We are all familiar with the proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”, and as it pertains to the local music industry, composer, pianist and musical all-rounder Dr Stefan Walcott is carrying the future of the island’s musicians on his back.
Walcott is a familiar face on the Barbadian music scene, having been responsible for the creation of 1688 Collective, the only big band and steel pan group in the Caribbean.
The 39-year-old is also a part-time music tutor at the Barbados Community College and the University of West Indies. When he isn’t mentoring the island’s future instrumentalists, he is a sound engineer and a father of two.
The 1688 Collective is a unique Caribbean ensemble that provides a space for many young professional and semi-professional musicians. Walcott’s brainchild was birthed out of his alarm at the waning interest for live music from locals. The collective included several ensembles, including the Caribbean’s biggest steel pan band, the 1688 Orchestra, and a quintet of gifted performers.
According to Walcott, who holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from the University of the West Indies, his only wish is to rejuvenate the musical spirit in Barbados and create an industry that is able to sustain musicians, artistes and other creatives.
“The future of music has to be led not by a person, but by groups of individuals that are like-minded. It has to be a movement where the future generations and the youth say ‘we are doing this and we’re creating music with ourselves and in our communities’, not necessarily to make money and be on a global stage like Rihanna, but in order to bind the community together,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“Who knows what will happen if you get a village against a village—people playing music, not necessarily classic music but . . . large-scale drumming, choirs singing whatever, steel pan groups throughout the various communities. That is where the groundwork starts to creating a larger and bigger musical scene.”
Walcott was first introduced to the piano at the age six, but it was when he attended Harrison College that he was exposed to the excitement and the burst of adrenaline that pumped while on stage and the employment opportunities that came with a career in music. He was in the first intake of Associate Degree in Music students at the Barbados Community College, and he later went on to do his Bachelors and Masters at Leeds College of Music in England.
But it was in 2009 that the Barbadian music scene started to shift and the Barbadian pianist and composer decided to take action. This led to the creation of the 1688 Collective.
“There had come a point in Barbados where there were little opportunities for musicians. At that point in time, it [the local live performance scene] seemed really depressed. There were all these musicians coming out and there were no real spaces for them to go, and there had come a point in a year where there was loads of potential and I said I need to find something for them to do and keep playing what they learnt at BCC,” Walcott revealed.
The success of the 1688 Collective was beyond his expectations, with the collective performing across the region at events such as the St Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival, Martinique Jazz Festival, Port-au-Prince Jazz Festival, Suriname Jazz Festival, CARIFESTA VII in Suriname, and CARIFESTA XII in Haiti.
Their performances are filled with the vibrancy and rhythm of the Caribbean, especially Barbados.
Walcott pointed out that in the digital age, the tastes of locals had evolved, with patrons and promoters clamouring for deejays at events. However, this transition cut into the pockets of many musicians who exchanged their instruments for nine-to-five jobs.
He believed that it was his calling to use music as a tool to initiate social change and make a difference in the lives of budding artistes.
Walcott contended that the future of the craft is dependent on the younger generation who have displayed a determination to change the scene.
“For me to bring live music back to spaces, we have to start from young, exposing children to music where they see other people playing,” stated Walcott.
“This generation between the millennials and younger, they have a passion and they can’t take foolishness and I think that is going to push us in the right direction, because they don’t have time for authority leading us down the wrong path and they get annoyed quickly. They really want to see things pushed forward in a way that is positive and I think as long as we keep them in Barbados our future looks good. They have a lot less opportunities . . . because of economic circumstances, but I think once we manage to keep them here, they will keep pushing us to where we want to be as a country in the next 50 years,” he added.