by Latoya Burnham
Veteran local performer John King is done with the stage. At least he is winding down to what he plans to be his final concert around his birthday in May next year. King, who has announced his withdrawal from calypso competitions before, only to return, says this time however, it’s final. “I want to do my very last main public performance, you know like how you do Crop-Over and you do all these things out in the communities and all of that sort of thing, I plan to finish with that next year. So I basically winding down.
“I would probably do private things in travel, but I don’t want to make my living from being a full-time entertainer any more. I’ve done that for the last how ever many years,” said the entertainer of 30-plus years.
For the last 30-odd years, the entertainer said he had spent about seven-eights of his time in the industry pleading, begging, and fighting for change, to get people both inside and outside of the industry to see music and the arts in general as more than Crop-Over and NIFCA, and with his 50th birthday approaching he had taken stock of where he was and decided he haa had enough.
But, King explained, he was not giving up on the music industry or the arts by any long shot. Anything he did from there on when he officially retired next year, would be to help push the industry from a policy and developmental standpoint.
It does not mean that he will declare himself the new “Minister of Culture” per se, but he believes there are ways in which the skill within the music industry and the arts can move from being the persons who sit and wait for things to happen for them, to being the ones who drive the activity.
“I’ve been saying for the longest time that we have to start looking at it as a legitimate business and see the arts as part of our social development and not just as something we do to create well-rounded people.”
That was one of his grouses. He said the intellectuals in society often look down on those with artistic talents as being the academic failures, and therefore the arts was something one engaged in when there was nothing else to do; or something to get involved in to pad a resume or just introduce something new to bright students. That had to change.
“If you look at all the great empires like Rome, like Britain, the arts were flourishing at the point in time when they were on top. The arts are an expression of one’s ability to think outside the norm, to dream big dreams. But many see us as academic failures.
“I can’t deal with that sort of thinking. I am tired. I can’t deal with the people inside the industry who have the same mindset as those outside of it, but who come into it to make a name for themselves, for the fame or the money. In 30-odd years, nothing of great significance has happened in the industry. You will notice there is no vibrancy outside of Crop-Over and NIFCA, and you want to tell me the artists are happy with that?”
He questioned why Barbados did not have a vibrant place where those with theatre arts could put on shows, practice the craft; or why those with movie making skills were not creating a plethora of local soap operas.
“A body like the NCF [National Cultural Foundation], this is what it should be doing helping to push these things instead of only hosting Crop-Over. Where is our national orchestra, our composers of classical music and you can’t tell me there aren’t people who love and can write classical music. So what are we exposed to — the very base of entertainment in Barbados.”
Despite there being no real facilities for training of people in the arts, he noted that the island has managed to produce world class act after world class act “out of nothing”.
He pointed to countries like the United States “which archived its history in the arts, especially in music and invested in the development of it so there were not only footprints for others to follow, but a vibrant industry in which they could participate”. There was no reason why Barbados could not and should not invest in the same, he suggested.
“I’m talking about things like, for example, the elections. I saw so many stories about artists making a killing and it was annoying. What are artists doing all year round that they should have to wait for something like an election to find work?”
Asked whether the challenge with pushing the industry forward was not in fact the reality that artists themselves were fragmented and therefore not in a position to actively drive the industry themselves, King acknowledge that this was part of the problem.
There were artists in the music industry, he said, who believed they needed this or that particular individual in order to get something done.
“For years we have been flogging a dead horse. You have artists who every year perform at various events like reggae festivals and other big promoted events. How can you as an artist have talent and don’t use it to get what you want done?”
For example, he explained, the same way promoters came to artists when they wanted to put on a successful show, the artists should be able to in turn decide what they want done in the arts, hire the same promoters to put on entertainment events for them. That kind of thinking, he maintained, would see a turn around and put the artists themselves in control of their own destinies. It is one of the reasons, the entertainer said he was throwing his full energies soon to making things happen behind the scenes.
“I can see myself on the policy-making arm of things. I have all confidence in myself that I can get this thing turned around. There is an economic value to the arts that we are not exploiting to the fullest and I keep singing it is madness.
“What are you going to do, go down the drain because tourism or manufacturing ain’t happening when you got this other thing, the arts bursting at the seams with potential but you are not tapping into it?
“For me, it really says that it is time to remove myself from the actual performing part and do things that are less stressful because dealing and battling with the attitudes and the inability of artists to come together and do things that would be in their best interest, it will take a toll no matter who you are and it has taken its toll on me.
“Reaching my 50th, what more can I do as an artist in Barbados? I don’t enjoy and I think that is the main thing… When you don’t enjoy it you have to ask yourself what you need to do, what are the barriers that you need to remove that stop you enjoying it. You can continue, but maybe in a different capacity.”
This year will still see him involved in a number of events, he revealed, but it would more or less be a kind of farewell leading into less of John the entertainer that everyone knows. firstname.lastname@example.org