Putting our Bajan music on record
With the Crop Over Festival just over three months away, organizers and the other stakeholders could perhaps look at fresh ways of preserving more of the music that emanates from this annual event.
It has long been accepted that much, if not most, of the music produced in the calypso tents is lost every year. In a festival where music plays such an integral part, insufficient has been done to preserve the songs that do not reach the semi-finals or finals of our Pic-O-De-Crop competition.
Those who are faithful patrons of the tent scene will acknowledge that over the past 30 years or more a proliferation of excellent music which did not find favour with the judges has been performed in the tents.
They will point to the likes of the late Fowl Foot, Night Stalker, Jah Stone, Longfellow, Structure, among several others, whose music thrilled fans for one year in the tents never to be heard of again. The reality of the situation is that seldom do our artistes record their contributions to the festival, if the songs do not find favour with the judges.
Recording music is an expensive exercise and, without adequate sponsorship or ready investment, many artistes who are not gaining financially from the festival are unlikely to take what is an expensive leap of faith alone.
There was a juncture when the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation taped all of our tents for public viewing. It was a venture underwritten by the National Cultural Foundation that basically preserved much of the music. However, as with most things, increasing costs were among the main reasons this arrangement came to an unfortunate end. We have not seen any similar sustained documentation of our music since.
Much has been made of the new Cultural Industries Development Act and the possibilities which it offers for those involved in music, the arts, and culture in general. Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley has not lost an opportunity to explain and highlight what the piece of legislation can offer. But we have not yet heard from him how the legislation can be used to preserve and advance our music industry. Some might facetiously ask: how will the legislation help to create a music industry?
But that is at the level of our Crop Over Festival. And we can look beyond that three-month period.
It is an irrefutable fact that there are many artistes in Barbados who have been performing for more than a decade and have never recorded a single song. It gets worse. There are many artistes in Barbados, some performing for more than two decades, who have never performed an original selection. Surely, if we are serious about our music and a local music industry, greater professional and national input must be made.
One cannot help but make comparisons with our sister island Jamaica.
That county has a thriving music industry –– built on an understanding among producers, arrangers, performers and financial backers. In many instances, recording artists do not have to look for thousands of dollars to get their music into the marketplace. The relationship is that a successful venture will ultimately lead to the division of the largesse. Of course, under some contractual arrangements.
It is pertinent to note that it is not unheard of an artiste of tender years, perhaps in his or her early or mid-20s, having already churned out between five and ten albums. And this tends to be the rule, not the exception.
It is true that there is a market for the music in and outside of Jamaica. But it first has to be produced. Unfortunately, in our neck of the woods Barbadian artistes simply do not produce enough recorded music. The months leading up to, and during the Crop Over Festival, are the most productive periods.
The rest of the year is akin to T.S. Eliot’s wasteland.
We are aware that Barbadian superstar Rihanna has started her own record label in the United States. This could provide the incentive for our writers, arrangers, producers and, especially, singers to up their game and, with the necessary approaches and collaborations, explore any mutually beneficial relationship. She is a music icon and could open up avenues for others –– with the necessary talent –– to follow.
The music business is a billion-dollar industry, and local players must ask themselves whether they are doing enough, preparing themselves adequately or positioning themselves strategically for the opportunities that are possible. In most aspects of life, and especially in the artistic world, one must have a product; and the starting points for our stakeholders should be producing and preserving.