a similar name). Released earlier this year through SONY, it was followed up by a top notch music video not too long ago. The track was initially passed on generously by Dubai based Trini and ThriveIn Director, Ethan Auguste, who passed it on to some friends of his, at Sony Dubai. They liked the track instantly and got in contact with the pair, signing Kalpee to a distribution deal.
If you’ve not heard it as yet, it has all the ingredients to be on the international stage. It’s well written, with focused lyrics, and has that identifiable Caribbean sound that’s trending at the moment.
With Sony now on board, supporting Kalpee with a more than a convincing distribution deal, a recent music video that excites and tugs at your heartstrings, it’s a potential regional hit and hopefully a global one…fingers crossed.
I recently met up with Tano the co-producer of the track, at Drink Lounge and Bistro, just to have a chat about the process behind “No one”, to ask a little bit more about his working relationship with Kalpee and to hear what the two have got planned for the near future.
CH: How did you both meet and got started on the track?
Michael “Tano” Montano: I met Christian about 2 years ago, we had the same management at the same point, he was doing soca, which we spoke about and it wasn’t his passion, neither mine. We have each other on social media, so we were always following what the other one was doing. Fast forward to about September or October last year, I was working in a studio on the Avenue (Ariapita), I was going for doubles and we randomly bounced up. A few months after that, he messaged me asking me to send him a beat… but nothing came of that beat. I guess a few months after, he messaged me saying let’s link up. I went to his house early one morning, he had his guitar and said he had an idea for a song, which was “No one”. He basically started playing the chords and from the time he started playing it and I heard, I said this is the song we’re going to work on. He already had the first verse, the pre-chorus, all the melodies and I just basically pulled out my laptop, he told me the chords and I put the basic skeleton of the beat down. From the time he recorded the demo, I knew it felt right.
CH: What was Ethan’s (Director, ThriveIn) input and how did the song and Kalpee get picked up by Sony?
MTM: When we initially released it, Christian was sending it to a lot of blog sites and we were getting a lot of love from people. Ethan messaged me and said he had a contact for Sony Dubai…When he replied that Sony wanted the song, I was in shock. Since then it’s been back and forth, they obviously want more songs from Christian, and we have more music coming. We have another next song with Sony, but now we’re just working out the contractual stuff.
CH: How about locally then, how has it been doing?
MTM: Based on Social media alone, the comments and the kind of love we’ve been getting, it’s been overwhelming. There are four people with covers to the song – for somebody to cover your song that’s a big deal to me – In terms of radio play, I would love to see it get a little more love. Right now it’s playing on the biggest station in Dubai that only plays the mainstream stuff like Justin Beiber, Chain Smokers, it’s playing in Germany now, so I want to see more love from the (local) radio. I’ve seen a status from a local DJ, who has a primetime shift, he played the song and said it was his “favorite local song of all time”…
CH: The video looks great, the cinematography, the storyline, and the acting. It even has a familiar island look to it. Tell me a bit about the video and what went into it.
MTM: In the initial meeting, Christian and the director, all of us actually spoke vaguely about what we wanted to do, then Christian and the director went into more details. The videographer is a guy called Bruce Deokiesingh. That video took so long to shoot, we actually started that video in December (before we got the Sony deal) and we had some shots, then Christian went away for a while. When we got the Sony deal, we finished shooting which took a total of about ten days, which is a lot! For me, that was the hardest part of the process, it’s a lot of hanging around a set looking at people do the same thing over and over.
I think the attention to detail in that video made it good as well, stuff like, set preparation, which Christian is really good with. We had the opening part of the video where he’s sitting down by the piano, that was at a friend parent’s house in Moka. That old piano was Christian granny’s piano which we had to lift onto a small pickup truck, all of us. We had no team doing this for us. We had to put this thing on a truck, drive up to the house, just to get that look of an old-time piano. We not gonna just use a random Yamaha keyboard. All of those details are huge. A lot of people came up to me and asked if we shot that in Trinidad! We tried to make it look like places you won’t even recognize. One of the shots we went Cedros, some people might just say, “nah that’s too far, that’s a long arse drive”. All those details about where they went, what they were wearing… There was a beach scene and all the time Christian was in charge of the set, “Let’s put up these lights here”, “Let’s light a bonfire”. We actually burnt a couch on the beach, in the middle of the night! Taking a couch to the beach, to burn it, all those stuff that most people weren’t put the effort into. Those little things add so much to the video and I think that’s why it was so special, we put a lot of effort into every little detail.
