Antigua & Barbuda has a wealth of entertainers. They fall under various categories – dancers, singers, poets, actors, musicians, fire-eaters, comedians, etc. A common complaint for many of them is that they don’t get enough support. Aside from love of the arts, many feel there’s no incentive for them to continue recording.
Two months will bring us into the midst of the Carnival season and on whom will we be relying for the sweet sounds and rhythms to accompany festivities? Our singers, songwriters and musicians, of course. We’d venture to say our greatest summer fest is nothing without them.
The excitement has already begun with the early Red Hot release for 2012, Patriotic. Already, the “sprucing up” of the country’s national anthem has evoked expressions of consent and dissent.
Another set of artistes, the calypsonians, are trying to organise a boycott of this year’s calypso competition until the Carnival Development Committee devises a payment plan that will cover this year’s festival. But hey, what’s Carnival without bacchanal?
At any rate, the nation’s recording artistes, it seems, invest the most funds with the least returns. Each year, they begin the process – some earlier than others – of writing songs and composing melodies, venturing into the studios and working towards the finished product. Studio work, which can be costly, involves arranging music, adding background vocals and finishing touches. It’s a lot of work and it shows in the quality of the music.
However, the journey doesn’t end there. The music then has to be circulated to disc jockeys, radio stations, clubs and places of entertainment. For additional exposure, artistes must promote themselves, which, of course means performances.
This process, in Antigua & Barbuda, climaxes during Carnival. And when the curtain comes down, the sound of our music peters out, and is replaced with songs from bigger countries. It’s back to the music from the United States in the form of R&B, and hip-hop, or reggae and dancehall from Jamaica. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear some soca from Trinidad & Tobago. The music of our own artistes dies a premature death.
It’s rather unfortunate because each year, in calypso and soca, the nation produces a wealth of songs with rather interesting themes about almost every subject. There are many with vocal talent and others who are not so proficient on the vocals but possess a strong sense of humour. While the latter bring joy to us in the form of laughter, the former have more potential to reach audiences beyond our shores.
However, not enough is done to promote their music. We wonder how it is that artistes from other territories are able to sell their recordings and get their music in rotation on radio stations. It’s because they have networks in place working to promote their music worldwide. A large part of it has to do with penetrating new markets. For example, dancehall music of Jamaica has managed to make its way into the hearts of North Americans, after years of remaining in the Caribbean.
What it all boils down to is work. More work needs to go into marketing and promotion of the music. Our artistes need to put mechanisms in place to get their music heard regionally and internationally. It means disseminating press releases to key people and organisations. It means networking with disc jockeys and radio personalities abroad. To its credit, Chosen Sounds – the studio where many of our artistes have blossomed – has adopted such measures as part of its operations.
There is a large contingent of Caribbean people in the United States, who would appreciate hearing music from Antigua & Barbuda besides Burning Flames, Red Hot, or El A Kru, who have made their way into regional and international soca circles. However, they are unaware of how to access the music.
Our own Promise had taken a step in the right direction through the introduction of his online record shop two years ago. The intention was to make accessible the music of the nation’s artistes to those interested worldwide. However, the project has since fallen by the wayside, due, he said to lack of time and technical support. Promise now promotes his music on his personal website.
Meantime, we would do well to make a concerted effort to support our artistes. After all, they form part of our tourism product, which is vital to the nation’s economy.
Disc jockeys, rather than reaching for that American, Jamaican or Trinidadian tune, to play, can reach for an Antiguan tune instead. And residents, rather than begging for a freebie or buying a pirated recording, spend your money and support our artistes. After all, we look forward, with excitement and anticipation, to their contributions to the nation’s greatest summer festival.