Just a few weeks ago Barbados’ hills and valleys were alive with the sound of music; more to the point – Crop Over music, Barbadian music. The past three months saw a proliferation of fetes, radio and television programmes and other social activities where Barbadian artistes and their music dominated music systems and the airwaves. And then almost on cue – post-Kadooment Day – most of the music disappeared.
Radio stations have returned to the late Sam Cooke, Luther Vandross is dancing again with his father, it is back to Nicki Minaj’s good form, Kendrick Lamar is still trying to pimp a butterfly, Beenie Man remains king of the dance hall and Sizzla is holding firm. Bringing diversity to the airwaves is fine, but each year the months of June, July and early August suggest there are a great appetite and place for locally produced music. So what are we doing?
It would appear that Barbados has a three-month music industry and that is a shame. And despite the obvious temptation to blame radio stations for not providing a consistently heavy diet of local music outside of the Crop Over festival, our musicians at every level from performance to production must take a lot of the blame. Do our entertainers record music throughout the year? And this is whether it is soca, R&B, reggae, rap, jazz, or any other genre. Sadly, they do not. In countries such as our northern neighbour, Jamaica, music is recorded throughout the year for domestic, regional and international consumption. Indeed, such is the volume of music scattered across the region that some Jamaican artistes are more popular in neighbouring Caribbean islands than there are in their homeland. But we digress.
There is a need in Barbados for the music industry to be taken more seriously and appreciated for the wealth-generating potential that it has for musicians and the country generally. We must move to a stage where it is possible to play only local music on our radios and at social occasions without repeating a single selection. We are talking production. The Ministry of Culture needs to work more closely with artistes and producers in facilitating the production of music year-round, especially as it relates to costs. In an industry where most individuals demand their moneys at the initial stages of production, perhaps some profit-sharing arrangement could be made to soften the impact of initial costs.
And there is a place in this forward move for entities such as the Richard Stoute Teen Talent Show. Perhaps the time has come for the principals of that show to encourage young writers, singers and musicians to produce only original works where all who make the finals or semi-finals might have their music recorded, placed on the commercial market and become part of the initiative to advance the music industry in the island. Some years ago an attempt was made to introduce an original element to the show but unfortunately, this was shelved after some teething issues. That was a pity. So much might have been achieved if the principals of the show had stayed the course. After a while regurgitating other people’s music leads to stagnation. Nothing beats originality.
Those older heads in our society can attest to the fact that in the 1970s spouge enjoyed immense popularity with numerous bands embracing the beat. And, importantly, Barbadians gravitated to the music with huge crowds attending entertainment events at major shows and nightclubs where there was a surfeit of spouge music. But the beat drifted into the background and as the number of bands decreased, and new spouge recordings became unfashionable and other genres of music held sway, spouge sulked off into Westbury Cemetery where it has basically remained despite attempts to exhume it.
Our cultural planners need to look at what works during the Crop Over season and build on it over the other nine months of the year. Rihanna’s international success, despite occurring outside of Barbados, should light a torch under young people in the island that there is great potential domestically, that there is significant talent just waiting to be unearthed or to be given an opportunity. The Rihanna discovery story happens only perhaps every four or five generations. Thus, local artistes are best advised to produce quality music, give excess of it annually. A thriving music industry in Barbados cannot reach close to its potential if we act as though it all starts in early June and ends on Kadooment Day.