My Life Is My Children
By Joannah Bharose

She is a simple yet imposing. She is a super sharp woman who did not just happen to be the mother of calypso sensation Machel Montano. She is the brains behind the Xtatik enterprise.

Had it not been for her athletic and imposing five-foot-ten-and-a-half-inch athletic frame you could easily pass Elizabeth Elena Susan (Liz) Montano on the street and not give her a second glance.

She wears no make-up and prefers the au naturel look. She opts for T-shirts and jeans because they are more comfortable. But Montano will go for the sexy look if the occasion requires it.

“I like long flowing feminine clothes. I like black, white and blue and anything that accentuates my height and figure,” she said.

Her voice, like her height can be imposing. It depends on the topic.

For the interview she wore a black t-shirt with black three-quarter leggings, brown leather sandals and a gold Citizen watch, a birthday present from her older son, Marcus.

“I like watches. Only three work right now,” she lamented.

Her other favourite is a silver Fossil watch, a present from Machel.

Her thick gold chain, hardly visible under the t-shirt, sports a heart-shaped pendent from her husband Winston, a geologist and former school teacher, whom she adores.

Her only concession to bodily artificiality is the dye in her deadlocks. It is something “the boys insist I do. They don’t like to see the grey hair.”

She promised to have her hair dyed by the time the Express WOMAN photographer arrived.

Her mother Eva Romaine, a seamstress now deceased, sported a full head of grey by the time she was her daughter’s age, 52.

Montano lives a very health-conscious lifestyle. She does not drink or smoke. She shuns red meat and pork.

And she is not modest about her athletic physique. “It’s from the early days. I was a good swimmer. I played netball and I was a runner,” she recalled.

She and Machel enjoy a very close relationship.

“I know everything there is to know about his life as well as him knowing everything about me. Even when it’s hard to talk about things with me, he will eventually, ” she said with quiet confidence.

He is the boss when it comes to the music and entertainment business, but she is still his mother, mentor and the woman he turns to when he needs comfort and advice.

“He believes in me,” was her simple analysis of their relationship.

She is her sons’ best friend and mother rolled into one.

“Machel consults us on every aspect of this business,” she said.

“He still has to ask me for money, though,” the former school teacher said with a mischievous grin. She is in charge of the financial side of the Xtatik family business, which covers the band, recording studios, a publishing company, a management firm and a recent venture into agro-tourism.

“I make all his investments and look after him financially, but he is the boss, he knows the business, especially when it comes to keeping the international standards and quality,” she stated.

They often argue about the best way to do some things. “But as usual he is always right.”

There is no title for what she does, except that of devoted mother, full-time friend and hard-working employee. “I’m one of the directors of Xtatik Limited, the chief cook and bottle washer.”

She does anything required to make the business work.

Montano explained that it’s like family, but “run like a business”. Most of their employees are friends of the Montano clan.

“It has always been done like this, some of them I taught in school or are friends of Machel and Marcus.”

This Carenage-born woman is doing exactly what she wants and none of it comes as a surprise.

“My husband and I were involved in so many things that we led by example to our children,” she said.

She probably knew what Machel wanted to be even before he did. She can anticipate her son’s every move.

Her family is her life and every change and adjustment she has made has never been seen as a sacrifice, but deliberate and “necessary for the business”.

“I work and live for my children, Machel has it good, with having me as an unpaid manager,” she joked.

The sober-looking Montano is headstrong and no doubt one of the brains behind the singing star.

She left the guidance and counselling profession in 1989, under the Voluntary Termination of Employment Programme — “perfect timing” as her son’s career was really taking off, “demanding more time.”

Coming from a humble and strict background has not hurt the way she has done things around the house and in the business, Montano said. It’s some of the same values taught by her mother that she has tried to pass on to her own children, Machel and his older brother Marcus, a BWIA pilot and former guitarist with Xtatik.

“You have to be strict with your children between the ages of one to seven. It is the foundation time for all their lives,” she said.

“They have always been free to express themselves and we have always supported what they wanted to do. When Machel wanted to sing and perform, we helped channel him in the right direction. When Marcus wanted to join the Coast Guard and become a pilot we encouraged him,” the no-nonsense woman said.

Montano, who grew up in an all-female household, with her mother, grandmother and one other sister, Ann Marie Byer, now functions in an all-male environment with her sons, husband and a grandson Nicholas, who lives with her. He is Machel’s son. She also has two granddaughters, Meledi by Machel and Marley by Marcus.

She is guarded when the conversation switches to the star of the family and his personal life. She will openly talk about her children in broad, sweeping terms: “They are well-trained, well brought up, hard-working, honest, loving and good.”

But when it comes to their personal lives she is very close-mouthed.

“I don’t think I’m to be interviewed about their personal lives,” she said firmly.

When asked about how she dealt and felt about some of the rumours surrounding Machel’s lifestyle as well as hurtful things that are often said about him, her outrage is obvious. “I don’t deal with rumours. If you did not hear it from me then don’t tell me. Ask me. I will always know.”

She said she always knows what is happening with her sons.

She also reluctantly addressed the issue of Machel’s record deal, which has yet to bear fruit and has set tongues wagging in the industry.

She said: “Machel is a perfectionist and anything good will take time. It will come. His music will take a lot more than usual since it is different to what the international scene is used to.”

The family pulled up roots after 20 years in Siparia and relocated to Port of Spain. They now have offices on Gordon Street where this interview took place.

While she said she does not favour one son over the other, Montano describes Marcus as very similar to his father in attitude and temperament, while Machel is very much like her, in looks too.

“Both my children have always been treated the same, none has ever felt slighted in anyway. I love then both equally and they are different,” she said.

In fact, Montano feels that the tough love she and her husband have doled out to their sons was worth it.

She boasts of their successes and education just like the average doting parent. With some modesty, Montano admitted that she and her husband are good parents.

“Machel often says to me that I’m the best person he has ever met,” she said, with pride that could not be contained.

If given the opportunity, she would talk endlessly about her children and family. Her life, it seems, is an extension of her family, a role she is happy with.

Her proudest moments with her children are some of the simplest.

“When I look at the machine that my son flies I feel proud,” she said.

With Machel, her grandest moment came when he won the Caribbean Song Festival at age 12.

“He was the first Trinidadian and youngest ever to win. Against all those grown-ups he won,” she said, her voice thick with emotion.

She is currently working on the schedule of year-long activities planned by Xtatik to celebrate Machel’s 20 years in the entertainment business. This will culminate with the launch of a foundation, another family dream.

The deeply religious and spiritual woman is a mixture of the modern and traditional.

“Family always comes first. Children are a gift. God chose us to have them and therefore we have them for life. Being a parent is not a temporary job,” she said.

But she can’t imagine not working. She is a stranger to the word “holidays”. Her last vacation was to Dinseyland with her family in 1984, after Machel won the Junior Calypso Monarch title.

There have been few dark moments in her life. The collapse of the stage at Machel’s Real Unity concert on November 25, 2001 could be classed as one.

“I prefer not to see it as a fiasco. We found strength, found out who were genuine, who were friends, who were dishonest. Machel also matured and grew up out of that.

Forever the optimist, she said, “We also developed beautiful relationships with people who came to know us because of that particular incident,” she said.

“I tell my children there is always good in the negative and something to be learnt from everything.”