Follow the Rihanna model

Barbados’ entertainers and their Caribbean counterparts should look beyond their countrymen in the Disapora if they want to make it big.

A regional trade and development specialist is advising them to try to follow the Rihanna model, rather than focussing largely on international “West Indian communities”.

Ramesh Chaitoo expressed this view in his new study The Entertainment Sector in CARICOM: Key Challenges and Proposals for Action, done on behalf of the Inter-American Development Bank.

In his “technical note”, which focussed on creative sector policies in the context of services export promotion in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, the expert said creative individuals in the Caribbean were being hard done by governments and financial institutions.

As for the role of the West Indian Diaspora, specifically in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, he said this community was perhaps not as financially supportive of cultural industry development as some evidence suggested.

“An interesting pattern is the increasing numbers of West Indians who go to the carnivals and related events in the metropoles to consume entertainment services there. Therefore, technically speaking, they are importing such services rather than exporting them,” he noted.

“Of course, increasing numbers of West Indian immigrants living in European and North American cities also return to the Caribbean for carnivals and other festivals, and there is some evidence that they contribute significantly to the local economies.

“But, to contribute to significant export earnings, Caribbean creative entrepreneurs have to look beyond their Diaspora communities and appeal to wider audiences. If not, they will be limited to relatively small niche markets in large economies, and there is little potential for significant growth in these tiny markets. The exponential growth in the success of Rihanna from Barbados, who is signed to a major record label and sings mainstream pop music, is a case in point,” he added.

He noted, nevertheless, that there was “a strong Diaspora element in the export of most entertainment services from the Caribbean region. Indeed, Nottinghill Carnival in the UK, Brooklyn Carnival, and Caribana in Toronto are major events that provide opportunities for live performances by artists from the Caribbean (mostly soca and calypso music)”.

“Caribana is driven by West Indians based in Toronto, and, in terms of entertainers, it is mainly Trinidadians and some Jamaicans who perform at various venues. Very few entertainers from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States countries and Barbados take part in Caribana. Perhaps this is because Caribana takes place in August, which clashes with carnivals in the OECS countries and Barbados. The Brooklyn Carnival, which takes place on Labor Day weekend in the US, may be more accessible,” he said.

But the researcher said while the West Indian populations in major cities in Europe and North America provided the impetus in terms of demand for Caribbean cultural expression, “there is no indication that the Diaspora is a source of investment in the sector in these populations’ home territories”.

“In fact, what has evolved in the past 20 years is greater development of the economic and creative activities for carnivals in London, Toronto, and New York by West Indian immigrants that live in these cities. In addition, musicians are also emerging in these locations to supply the music and entertainment that accompany carnivals.”

He suggested this was cost related because “it is much cheaper to hire local performers than to bring entertainers from the Caribbean”.

Chaitoo also saw a role for Barbados and other CARICOM governments, including reducing import charges, impositions he said were stifling the creative industry. (SC)

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