Live in the Time Of Coronavirus

Friday, 13 March, 2020, the first Black Friday of the year, is a “date which will live in infamy.” US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, used that phrase to speak of the beginning of his World War. Me, not so much of a war, but a decimation of a burgeoning industry. I just can’t wrap my mind around the fact that on this one day, three popular live music events in the Caribbean were all rescheduled or cancelled. The live music sector in the Caribbean, like those globally, was impacted by the ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019, (COVID-19).


Saint Lucia Jazz Festival 2020, Afro Nation Puerto Rico 2020 and Jazz Artists on the Greens™ 2020 were all either cancelled or postponed in light of the pandemic. Additionally, Jamaica Carnival was postponed, and the Tobago Jazz Experience 2020 was cancelled, all within 24 hours of this day. And the possibility arises that every major event, including other Caribbean Carnivals and music festivals, will be similarly affected going forward.


The economic impact of this disease in the Caribbean is immense as it has forced countries to lock down, and tourists from many countries and regions to be banned from entering the island nations. Cruise ships and airlines reduced their passenger lift/load or were banned from entering nations thus having a major impact on tourism, the bread and butter of these isles. One by one, island governments began containment and isolation protocols, which also affected education as many school systems were shut down.


However, the live music industry has a proportionally severe hit to the pocket. Soca stars, recently off the Trinidad Carnival season, are now ready to move around the islands. Gigs are being cancelled by the dozen with artists being unable to tour. Reggae, jazz, all the island music genres are affected. The small scale of the industry compared to the massive North American industry, which itself has been hit hard by major tour cancellations, makes the relative impact larger. The banning of large gatherings by governments, as was done in Jamaica, has put paid to any prospect of profits from live music.

Music industry analysts internationally have told Forbes magazine that the ripple effect of these cancellations may cause the global music industry to lose US$5 billion of its US$54 billion worth this year. A 10% haircut. (And maybe much more, if the pandemic lingers longer). Woefully inadequate statistical information makes for drawing inferences anecdotally from allied industries, like tourism, to come up with a figure for the value of the Caribbean music industry. Counting artists’ income losses, venue revenue leaks, and massive music tourism losses, one can easily surmise that the loss in the region would be greater than 10%.

The prospects of a live music industry rebound to capture some new opportunities in music festival development, badly wounded by the past fiasco of the Fyre Festival in The Bahamas in 2017, the shuttering permanently of Kaaboo Cayman 2020, and the cancellation of the Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival 2020, possibly forever, appear to have dissipated with this virus.

The harsh reality of economic shocks out of our control is real. Our capacity here in the Caribbean to rebound from tragedy, whether hurricane or poor economic country management by small island politicians and governments, is not reassuring. The idea of the brain drain that affected Trinidad from the 1980s has a new cousin, the creative capital flight, taking money and forcing creators to live and work, and effectively pay taxes everywhere else but in the Caribbean. This is not creative export, but money gone, never to be recovered.

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” goes the saying. A virus pandemic has shown the fissures in our island economies. Lives may be lost, and livelihoods will be forever changed. A collective reckoning by the players in the regional industry must occur to mitigate a recurrence of this economic tsunami in the future. Individual island by island won’t cut it. The Caribbean music festivals and Carnivals are off for now, but their renaissance must be guided by cooperation at all levels, public and private. We can’t let this happen again.

© 2020, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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