The inaugural Trinidad and Tobago Caribbean Music Entertainment Awards ceremony was held on the evening of Thursday 26 October, at the Lord Kitchener Auditorium at NAPA. This event marks a continuation of the efforts by music stakeholders to reward and award excellence and achievement in the local music industry. As an idea, it was commendable, as a show, it was flawed. The credibility of this award show was hijacked by the hubris and naïveté of the organisers of this disjointed production. As a result, a laudable endeavour was sacrificed for the gloss of the hoped-for high production value of a People’s Choice Award-style event, and the outcome was a comical and unfortunate mish-mash of errors and hiccups masking the potential for a renewed respect for the artiste and music worker in our local context.
One can cite the many deficiencies and gaps in the production from the failure of efficient stage management to the amateurish handling of the crises that came up in the four-hour long show. The main sponsor, Community Care Credit Union’s representative having to humorously ad lib, when as a presenter he was temporarily abandoned onstage with no winner result nor idea of the category, was a highlight and had the audience in stitches. Nikki Crosby and Sunny Bling should look over their shoulders at this competition in a suit! Charges of manipulation of the nomination lists and nepotism were also flung around before and after winners were announced casting doubt on the openness of the mobile phone voting system.
The event, however, became more than an award show but an effective showcase for a number of cross-genre artistes who may not have gotten the big stage spotlight, since the majority of winners failed to show up. L.A. Rose, Vanessa Briggs, I-Sasha and Dayo Bejide Organic Music Movement shone brightly as did local rap icon Chromatics. That entertainment, more than thirty artistes such as it was, served as filler for an evening that carried the potential to make a happy return to a time when accolade was respected and such awards were not seen simply as tokenism or grandstanding for the media.
CEO and Founder of TTCME and Executive President and founder of ACT (Acknowledging Caribbean Talent), Richard Cornwall, who is the brainchild behind this award and show envisioned 48 categories of entertainment and music people, companies and products and services being awarded or recognised as winners by popular vote. Cornwall’s vision included taking the best of the popular award shows on television, like the aforementioned People’s Choice Awards, and blending it with “who we are” to create a new model and product. Year one was about Trinidad and Tobago, and from year two it goes Caribbean-wide via a bidding process for hosting. This vision spoke to a need to move above and beyond some other local awards that flounder in infamy or insignificance in the wider local music space.
Awards shows that recognise indigenous talent and music genres have a shadowy history lacking credibility despite years of existence. The International Soca Awards and the International Reggae and World Music Awards existing for 14 and 38 years respectively have not accorded high local public profile despite being hosted in Trinidad previously. These events together with the Sunshine Awards (1989-present) and the late Caribbean Music Awards (1990-1995) serve a diaspora function of identity in the US and are not as all-inclusive in the context of wide T&T representation. The Gospel Music Awards of T&T, Trinidad and Tobago Urban Music Awards, together with the on-and-off-again COTT Awards have a common thread of inconsistency, low media profile, and the status of not being highly regarded by the same artists that they choose to recognise.
The low credibility of the awards and the founder were common responses from artists I spoke to before and after the show about their views of TTCME. Cornwall, in the eyes of some, has a dubious reputation that seems to have followed him since his departure from the collective management organization TTCO. In that prior incarnation, he boldly reprimanded promoters for not adhering to the Copyright law that, sadly, was being misinterpreted by him. Other hints and allegations have been thrown at him, but his demeanour has always been chin up and head to the sky away from any tawdry scandal.
Speaking to Dennis Allen, Social Media Management consultant for the TTCME after the event, what became clear was the low sponsorship uptake by corporate T&T to allow for the finance necessary to pull off a mega show. He also admitted that…
“a lot of mistakes, missteps and maybe even some glaring errors (that many saw as disrespectful) were made. That happens sometimes. We all have to listen and learn from the negatives and [the] unacceptable. Hopefully the organisation can receive all of the criticism with as much of an open mind as they have the overwhelming praise and support that also came from many sectors as well. Every story has a beginning.”
The plethora of popular radio personalities as presenters gave the event some cachet. The high profile connection with CCN TV6 and bmobile as partners in broadcast media and mobile voting spoke to a potential to be more.
This show, like many in the digital and social media age, is a popularity contest. Trinidad and Tobago needs award shows that recognise merit as well as the value of popular uptake. The cynical response of a jaded public to the merits of artists in our music industry needs to assuaged by showcases that do not pander to the lowest common denominator — an idealised version of our Trinidad and Tobago reality without context — which has the overall effect of once again deifying mediocrity in the context of our re-burgeoning music ecosystem.
In Trinidad, the adjective “smart” has more meaning than “well dressed” or “intelligent”, and a “smart man” is more than a compliment. Cornwall and TTCME’s success or failure in the eyes of the observer will not hinge on widespread rumour but on the hard facts. Indicative of the “success” was not only who was there but who was not there. Too many important players shunned the event. Work has to be done to repair an audience’s skepticism after the trauma of the initial show. Work has to be done to build a surfeit of goodwill that plays to and obviates our memory of former misadventures. Our native preoccupation with finding fault in unnecessary details precludes our ability of seeing the big picture. TTCME is over and done for year one. Year two has to improve many times over to even allow for the consideration of year three and beyond, or else it will suffer the fate of similar sidelined awards shows far from any credible crowd.
© 2017, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.