Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival 2016: Omi Oh My!

Social media was abuzz on Tuesday night into Wednesday, following the announcement on the evening of Tuesday January 12 of the line-up for this year’s Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival. As expected, anticipation was high, not that it isn’t always, but more so this year due to the fact that the event which started as Saint Lucia Jazz and morphed into the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival, is celebrating a lifespan of 25 years.

The media launch to announce the line-up was held at the Johnsons Centre in Rodney Bay. It has become a gala in and of itself, with the local press relegated to a backdrop, making way for a who’s who in society and who knows who and who has left-over outfits from Christmas and New Year just screaming “Selfie”.

Director of Tourism Louis Lewis explains the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival rationale on Tuesday while being interviewed on stage by one of the evening’s hosts, Shayne Ross.

Director of Tourism Louis Lewis explains the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival rationale on Tuesday while being interviewed on stage by one of the evening’s hosts, Shayne Ross.

Amidst all of the long speeches and the appearance by everyone on the Jazz Festival Committee to let the world know who they were, the line-up announcement came via a video announcement with some errors, which was “live” on local radio, TV and the Internet. Oh, there were two wonderful performances – first by homegrown talent Jesse Leonce and secondly Barbadian saxophone virtuoso Arturo Tappin.

Kudos too for the organizers paying homage to Augustin Bartholomew of Labowi Promotions, an organization instrumental in bringing solid jazz acts and wokshops to the south during the festival over the years. That said, it was a noticeable oversight that while the 2016 Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival is dubbed “An unforgettable journey” and clips of Natalie Cole singing “Unforgettable” were used as part of a video promo, there was no mention of the fact that she had performed here at the festival and had passed December 31.

But while there were a few “ahs” and “oohs” as the names of artistes down to perform were announced, for the most part there was silence. But not for long! The best comments were saved for the after-party at the venue and, better still, social media. And the feedback has been mixed: some favourable, but largely unfavourable with no overwhelming shower of praise for the acts chosen for the 25th anniversary of Saint Lucia Jazz. There has also been some dissent, the STAR has learnt, among members of the line-up selection committee.

Top dollar is being paid out to singer Omi to perform his two songs, Cheerleader and Hula Hoop, at this year’s Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival.

Making the list are return acts like Grammy Award winning vocalist and guitarist George Benson, chart-topping funk and R&B group Kool & the Gang, soft rock duo Air Supply and zouk legends Kassav. Omi, a recent pop/reggae discovery, is also down to perform. The event, which runs from April 29 to May 8, will also feature Jamaican performer Shaggy, jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., two-time Grammy nominee Joey Alexander, Norman Brown, Rick Braun and Kirk William. Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts 2016 will also feature Saint Lucian performers Ronald ‘Boo’ Hinkson, Irvin ‘Ace’ Loctar and Teddyson John.

Since the announcement, the STAR has discovered that the festival line-up committee was “hijacked”, to quote one member who requested anonymity. According to our source: “After months of attempting to put a line-up together truly worthy of the 25th anniversary we finally came to consensus . . . However after this general consensus we received an email weeks later with the line-up bearing names that we had had no discussion over or had not finalized.”

Members of the disgruntled committee are also questioning the justification for paying US $70,000 to an artiste like Omi with two hits. They also believe that something is wrong with the selection process and that after 24 years of doing the festival the Saint Lucia Tourist Board, organizers of the event, should have been better placed to negotiate better prices for performers. All this aside, the Saint Lucia Tourist Board is hoping to make announcements of a few more performers in the coming weeks to beef up the present line-up. One of the names under consideration to close the event, we have learnt, is Latin performer Marc Anthony.

Names for the popular opening on April 29, which is typically a Caribbean party, are also yet to be announced. The 2016 Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival will also feature a number of dance, culinary and spoken word showcases as well as the staging of Derek Walcott’s Omeros and the fashion event “Hot Couture”. I, for one, am still waiting for the big bang – not the theory, but that one great concept, event or act that will indeed be cause for celebration of 25 years of what has certainly been a great festival. And so I await the silver lining which I am hoping may just show up as soon as these grey clouds fade away.

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