This article by Melissa Doughty appeared in Trinidad and Tobago’s Guardian.
The drop of a pin could have been heard around the Caribbean as people waited with bated breath for the winner of the 2013 US edition of the Voice of which Jamaica’s songbird Tessanne Chin was a part. She, after months of gruelling competition on The Voice, had landed among the top three. Comments flooded Facebook walls, there was general jubilation around the Caribbean when she was announced its winner.
Hot on the heels of Chin’s win was T&T’s own Ian “Bunji Garlin” Alvarez climbing to acclaim as he was nominated for an MTV Iggy award for his 2012 hit Differentology. Alvarez’s Differentology eventually tied with Korean rapper G-Dragon’s Crooked for the 2013 Iggy song of the year. But before them both, Barbadian songbird Rihanna topped charts with hits such as Umbrella, Diamond, We Found Love, among others.
Has the world finally sat up and taken notice of the talent pouring from the Caribbean? Many questions arise about what does such wins mean for Caribbean talent and the sale of its cultural product on the world’s stage. To be successful, does it mean that a Caribbean entertainer should look and sound like what is in the mainstream, or can all that is uniquely Caribbean be a major contender and earner on the world’s stage?
Spencer: The world is interested in a difference
For actor, director, storyteller and broadcast journalist Rhoma Spencer the world is getting a different view of music outside of American standards. In e-mailed responses to the T&T Guardian as to what the global success of such Caribbean artistes meant, and asked if it was a resurgence of global Caribbean talent, Spencer said, “I think the world is now getting caught on to another world view of music outside of the canon of American standards.
It’s fashionable to call it world music now, and so our Caribbean entertainers are getting their pie in the sky now.
“I would not say it is a resurgence at all because Caribbean entertainers, certainly those from Jamaica, are out there. Who doesn’t know Bob Marley or Jimmy Cliff.” Asked if to be successful Caribbean artistes have to assimilate, Spencer said that is was only in T&T that there is a notion that to be noticed one must sound a particular way. She highlighted that many Jamaicans were successful, sang in their mother tongue and language, “and still had the world moving to its music.”
“There is a movement it seems to now sound Jamaican among some soca singers, and now to break into the world there is an American/Jamaican schizophrenia going on. All I am saying is stay true to your point of local and the world will accept you. The world doesn’t want another one of its kind. It is interested in difference; a kind of differentology,” she said.
Chin’s win a testament to the region’s talent
Chin’s win, she said, was a testament to the talent the region possesses. There were many, she added, waiting to be successful but who were impeded by the right opportunity. “Barbados’ Rihanna has been the flagship for artistes from the region hitting mainstream big, and the world is taking notice and looking for another to rival her so who knows it might just be Tessanne,” she said.
Asked if enough had been done by regional governments for the development of the creative industries as an economic earner, Spencer said there has been too much lip service and no action.
“(Governments need to) start with creating an arts council where our artistes can access funds for their work, be it professional development, apprenticeship or for the emerging artiste. Tessanne showed us that you cannot be a one eye king in blind man country. She was popular in the region, a star even, but for world recognition she had to turn to The Voice.
“Our Government and our corporate sector must invest in this industry as culture the world over is just as good a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as oil and gas. It is culture that defines the nation and its citizenry is better served by it.
“Therefore our cultural practitioners must be exposed to the world and not be settled to fulfill the miniscule in blind man country. Some progress has been made via corporate tax breaks for sponsoring cultural products and that’s great, but more needs to be done. Let’s get on with a cultural policy for starters,” she said.
Raymond: Provide funding for artistes
For Martin “Mice” Raymond, music producer, the marketability of the Caribbean cultural product has grown and it started with Rihanna. Raymond said the Caribbean product was marketable and that the Caribbean artiste was capable of performing any kind of genre. Raymond said the success of Chin and Alvarez was opening doors for other Caribbean talent. His own company, he said, was seeking its own Chin and developing these artistes for the international market.
Asked about calypso/soca as a genre and its marketability on the world’s stage, he said that was “highly unlikely” that original music make a breakthrough on the world’s stage. However, referencing Alvarez’s success with Differentology, Raymond said remixes using the indigenous song were making strides on the world’s stage. However, he said government/s needed to provide finance, tax breaks and other support for the artistes to be successful.
“Artistes need access to funding,” he said. Raymond said he was aware of some interesting initiatives but that the responsible agencies needed to “get moving faster.”
Musical cross-pollination taking place
For popular music analyst Meagan Sylvester, while the music which landed Alvarez and Chin in the mainstream was not indigenous to their homelands, she saw it as an opportunity for a fusion of the indigenous with the mainstream to occur. This, she said, would introduce foreign markets to the local sound. Sylvester, in her phone interview with the T&T Guardian, noted that throughout the region there was a sort of musical cross pollination occurring.
Alvarez’s blended sound, she said, in Differentology propelled him into the mainstream and it was different from the ragga soca for which he had become known. Asked if a Caribbean artiste had to assimilate or fuse its sound to be successful, Sylvester said, “I think it is a combination of factors. The world took notice because they could identify with it. This is an opportunity for us to bring the blend. The next track can now bring elements of soca,” she said speaking to Alvarez’s success with Differentology.
“We do not need to be concerned about the watering down of our music. We can get the thing to them incrementally. The international space is excited by the new,” she said of whether or not the fusion could lead to the loss of the indigenous form of the music.
For the original report go to http://guardian.co.tt/entertainment/2013-12-29/eyes-caribbean-talent