Caribbean Dance Music Conference: A day of expectant hope and possibilities¹

Carl 'Beaver' Henderson. Photo courtesy GlowTT Media Ltd.
Carl ‘Beaver’ Henderson. Photo courtesy GlowTT Media Ltd.

Legendary local music producer Carl “Beaver” Henderson declared: “We, our music, our dance music, are now on the same level playing field as the rest of the world, and now is our chance to make it.” That observation served as a lynchpin to the strong belief by many of the participants at the initial Caribbean Dance Music (CDM) conference held at the Hyatt Regency on August 7 that CDM was a movement that could have traction, and has a chance to break that invisible barrier to international success that is still reserved for foreign remixers of Caribbean music (Major Lazer on Bunji Garlin’s “Differentology”, Felix Jaehn on Omi’s “Cheerleader”, Bob Sinclair on Fireball’s “What I Want”, Masters at Work on Denise Belfon’s “Work”).

A full day of conversation, interactive discussion, both live and via Skype with Harvard ethnomusicologist Dr. Wayne Marshall and University of Westminster music business lawyer Kienda Hoji, on a range of topics covering business in the digital realm, intellectual property rights for content producers, production techniques and modern trends, and result-oriented technology options was capped with showcasing for and networking with successful producers Henderson and metropolitan Caribbeans Kubiyashi and KickRaux. A consensus of optimism was heard from participants and despite the cynicism of a few who regard breakthrough not as a reflection of skill and technique but of connection and nationality, there was palpable evidence among a young cohort that the possibilities of “making it” was within reach.

The first topic of conversation, “Perspective for a New Generation,” featured Henderson and fellow local pioneering producer Robin Imamshah who gave the genre its true historical context and reminded the young audience that indigenous Caribbean dance music that delved into a mix with electronica had been attempted by these men a generation before. A critical audience mass to maintain its popularity in T&T had not arrived until recently giving hope to both senior producers that the time for an increase of quality productions was present.

After that opening salvo, participants were eager to engage with the presenters, both challenging engendered notions of what works, and seeking solutions to perennial complaints on production shortcomings and importantly, the business of music in a modern digital age where content is expected more frequently than our circumscribed seasonal offering and access must be of a standard still unfamiliar in these islands.

Local recording engineers Martin ‘Mice’ Raymond and Navid Lancaster spoke on “Technology and it’s Impact on Creativity” while US-based digital music exec Dana Shayegan talked about “Marketing in the Digital World” and these three speakers laid out the context of how music is created and distributed in a modern age. Sales of products, CDs DVDs, is so 20th century; today it is monetization of content across digital channels such as YouTube, and the use of apps to target end users and brands with a view to licensing and other engagements beyond the simple listening to a song. What it sounds like is as important as what the experience is and what it looks like. The video is not just a marketing tool anymore, but a revenue stream generator.

Producers Kubiyashi, Carl Beaver Henderson and KickRaux give feedback to DJs/producers on their track. Photo © 2015 triniscene.com
Producers Kubiyashi, Carl ‘Beaver’ Henderson and KickRaux give feedback to DJs/producers System 32 on their track. Photo © 2015 triniscene.com

Producers KickRaux, a Los Angeles-based Jamaican remixer and producer, and Kubiyahsi, the Canadian-born Vincentian producer responsible for Machel Montano’s hit “Happiest Man Alive” gave stories from the trenches on what works and what did not and does not on the global dance music scene. Paradoxically, a message that was delivered was that remixes aren’t wanted by foreign markets but original content, this despite the fact that local music crossover onto the US and European dance charts for over a decade by local artists has come via the remix route.

The importance of Major Lazer to the crossover potential and recent relative success of Caribbean dance music including dancehall and soca on the US pop and dance charts was reiterated by a number of speakers, and the impact the group and their label Mad Decent is having on the careers of speakers KickRaux and Shayegan was made clear. Local artists like Flipo, Bunji Garlin, Machel Montano have all got the remix from Diplo, Walshy Fire and The Jillionaire to YouTube views in the hundreds of thousands. Simple statistical analysis shows that Major Lazer’s YouTube channel shows as much as 10 times the amount of views for a song versus views on the main artist’s channel.

Part of the audience at CDMC listening to Dr Wayne Marshall. Photo © Nigel A. Campbell
Part of the audience at CDMC listening to Dr Wayne Marshall. Photo © Nigel A. Campbell

The various derivative genres of EDM like trap, dubstep, moombahton, nu dancehall, among others were given an overview by ethnomusicologist Marshall who Skyped in a talk on the significance and influence of Caribbean music on the modern dance scene that was met with awe by the audience and served as an academic link to the earlier live presentation by Imamshah and Henderson. Participants noted informally that CDM was at a point of ascension in the global marketplace based on the observations of these gentlemen. With a topical conversations on “Pros and Cons of Digital Business platforms” with Hoji and Shayegan, and “Understanding the Role of Collection Agencies” by competing collection management organisations COTT and TTCO, the conference concluded with serious networking where collaborations for production were actively pursued between local and foreign producers. Stakeholders were doing business.

This event and its ancillary party events happened at the same time that the state agency MusicTT is engaging with music creators and other stakeholders to get an idea of what is needed to boost the economic profile of the sector beyond these borders. CDM Generation led by Karrilee Fifi is providing a private sector leadership role in forming a collective movement that plans to enhance the commercial opportunities for local DJs and content creators in the Caribbean Dance music scene. The vision of engaging with other global dance festivals, global DJs and providing pertinent information on the realities of the modern music industry was not lost on an engaged and keen audience.

  1. article2A version of this article appears in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspapers published as, “Caribbean Dance Music provides hope and possibilities”

© 2015, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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