The private life of Liz and Machel Montano is not as public as one would like to believe. Public perception of the mother and son relationship is often blinded by the bright lights which artificially and harshly colour the public spaces in which they must interact as members, not of the Montano family, but of a High Definition (HD), living life in your face, entertainment family. What is played out between Liz and Machel, publicly, in bandrooms, backstage, in dressing rooms, on the road, at concerts, on tour, and for the public to see is nothing more than a professional relationship between an employer and his employee. It doesn't affect or confuse what they share as mother and son. "He's my boss. When it comes to being a boss, he's very stern but he's also very generous," she explains, taking a long hard look at what the public has perceived, over the years, as problematic."The public sees me as his mother. So if he's tough on me, in public, they take it to mean all kinds of things. But what they don't understand is that in public, he's in the role of artiste, not son."
"When I watch him on stage, I look at him in admiration, how he delivers. It's exhilarating and exciting but there's also lots of anxiety because I'm there hoping everything goes good." At performances, it is not about mother and son. "He's not interested in that. He's only interested in what he has asked you to do. He's my boss. I'm working for him. If he asks me to do something for him, I have to do it and if I don't do it in the period he wants it done then he's going to talk to me as a boss. He has very high expectations and he's very demanding. He's a professional." Professional parent and child relationships, particularly, in the entertainment industry, are tangled as is but public interpretation and misinterpretation further complicate the situation because so much of it is played out for the public to see and without subtitles. "So him being tough on me in public is seen as conflict but that conflict is not real. When they see us in public, they are seeing a manager and an artiste. When we reach home, he would say, mommy, I need a chiropractor," she laughs.
Mothering Machel is a different world far removed from the onstage show. Her health, his health, his weight, the food he wants to eat, his three kids, their education, their future, the opportunities he wants for his children; are the kinds of mother and son conversations they have. "He likes to lie down and for us to watch movies together. But I'm not too much of a movie fan so it is always what he wants to watch." What Machel wants is a mantra she has grown quite accustomed to, over the years. Not that it is always about him; but simply put, he knows what he wants and he wants it. "He works 24 hours a day. He has killer instinct. He would say he needs to get rest and then he's working again. He never allows us to tell him what to do or what to say and that's from since he was small. He looks back at previous performances, previous years, and he always tries to better his performance. He still feels he's not where he would like to be and he's still very passionate about getting soca on the international stage."
His exuberance, openness, and love for his fans draw many close to him. She protects him from himself and others. She can't help it. She used to be a guidance counsellor before she became his manger. "His father and I helped him avoid a lot of pain," she says. They tried to shield him from much of the hurt the world could deliver but there were some things he had to experience on his own. She has cried for him but only tears of joy. "I'm a woman of action. If there's an obstacle, I'm focused on what I need to do to fix it. I don't have time to shed tears." In all the madness, she must maintain her sanity and his. "I help him keep focused. I'm not distracted by what people say. I've encouraged him not to pay attention to negative things. Once he knows the truth, he doesn't have to worry because he only has to account to God."
There were times he wanted to quit. "In 1999, he said I can't go on; complaining it was too much for his shoulders. I had to remind him that he was given a second chance, that he was a stillborn, he wasn't supposed to be alive, so he had to be here for a reason, he had a purpose here, one that he must accept and he felt relieved." That's a job only a mother could do. No manager could have pulled it off like that! These are the times when being this mother carries more meaning than being his manager. These are the moments the public won't witness; the moments that mean the most. "The thing is you can't please everybody," she continues. "The public will always say what they want and see what they want." There's lots the public hasn't seen and would never see when it comes to their private life. "I remember when my belly was hard and stiff, no heartbeat, nothing, just blood and a doctor telling me my baby is going to be stillborn," she recounts. A stranger supplied one pint of blood and her husband the other. "After they gave me the blood, I felt a little movement in my passage. But the doctor said it wasn't unusual even for a stillborn. Force, Montano, with your little thin self, the doctor said, and I pushed like I was constipated. When he came out they gave him oxygen, but nothing happened, they pumped his heart, they threw cold water on him, but nothing. The doctor did it again. There was a little cry but nothing much," she remembers. But then came a long, hard cry which has been transposed into musical magic and a million-dollar empire.
Now the boy is back. And since his return, Carnival 2011 is promising to be like no other. All eyes will be on Machel when he takes the stage, on Fantastic Friday, for the International Soca Monarch competition. His much heralded return has brought out the best in some and the worst in some as others scream advantage. "He has created a lot of energy for Carnival, for that I'm glad. But Machel is about peace, love and unity. He doesn't pay attention to personal attacks on him. His father has always told him you don't have to sink to conquer." Beyond the mayhem and the myths that make Machel Montano as mighty as he is, her only wish for her son, her boy, is "to achieve his ultimate goal, whatever his heart desires, and that he knows his family is there for him and will always be there to support him.