At the moment, mainstream pop is leaning towards what they’re calling “Tropical House”, which is an offshoot of Deep house music. It blends island beats (Dancehall and Soca mainly) with infectious repetitive hooks and House music/EDM textures. Most notable and “guilty” of this recent and subtle form of appropriation (Another topic for another day) are Drake and Justin Beiber, with “One dance” and “Sorry” respectively. Despite the outcry from dancehall legends like Sean Paul and Mr. Vegas, for artists at the forefront not sufficiently crediting its Caribbean origins, it hasn’t stopped the new genre from picking up more steam globally.
CH: “Tropical House” is somewhat the new thing on the mainstream pop charts. Tell me about what inspired or sent the song in that direction.
MTM: Well, it started off as just guitar and voice and in my opinion, if you could have a good song with just a piano and voice anything you add after that, it’ll still be a good song. That kind of music is trending now, that’s what the sound of the pop mainstream is. I don’t think it would have sounded good if it was too much of something else. Once I figured out the chords, I played the same pattern with the midi controller…Producing is all about tone selection, we could play those same chords, but if the tone doesn’t feel right, it’s not going to resonate with people. If you listen to Justin Beiber and these guys, their tones sound expensive. So from the time I played that tone, after that was just the drums to add.
CH: So tell me what you think about the controversy surrounding mainstream pop artists, allegedly appropriating dancehall and soca music, without “paying respect to its origins”…
MTM: I think it’s great! I love it! If you look at the way Drake or Bieber put out a song you’ll understand why, because it looks and sounds a certain way. If you want to get to the masses, that’s the first thing. The way we (Trinidadians) put out music sometimes, is not always something of quality – I’m not saying our stuff is not special though. People could do what they want, if you want to call it Caribbean music that’s just a snare pattern and a drum pattern, that’s not stealing. I could take a hip-hop drum pattern, that doesn’t mean I’m stealing hip hop. Music is out there. You could do what you want…
Yes, the sound is ours but what you gonna say, they can’t do it? The fact that they’re doing it better…Let’s step our game up, we are sleeping. It means obviously we’re not doing it properly either, in terms of the marketing and putting it out. Our music is seasonal, at least for Trinidad. I think in the last couple of years Soca has gotten to a place where there are a lot of good songs, however, we put out music from this time to this time and the rest of the world doesn’t do that. So, how do we expect to put out music for a short period of time and expect it to blow like that? It does not work that way!
CH: Would you agree then that these artists who have already had a lot of commercial success, it makes it easier for them to shape what happens next in the Pop industry?
MTM: They also have the backing of major labels, which from what I’ve seen is a huge deal. Nowadays songs don’t get big just because it’s a good song, sad to say. Songs get big because you have a powerhouse like Def Jam, Sony or whoever backing your stuff, and labels would put the money, put the resources. I can’t just pick up the phone and call iheart radio and say “I have a song from Kalpee from Trinidad, do you like it?”, they probably won’t answer the phone. So it does have a lot to do also with who’s backing them, Bieber is with Def Jam, Drake is with Young Money, they have the resources to get those songs on a level that we can’t. All we can do is try and ride that wave.
As the interview wraps up, and we both finish our drinks to the now slightly busy Drink Lounge and Bistro, by now I’m fully reminded of the complexities that burden locally based artists. Most times a lot of what is created locally in the alternative scenes gets pushed aside for the seasoned flag bearer, Soca. I agreed with the young producer about the way we package our product to the world, and about meeting the demands of the global market and consumers. Our music is as seasonal as mangoes, but we know this and have talked about this numerous of times across multiple platforms. Nevertheless, with Island pop or Tropical house now being the focus on the mainstream pop charts, maybe the chance for Kalpee and Tano is ripe. Sony Distributions have come in at the right time and picked up the song and offered the duo a chance for global success.
It should also be noted, it’s mango season…