Ashanti and Machel Montano Share Stunning 'The Road' Video: Premiere

Ashanti Machel Montano

Machel Montano and Ashanti

When Grammy winner Ashanti performed at Wet Fete Weekend in Tobago in 2015, DJ Smooth City suggested she include a cover of a local hit within her set. He recommended, arguably, the biggest hit of that year's carnival season in Trinidad, "Like Ah Boss" by soca boss Machel Montano. Ashanti posted a clip of her cover on Instagram and tagged Machel, who suggested a collaboration. That proposed alliance became a reality with "The Road," an energetic, soca-meets-EDM ode to the joyous revelry that is Trinidad's carnival. Ashanti and Machel recorded the song at Brooklyn's Rawlston Recording Studio, and performed it for the first time in February at Machel's annual carnival concert extravaganza, Machel Monday, held in Port of Spain's Hasely Crawford Stadium.

"The Road" directly references carnival's raucous parade of tens of thousands of masqueraders jumping to the pulsating sounds of soca through the streets Trinidad's capital Port of Spain on the Tuesday finale. Machel and producer Travis Hosein (a.k.a. Travis World) had the song for a few years and initially hoped Rihanna would be interested in recording it (Rihanna attended Machel's concert in her Barbados birthplace in August 2015, held during that island's annual Crop Over carnival celebration, and joined him onstage to sing her hit "BBHMM"). "We are always trying to hook artists into soca but the timing wasn't right for Rihanna, so we thought it could work for Ashanti because we wanted an artist from her market to sing a song that is aimed at our market, the people of Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean, the soca world," Montano told Billboard in a recent interview in Brooklyn. "Ashanti wrote parts for the bridge that took the song back into her world, specifics about traveling with someone you love, and being on the road with them at carnival. Her singing and lyrical brand remain intact on the track while reaching out to the carnival crowd, which is really unchartered territory for both of us."

Ashanti fully embraced her introduction to Trinidad's carnival and its adrenaline pumping soca soundtrack. "Machel and I had really good energy. It was my first soca record and I wanted to make sure I was pronouncing everything correctly, not like I am trying too hard or like a Yankee," laughed Ashanti in an interview with Billboard at the Hilton Trinidad Hotel. "My space in music where I live is mid-tempo, songs that tell stories and soca is sped up 10 times compared to my records, so this was trying something out of the box and it was a really cool feeling."

The video for "The Road" was filmed at various carnival events that Machel and Ashanti attended including J'ouvert (the pre-dawn opening of carnival with revelers caked in mud, oil and paint) and playing mas (wearing costumes) on the road on carnival Tuesday. "We made a conscious decision that we would shoot the video during the days of carnival at places that we would be, so the cameras just captured what was happening around us," Machel explained. "You will see the colors, the cultural expression, the celebrations, and the diverse people involved in these activities and it looks like pure joy, unity, togetherness."

Several scenes were shot on Ash Wednesday at Trinidad's Tyrico Beach, but its spectacular shores and towering palm trees are overshadowed by Ashanti, who stuns in a headdress adorned with purple, yellow and teal feathers and a string bikini, strategically embellished with multi-colored beads. Toronto based Director X (Julien Christian Lutz, whose mother is from Trinidad) and his team shot the video with the carnival festivities providing the story line. "It's a carnival video so you don't need to do much more, and to be honest, the whole video comes down to Ashanti in that costume," laughed Director X (formerly known as Little X). "That was a low budget video for the times but for me," adds X, "it was bigger than the money, it was about pushing Caribbean culture. With Machel now, it's about pushing soca, carnival and just having a great time with your friends."

Produced by Che Kothari (Gifted Management), the video for "The Road" debuts here.

Ashanti and Machel have several performances lined up in the coming months including Barbados' National Stadium for Crop Over on July 31 and Miami carnival, venue TBA, on Oct. 12. The American R&B princess and the Trinidadian soca superstar believe they've struck an appealing balance between their respective musical identities that will take "The Road" to the widest possible audience. "We wanted to expose carnival to Ashanti's fan base during the summer so people could understand the potential of us working together and the sweet sounds of soca as it pertains to summer festivals," comments Machel. "For them to see her doing this kind of music will definitely break the ice as we push the song at radio. A lot of time goes into finding the right blend, curating something that won't isolate our fans yet will go beyond our perceived audiences."

While Machel, likewise soca, are poised to reach a greater audience through "The Road," it's Ashanti who says she feels blessed to have fully experienced Trinidad's carnival and record a soca song with an icon of the genre. "I want us to do some really cool things to promote 'The Road' and hit that radio run for the song and video," she says. "I am bringing my fans to this record, so the more promotion we do, it can help to make soca bigger and for me to play even a small role in that would be awesome."