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Musician doesn’t let disability stifle his self-expression, upbeat attitude

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In the YouTube video, the rapper in the red hat revs up the crowd chanting, “Put your hands up, put your hands up!”

The crowd rocks to his music, but his own hands remain in his lap.

Marc Anthony Romero, aka King Montana, is quadriplegic; he was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, a rare birth defect that affects the joints. He has used a wheelchair his whole life.

The challenges of having a disability haven’t stopped him from a busy career as a songwriter, singer, motivational speaker and, most recently,  author.

His book of memoirs, “In My Shoes: My Magical Moments” is due to be released this fall, along with his latest record, “Tecoloso” which he produced under the name Aztek Astronaut.

“When you have a disability, some people never give you a chance. But there’s a lot of good people on this earth. Love always wins,” said Romero.

That upbeat tone has impressed both the musicians he has worked with and the author, inspirational speaker and filmmaker Getrude Matshe who encouraged Romero to write his book.

Matshe, who hails from Zimbabwe and New Zealand, recently came to the United States to make films and lecture at the University of New Mexico. She also gives book-writing seminars.

Romero attended one of the seminars and immediately began writing his memoirs. Matshe helped him find an editor and make the book available on Amazon.

Romero’s story and his persistence in the face of adversity so impressed Matshe that she invited him to be a speaker at the Women’s Economic Forum in May.

“He moves a room. He has a real gift,” said Matshe. She is now making a documentary film about Romero and would like to make it possible for him to do a speaking tour in New Zealand.

“I think he has a huge potential to turn the book into a speaking career,” she said.

Family support

Romero credits his parents and extended family for their unfailing support as he pursued paths that gave him an outlet for his creative energy.

“My mother and father never left my side,” Romero said. “Their love for me has really helped me get to where I am now. They always instilled in me that I wasn’t different. That my mind worked well and I had to use my brain and advocate for myself.”

Romero, 36, lives with his parents in their Northeast Heights home and they help him with all daily activities.

The cover of Marc Anthony Romero’s new album produced under the name Aztek Astronaut. (Courtesy of Marc Anthony Romero)

Music was something else he got from his family. His cousin Max Baca’s band Los Texmaniacs won a Grammy Award for the Tejano album “Borders y Bailes.” As a child of the 1980s, Romero was enthralled by rap and hip hop culture.

He recorded his first song at 16 in his cousin’s studio. In 2000, a year after graduating from Valley High School, he was part of the rap band Lost Productz. He took the stage name “King Montana” to avoid being confused with famous salsa star Marc Anthony. The “Montana” came from Tony Montana, the lead character in his favorite movie, “Scarface.”

As King Montana he wrote and was featured on the single “Que Bonita,” which was played on the nationally syndicated radio show “Pocos Pero Locos.”

The single was produced by Albuquerque brothers Phillip (Philly B.)  and Julian Baca.

“He (Romero) is someone you always want to hang around with,” said Julian Baca. “He has a really good sense of music and song ideas and concepts. He’s really a creative person. He’s just really inspiring.”

Romero said music gave him an outlet to capture and express his emotions in song form. Many of his songs contain a message about living with disability.

The title song of his  album “In My Shoes” has the lines, “You don’t know nothing till you have to survive. In my shoes, feeling pain till you die. … My struggle is forever, I can’t change it.”

He has released three albums on iTunes. The album “How I Feel” was released by Bungalo Records/Universal Music Group Distribution.

“That was really an accomplishment. I’m the first quadriplegic artist to be signed to a major label. It was a dream come true, being able to have a platform to share my music,” Romero said.

Working extra hard

But success did not come easily. Romero felt he had to work extra hard to overcome the skepticism and stereotypes people associate with disability.

“I let my music do my talking for me,” Romero said. “I learned at a young age not to pay attention to negativity. As long as my work was good, it took care of the negative stuff.”

Writing the book gave him a new avenue for self expression. Night after night for six months he sat before his Mac computer dictating as  the speech recognition software Dragon Voice captured his memories.

The cover of Marc Anthony Romero’s new book “In My Shoes: My Magical Moments.” (Courtesy of Marc Anthony Romero)

He wrote about his life as a disabled artist in the music business.

“The book looks into all aspects of my life; my family, childhood, love life. It’s all in there,” said Romero. “I wanted to inspire people, to create disability awareness. That’s always been the underlying thing of what I’m doing.”

He is planning a release party for the book and the new album, which will be held at the Hotel Albuquerque this fall. He intends to donate a portion of the proceeds of the book sales to Carrie Tingley Hospital.

“I was once at Carrie Tingley as a child. It’s close to my heart, to give back, to make a difference,” Romero said.

(YouTube video of Marc Anthony Romero aka King Montana’s song “Call Me Up” with Kristine Mirelle.)