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Saturday, May 11, 2013


The St. Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival is in its final week and judging from media reports, the “marriage experiment” with Kweyol and Jazz music was an obvious hit with patrons. At least, superficially, it seems to have given the Festival a new configuration, a new identity and even a new faith in Kweyol/Heritage music.

If the experiment continues and the reviews turn out to be "good", then we can cautiously predict that St. Lucia may be poised to go places - not only with her Jazz and Arts Festival - but perhaps also with her music!

In the past, the Festival was monopolised by “big name” international and regional artistes imported into St. Lucia with an "inconsequential" local/cultural input that can be dubbed as largely “undefined” and serendipitous. This year, however, the Festival seems to have embraced a "paradigm change" which is appropriately reflective of our 34th Independence Anniversary theme: “unlocking our creativity and transforming our world”. Let’s hope that this is just the beginning.

But if the journey begins here and now, then what is the planned destination?  Do we have enough “fuel” to carry us to the end of this Herculean journey we seek to undertake? What are the objectives of the journey, anyway? What and who are the drivers on that journey? Who are on the “bus”? Will the journey result in "the unbelievable" - that is, a new genre of St. Lucian Jazz and ultimately, a local “headliner” artiste? Will one of the objectives be greater “export” of St. Lucian Music?

By the way, how do we define St. Lucian music or what constitutes St. Lucian music? Is it the Pen & Ace "758" party rhythms like the infectious “Margaroze”? Is it the music of Sessene, Mamai la Kai, Rameau Poleon, Wowo and the like? Is it the music of Meshack/Wevolution? Is it the music of Boo Hinkson, Barbara Cadette and Claudia Edward? Or is it a conflation of "all of the above" or "none of the above"? I leave it to you to ponder and make your own judgment!

Granted, the focus of the Jazz and Arts Festival may not be “product development” and many of the issues raised above were perhaps beyond the mandate of the erstwhile Ministry of Tourism; but now that there has been a “frame-shift” and a corresponding new mandate which now extend to encompass the Heritage and Creative Industries, the challenge now falls right on the doorstep of the new Ministry of Tourism, Heritage and the Creative Industries!

By virtue of that new mandate, the new Ministry of Tourism has therefore moved beyond its traditional “advocacy” frame of reference to a more realistic ”product development” frame.

Indeed, the marriage is welcomed as the two industries (Tourism and the Heritage/Creative Industries in our context) have a naturally-occurring symbiotic relationship between them. I would venture to go as far as to say that our “natural beauty” and “heritage” may collectively comprise the most fundamental signature of our Tourism product; and a combination of the two - if effectively packaged – may have the potential to become the single most effective strategy for marketing our tourism product. Indeed, both Jamaica (with Reggae and Dancehall) and Trinidad & Tobago (with Soca and Kaiso) may have lessons for us in that regard!

By now, you may have accused me of wishful or unrealistic imaginative thinking; perhaps, you may be right! Especially when I suggest that the “Heritage and Creative Industries” may hold the key for the re-invention of a new kind of Festival with the potential to exert a far greater gravitational pull on holiday-makers to our shores during the lean month of May. Indeed, (I concede) that view sounds like an Einsteinian thought experiment bordering on “madness” of the highest order!   If you feel that way, then I'm happy that I've tickled your imagination, in the same way I've tickled mine. So let's return to terrestrial reality.

Recently, Tracy Warner-Arnold – the apparently lone cautiously dissenting voice on the “success” of the Festival - made a point that caused me to do a reality check. She said that the Festival was not attracting the arrivals it was originally designed for; yet, all of the Festival event promoters and organisers have so far unanimously reported resounding successes, especially (they claim) when the success is measured in terms of “numbers”. Even, the media seemed to have jumped on that bandwagon!

If the comments by Tracy Warner-Arnold have any merit, then why should we spend so much money on a Tourism-marketing strategy which is not achieving its objectives? Firstly, is the strategy misplaced and/or ill-directed? Secondly, how has the "resounding successes" translate into benefits for the Tourist Industry? Thirdly, how have they contributed to the creation of new wealth in the economy? Fourthly, are we guilty of mixing apples and oranges here? Fifthly, are we creating a new model of “Boxing in Paradise”?

Let me make it clear: I’m happy that the Festival is gaining an increasing momentum of support among our local folk. I commend their increasing presence at the shows; in fact, when I hear the  literal “saturation” of the airwaves with ads promoting the shows (especially for this year), I get a distinct impression that the target market for the Festival might no longer be visitors overseas but our local folk – unless the Tourist Board first brought the visitors to our shores and then goes “fishing” for them using the airwaves; but the Tracy Warner-Arnold fiat has falsified that view: the Festival is not achieving what it was designed for. Hence, is that possibly that major reason to give it a carnival-type orientation using a government subvention of EC$9 million?

