Later this month, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Community Empowerment is scheduled to launch a new initiative aimed at highlighting people in the communities around the island with artistic talent that could possibly lead them to a career in entertainment.
During a press briefing held to launch the programme, entitled Baje to the World, Minister of Youth Affairs and Community Empowerment Adrian Forde said: “It is our dream in the Ministry and the Government to produce world leaders [presumably in the entertainment industry].
“Barbados must be able to produce the next Rihanna, the next Rupee, the next Ambassador Mighty Gabby, Ambassador Red Plastic Bag.
“We already know we have the talent to do this.
“This talent show will go to every nook and cranny in Barbados and we are encouraging Barbadians, young and old, in respect of whatever talent you have – it could be singing, dancing, visual arts or magic – to step forward.”
At that press conference, rum shops and community centres were mentioned as audition sites, which brings into question the quality of the contestants, and whether people from areas considered more ‘upmarket’ in every parish will be given a chance to show off their skills as well.
The organisers are hoping that Baje to the World will be completely different from some of the other talent shows many a private promoter or corporation has held over the years, which unfortunately have become monotonous “glorified karaoke sessions” that tend to attract the same group of people unless there are age restrictions which prevent some of them from entering.
Once the contest gets off the ground, the Minister also said, people, will be able to vote for their favourites via text messages. This is the norm in all the international contests and was a significant element in the singing competitions the two main telecommunications companies sponsored over a decade ago, namely the Courts/Cable and Wireless Superstar Search and the Digicel Rising Stars Eastern Caribbean Edition.
In terms of producing “the next Rihanna”, the entertainment business seeks “the next big thing”; something new and completely different, not necessarily a modified reissue of someone who came before. For example, the world has never sought the next Michael Jackson, Beatles, Prince, Elvis Presley or any of the other big names over the years.
Lest we forget, for every big star there are others who either fall by the wayside or find their niches in other aspects of the industry. We can cite our own Shontelle Layne and Livvi Franc in that respect. So it is not all about being a top performer; there are equally lucrative opportunities behind the scenes.
With that in mind, why is this event coming under the auspices of the Ministry of Youth and Community Empowerment, rather than the National Cultural Foundation or the Cultural Industries Development Authority, which were set up to develop all aspects of the creative industries in Barbados, with the latter’s focus on making that sector more lucrative for its participants?
Ideally, officers from the NCF or CIDA should be there to provide guidance to those participants who might not get to the highest levels in the contest but are still interested in developing a career as a creative.
It was also said that whoever wins the local leg of this particular show would get a chance to appear on Britain’s Got Talent, but that show is on a different level altogether.
BET has a gospel music competition entitled Sunday Best which has gone out to countries in Africa to audition contestants, but those people never make it to the final stages played out on television.
American Idol also has a history of contestants from other countries not getting very far beyond the earlier rounds of the competition.
But Let us face it: the show is called Britain’s Got Talent, not “Britain and the Commonwealth’s Got Talent!”
Having said that, however, what if the Barbadian performers give a good account of themselves at Britain’s Got Talent? Will Government finance their entertainment career or will they, as Black Pawn once said, have to do it “on their own steam”?
How does a talent show empower a community, really? Yes, people from the communities will take part, but there are much more pressing needs in some areas that a few nights of entertainment will not magically resolve.
How will a talent show help those people who are struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis if they are not in a position, or do not possess the raw talent, to “sing or dance for their supper”? How will holding a talent show repair wells, clean up garbage or help people to find gainful, sustainable employment?
Will any proceeds generated from sales of items at the auditions be ploughed back into the said communities?
Indeed, will the overall winner of the local leg be urged to give back in terms of carrying out community projects in their home district or indeed on a national level?
We have seen the humanitarian efforts of many entertainers, including Rihanna, in terms of giving some of their ample financial resources to causes dear to their heart, such as education and health, so if this is the ultimate aim of this contest, it is a commendable one.
Nevertheless, if our aim is to create true community spirit, a true feeling of camaraderie on all levels in every parish, communities where social needs are met expeditiously, we will need to go further than a mere talent competition that may or may not take an individual performer or group to the world stage.