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When a Buss Head spells peace

Thursday, February 23, 2017
Machel and Bunji work well together on new bois song
Ian “Bunji Garlin” Alvarez, left, and Machel Montano performing at the Machel Monday concert at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on Monday evening. PHOTO: EDISON BOODOOSINGH

Right now I feeling the tension, And it’s too much to mention Of everything you accuse meh, and all the time you abuse meh, but now you cannot refuse meh.

​—Buss Head, Machel Montano & Bunji Garlin, 2017

Even though the soca hit Buss Head is a “bois song”—a tribute to kalinda, the ancient stickfighting tradition—some have said the lyrics above could easily refer to the years of tension between Machel Montano and Ian “Bunji Garlin” Alvarez.

Think back to Carnival 2011—the prize for the international Soca Monarch was increased to $2 million and several big guns, including Machel Montano, re-entered competitive arena. With that came the banter between artistes, and at the International Soca Monarch final on Fantastic Friday, an angry Montano unleashed two vitriolic verses about Alvarez and his wife Fay Ann Lyons during his performance of Advantage.

Fast forward to December 2014, the Sunset Festival at the O2 Park in Chaguaramas.

During Major Lazer’s set at the Festival, Montano and Alvarez were called onstage by DJ Walshy Fire, who asked the crowd: “If you say, it’s about time for Machel and Bunji Garlin to do a song together, make some noise!” The crowd roared with approval.

The next day, Montano took to social media to reach out to Alvarez. He asked, “What’s the next step?? Sounds like the people have spoken.”

The response was: “The people have spoken...but we have not.”

The two were able to finally settle their differences by mid-2016 and they produced Buss Head.

When they sang the song on January 29 at the Soaka fete in Chaguaramas, soca lovers everywhere rejoiced. Some said it was a historic soca moment, while others were just glad to see the soca “conflict” end.

But why should people care?

According to university lecturer and music sociologist Meagan Sylvester, we should care, because “it signals and signifies that soca artistes can all be on the same page...In fact, we as a people should be pleased to see this sort of homecoming of two soca greats, because they both have the reach of different international diasporas, teaching them about soca. With unity, the two can bridge gaps.”

She said their example could point the way to wider ideas of unity.

Radio DJ Kamau “Kaotic” Harriott said: “They are perfect examples of maturity and unity, which is vital in the industry for the art form to grow. It also shows everyone that no matter what the issues may be, they can be resolved.”

Garlin, in a recent CNC3 interview, explained that he and Montano have always had a level of civility towards each other.

“It just wasn’t full-on communication,” said Garlin. “All that was needed was to break those walls and bring everything closer together.”

So is this a renewed friendship between the duo?

That’s not clear; but when a TV personality recently commented on Garlin’s photograph of himself in a bandana “hiding his face” and likened it to a bandit, Montano, in apparent solidarity with Bunji, took to social media posting pictures of himself also wearing a bandana.

The reception to Buss Head has been extremely positive. Many older soca fans love that it pays tribute to stickfighting, which in recent years has become more visible and accessible. The younger fans simply love it because it will “sound good on the road”.

At Machel Monday, when Montano announced Bunji Garlin, the crowd roared its appreciation. The two soca stars shared the stage as if they’d been doing it forever and the chemistry between the two was plain for all to see.

But there’s no definite plan for future collaborations. As Alvarez says, “The future will tell itself.”


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