That takes me to the fundamental question: Does the current configuration of Festival still have “relevance” to tourism marketing? Is it still a useful Tourism marketing strategy? I know once upon a time it was a “craze” among tourists from the from the Lucian diaspora who tended to regard it as a kind of homecoming. I'm not sure that this is still the case.

Is a new replacement strategy required? Is a “new creativity”, a “new imagination” (which will build “from the ground up”, which will re-invent the Festival wheel) required? And who will provide the policy and intellectual leadership in that regard? At the policy, planning and strategy level(s), will the stakeholders demonstrate (by example) their own capacity for creativity by coming up with a super-creative Sputnik Festival with the marketing potential to inspire a breakthrough that will put St. Lucia's Jazz (and Arts) Festival on the world map again? At the level of the music industry, can the stakeholders, equally come up with a brand of creative St. Lucian music of sufficient quality and marketability to complement the breakthrough? And can we do so by conflating our Heritage music with Jazz music? At the popular (the man on the street) level, will our people provide the critical support necessary to inspire the growth and development of our music?

Collins Carasco – a renowned Bass man for the defunct October 4 who still plays professional music on the cruise ships - told me that we don't have to go far to accomplish a rapprochement between Jazz and Heritage music because of an historical affinity between them. Indeed, a little research does point in that direction; and it is quite possible that Jazz could have its roots in Heritage Music or vice versa.

Jazz was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions - the same types of influences that produced Caribbean heritage music! In his book, "A New History of Jazz, 2nd ed", Alyn Shipton wrote that the "African pedigree" of Jazz is evident in “its use of blue notes, improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation, and the swung note".

The literature on Jazz further indicates that Jazz has many distinctive styles ranging from "New Orleans jazz" dating from the early 1910s to more contemporary forms like "soul jazz, jazz fusion, and jazz rock, smooth jazz, jazz-funk, punk jazz, acid jazz, ethno jazz, jazz rap, cyber jazz, Indo jazz, M-Base and nu jazz". There are also other genres like the Gypsy jazz (from the 1930s and 1940s), West Coast jazz, cool jazz, avant-garde jazz, Afro-Cuban jazz, modal jazz, free jazz and Latin jazz . . . and arguably, even Lucian Folk Jazz as played by Ronald “Boo” Hinkson!

Krin Gabbard argued that Jazz is a complex construct with "a number of musics with enough in common to be understood as part of a coherent tradition" – and indeed this is the type of Ronald “Boo” Hinkson plays.

Historians have revealed that African Jazz arrived in America during the 17th century when the Atlantic slave trade brought almost half a million Sub-Saharan Africans - who largely originated from West Africa and the greater Congo River basin - to the United States.

Benjamin Zimmer (2009) in his article "Jazz": A Tale of Three Cities" indicated that African slaves brought with them “strong musical traditions” to the US. Kofi Agawu, in his piece Representing African Music: Postcolonial Notes, Queries, Positions went as far as to associate speech patterns with the structure of the music. He described the structure of African rhythms as "counter-metric" and reflective of African speech patterns.

Mervyn Cooke noted that Jazz traditions were manifested in lavish Sunday festivals featuring African-based dances to drums organized at Place Congo until 1843.

While we accept the thesis that there maybe much overlapping (both historically and musically) between Jazz and Heritage music, very little documentation was traced regarding the extent of that overlapping. I didn't get much enlightenment from the research literature. However, one thing is evident, and that is: the overlapping is not “linear” and therefore not necessarily restricted to the two genres. Hence, to claim that Boo's improvisations are simply “crossovers” would probably not be doing justice to him and his music; but in our pursuit to make Boo’s music more universally acceptable and replicable, it’s a point we can explore.

Whatever shades of interpretation we ascribe to Boo’s music, we have to give much credit for capturing in his music that historical and musical affinity between the Folk/Heritage and Jazz genres of music more than any other St. Lucian artiste.

Boo’s fusion makes the Heritage/Jazz music interface natural and appealing. But as much as the crossover is natural to him, can Boo in the long term bring about a sustainable marketable marriage between the two genres? If he can succeed in that regard, then it would do miracles for our Lucian music and we can well end up with a genre of music more powerful, more sustainable than any of the existing genres of Caribbean Music. And that is why this year’s “paradigm-shift” in the Jazz festival is most welcomed platform.

In conclusion, I claim that St. Lucians are not cultural strangers to Jazz. I further claim that Jazz is in our blood and it must be true that the same African slaves who brought Jazz to America also brought it (or at least a form of it) to the Caribbean! Only that, we perhaps never had the resources to develop and market that tradition in the way America did. From another angle, it could also be true that the Jazz our African ancestors brought to the Caribbean might have assumed different expressions which perhaps subsequently metamorphosed into reggae, calypso, lopi, soca, spouge, cadence, bouillon, zouk and even the popular Lucian “Margaroze” rhythm!  

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