At the end of 2012, I noted in that year-end review that 2013 onwards would be bumper years as policy changes were being implemented by the government to fast track the diversification of the economy to include the creative industries. That was done in parts, but the effectiveness of the promised diversification still proved to be moribund in 2014. Low album production numbers, few international tours by local artists despite some lifting of restrictions, diminished intellectual property rights exploitation as seen by the numbers—COTT distributed $5.3 million in royalties in October 2014, in 2008 COTT distributed over $8 million—either paint a picture of stasis or reframe the context in which we make music in the world.
The Trade and Investment minister’s boast was that his ministry was going to “strengthen it [the creative industries sector] by putting some commercial sense and commercial acumen into developing the sector with people who have succeeded in those areas…who have been there, who have done that.”
His “super” boards have seen a number of defections, desertions and resignations and their effectiveness at the end of 2014 is challenged by the business model that shows that having under-staffed state companies run by an executive board has not made positive returns on investment in the short term much more put into place policies as promised that will move the sector forward.
The role of the new CreativeTT to be facilitator rather than financier—to stimulate the business and export development of local creative industry to make money—was reversed: it’s sponsorship of Machel Montano’s lip-synch enhanced performance at Rotterdam’s Zomercarnaval in July seemed like an expensive gamble to place banners and posters in front of Dutch eyes. The private sector instead saw and heard Machel’s competitive rival Bunji Garlin and RCA signed him for distribution in the world’s largest music marketplace. A misstep in identifying creative capital? The European distribution of the music of Machel has not been solidified by any agency of note. (That AZ/Universal Music France deal from 2013 yielded only a remix single of “Mr Fete.” )
The Ministry of the Arts, in February, promised that T.I.M.E. (its competing Trinbago Interactive Music Expo) would place local talent in front of movers and shakers in the European music marketplace. To date, no artist has claimed success: either our talent is not worthy or the gesture of the grand strategic project is yet to gain traction. For anyone for that matter: soca in Europe had label takers at 2013 year end for KMC, Machel and Bunji, one year later collaborations with Trinidad DJs, Jillionaire (Christopher Leacock) of Major Lazer and LAZAbeam (Keshav Chandradathsingh) of Jus Now had summer festivals alight and enhanced the role of the remixer in the music mix. Bunji, in his new role of paladin of soca, along with his wife Fay-Ann Lyons have bent the soca sound on its ear by utilising EDM producers to produce market ready music that makes “foreigners” wine! Major Lazer, Jus Now, iM4RiO, Richie Beretta, DJ Crown Prince and Lemy Currey have attempted to move soca closer to an idea of mainstream global success.
For every policy-maker’s promise yet unfulfilled by an clueless bureaucracy, there have been small victories. Patrick Manning’s Philharmonic Orchestra to be peopled by “foreign musicians” has become a local reality via the Ministry of the Arts: “After only twenty rehearsal sessions, Trinidad and Tobago can boast a professional, skilled, National Philharmonic Orchestra,” (Dr. Lincoln Douglas, MP)…further developing its repertoire in 2014 with a première public performance at Queens Hall in August. Nationals of all hues with strident but diminishing imperfection made a case for the expansion of the role of musicians in stimulating interest and awareness of a specific aspect of the performing arts. UTT became another proving ground for a new group of musicians and composers showcased in end-of-academic-year recitals and during the International Symposium on Concert Music from the Caribbean in November.
Critical to any overview of music in 2014 however has to be a review of product. Despite an almost universal abandonment of individual CD production or digital compilation for commercial exploitation, soca artists are producing quantities of new music every year to varying popularity. The local digital sales platform TrinidadTunes.com shifted its focus from acquisition to streaming with the introduction of WE Music app. Competitive app Chune by young developer Kern Elliott continued its role of showcasing “underground music artists.”
Of further significance was the rise of the young promoter, the new breed, attempting to mainstream “underground” music: Yvan Mendoza (True Talk, No Lie), Gerry Anthony (New Fire), Jeanelle Frontin (ESCAPE Series) all had series of themed shows that allowed for the showcasing of newer talent. Public accolade and response was muted in some shows, but their determination points to a mindset that acknowledges the pitfalls of the local music industry and the moxie of the creative entrepreneur that are needed to bridge the gap between wishful thinking and positive financial returns for music.
A case study for the fragmentation of the music landscape here in these islands was given to me by Tobago-born soca artist K.Kay (Kevon Joseph). An artist and hit maker in Tobago with 25 releases there, he is yet to find favour in Trinidad or on what can be considered national radio stations. This business savvy artist has agreements with US-based Fox Fuse for distribution, CD Baby for aggregation and a synchronization deal with Sugo Music. Determined as he is, his tunes “Wine Up on Me” remixed in 2014 and the recent “Let Loose” have very limited YouTube views, and even less radio airplay. Tobago seems like a different country as far as recognition and access to markets here in Trinidad are concerned. A case of blind indifference or naive notions of stardom may be made by some. I note that there are many artists who add to the landscape of local music. The intention of increasing local content quotas on broadcast media, stymied still after many years, may make room for these artists, but as noted by Henry Regnery, American publisher of early Earl Lovelace novels, “in matters of excellence the market is a poor judge.” I add, excellence is subjective yet finite!
Jazz artists hold a place of special importance in my view of local music, and the continuing production of only a handful of commercially released albums—Chantal Esdelle & Moyenne, Clifford Charles, the Ming-produced TriniJazz Project, Theron Shaw, Pedro Lezama—does not create significant impact for industry growth but acts as a statistical indicator and marketing tool for a buying public of live music as well. The concert and festival scene saw increased numbers at shows, increased events showcasing Caribbean jazz artists (the return of Shades of Vaughnette, an All Star tribute to Ralph MacDonald, Eat Drink Jazz), and an increase of ticket prices for the Tobago Jazz Experience coupled with the “concept of the fence.” The near-completion of the multi-seat Shaw Park Entertainment complex may ease the logistical problems that the over-subscribed beach location exhibited in April 2014. Despite these factors, jazz artistes still validly complain about the burden that the small economies of scale here has on their careers. That cabal of musicians must continue the symbiotic relationship with its audience here to survive.
Non-festival recorded music output of genres outside of soca/calypso/carnival music have small numbers that should make the case for some focused marketing and funding enhancement. Incremental increases in local value added of our music product should be tallied to make a case to policy makers that the existing music “industry” does not read from the same textbook as the wider global marketplace.
Some new innovation at year end should stimulate thinking persons and smart artists. It was announced that Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) signed a deal with music streaming service Deezer for content access on its regional platform. A boon for artists thinking commercially. 2015 can only make sense for a new music economy if we continue to create excellence, engage commercially, and reckon that government forays into commercializing the creative industries will be imperfect. The struggle continues, but we all are enjoying it as the music plays on.
- A version of this article appears in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspapers published as, “More progress needed in music industry.”
© 2014, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.