Is this what turning 21 feels like?

To say that overall the 21st edition of Saint Lucia Jazz was quite dull might be putting it bluntly or speaking mildly. There are several adjectives that I could use to describe the just concluded festival, but “exciting” and “great” would not be two of them— those words I leave to the politicians and organizers whose job it is to spin top in Pigeon Island mud no matter how arduous the task. And, once again, right after the festival eager beaver lay journalists shove microphones in the face of tourism ministers and festival organizers for the usual canary croons: “We will immediately begin a critical look at preparing for next year’s event,” “I think this year’s event was very successful,” blah, blah, blah, etc, etc.
So what exactly is the critical look that is taken with Saint Lucia Jazz each year and who are the ones involved? Can the ones making the same mistakes with the festival each year, sit down with themselves and honestly take a critical look at their own mistakes and shortcomings?
One of those so called “think tanks” was purportedly put together late last year for the purpose of  “bringing together a core group of technical thinkers to conduct an objective analysis of Saint Lucia Jazz, towards the development of a new vision, mission, goals as well as the broad strategies required to achieve these goals.” Some of the findings of those “technical thinkers” showed that where consumers of Saint Lucia Jazz were concerned, most visitors were from the Caribbean; Barbados, Trinidad the French departments and that most of them were in the age range of 30-49 years. It also showed that the average length of stay of visitors had decreased from an average of eight nights to six nights.
It is important to remember that as much of some of us would like to fool ourselves, the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival was never designed for “us” but that the main objective was to attract visitors. And so, if that is the case, why does it seem that a more concerted effort is not being placed on satisfying that core audience of 30-49 of visitors that the festival has attracted in the past. Why has there been much effort to satisfy non-spending teeny boppers with no spending power with such acts as Ciara in the past and this year, Keri Hilson. That move has been trashed by festival aficionados in the past, the hiring of non-musical performers to sing on play-back with a DJ. Yet the SLTB repeated it this year. This obviously devalues your main-stage by having upcoming acts with little musical credibility performing on the same grand stage as musical luminaries as Hugh Masekela and Diana Ross. What really is the justification for that?
This year in particular Saturday’s main-stage Jazz which featured Alison Marquis, Keri Hilson and Kirk Franklyn was the worst Saturday main-stage Jazz in years. Alison Marquis with Andy Narell was okay for the early limers only to have that washed away with a performance that
belonged in a club or on the radio by Keri Hilson. Fifty percent of her performance was shared with a DJ to playback music and no “live” band. This was a real bore for true music lovers who literally had their spirits lifted by Kirk Franklyn who was extremely entertaining and may have just saved the day. But again, for me this was another case of bad choices being made by the organizers.
A few years ago a private entity worked with the SLTB to present “Kingdom night” during Saint Lucia Jazz on the Thursday night. As far as attendance, this event which featured Donnie McClurkin was quite successful. So why couldn’t the SLTB revisit this and position this event once again, this year with Kirk Franklyn to target this core audience? Why the melee on Saturday Jazz this year which did not work with the numbers reflecting about fifty percent less than last year’s Saturdays concert. If this did not slap organizers in the face to wake up to reality, I do not know what will. Then again the review I mentioned earlier was done by a group of technical thinkers and not necessarily practical persons without egos.
And just who decided that Jazz on the Square which brought together visitors, locals and school children and helped create a buzz about the overall festival in the city was now useless? The removal of that event I believe further helped to destroy the festive mood of this year’s event.
The report earlier mentioned also determined that for the way forward the festival needed good governance and transparency, competent management and other human resources at all levels, clear artistic direction, adequate financial and technical resources, effective tactical, marketing promotion and public awareness.
As far as the clear artistic direction, the 21st anniversary of Saint Lucia had nothing by way of a direction or creative theme. There seemed to have been no attempt to exploit and reflect the 21 year milestone and as such there was no sense of pomp and grandeur for this year’s festival which would make the event itself just as important as the line-up. And why couldn’t the line-up itself reflect this? For twenty-one years, organizers could have done a “best-of” of the last twenty years, offering patrons unique collaborations they could have only seen here. Based on the exit surveys of visitors, some acts persons have loved in the past could have been brought back.
Another area that has bewildered me is that after 21 years the SLTB has not built sufficient capacity to have a fixed selection committee or effective events secretariat which would deal with artistic and creative decisions year round. Each year an adhoc committee is put together with some of the same duds who only come together for a few days, bounce some names across a table and voila, year after a year some hits and a number of misses.
The reality of Saint Lucia Jazz 2012 is that from the opening at Mindoo Phillip Park with Bunji Garlin and Faye Ann which failed to evoke any excitement to main stage a number of bad choices were made. The opening line-up choice was never a good one to begin with. And a number of community events had to fill in the gap between then to the weekend finale to stimulate the event. Among them first time events like Jazz on the Bay at Marigot and Canaries Creole Jazz at Moon River were wonderful events.
The straight ahead Jazz events at Gaiety on Rodney Bay with Luther Francois, Ronald “Boo” Hinkson, Mario Canouge and Joshua Redman was lauded particularly by the French visitors. Joshua Redman and “Boo” on Wednesday May 9 in particular was the talk of main-stage Jazz lovers whilst Thursday’s event got less rave reviews.
Friday’s main-stage event at Pigeon Island with Ziggy Marley was quite a worthless venture, with many including myself walking out halfway into the set of Ziggy’s performance. The son of Bob Marley failed to connect with the audience. He ignored calls for some of his more popular hits and only drew major reaction when he performed snippets of his father’s hits. And what is this about no photos (not even for the first few minutes as is standard with some acts) by acts like Ziggy Marley. This to me is another issue. If marketing still remains a main purpose of Saint Lucia Jazz, then I believe that we should aim to attract acts that are comfortable with their photos being taken and in fact some clause should be included in those contracts to ensure we get some sort of mileage from performers at Saint Lucia Jazz long after the event.
On another note, as great as Morgan Heritage was last year at the Friday Night main-stage event, I think the side-lawn formula which once featured more adult contemporary R&B and world beat acts like John Legend, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and En Vogue in the past should return. This was a setting which once saw a more adult crowd coming out all dressed out for the night and it worked most times. Toni Braxton who performed wonderfully on Sunday may have filled that spot even better than her place on Sunday.
Sunday’s finale as good as it was suffered from slight overkill and the underutilization of some of the acts. At least one of the acts should have been on the Saturday to buffer up that day and my choice would have been Melanie Fiona whose performance had to be abbreviated on Sunday to make way for the next four acts. Wespe Pou Ayiti also had to shorten their great musical combination whilst Hugh Masekela raised some goosebumps with his South African influenced repertoire. Toni Braxton gave a steamy yet classy performance whilst Diana Ross gave a more of a Las Vegas type showpiece as the finale. Still, I felt that the organizers never capitalized on the star power of such a legendary diva to boost the festival.
The creative direction which the organizers hold in their hands, need to be changed with a plan in mind for the next five years. The other areas which are
under the purview of Government like airport taxes and which influence persons decision to travel must be considered if the main purpose is to attract visitors and get them to spend. And the so-called review committee must be all encompassing to also include local, regional and international festival interests, the media and more practical persons.                 Judging by this year’s festival and patron’s feedback, I am afraid a downward slide has started where Saint Lucia Jazz is concerned. The question is will the organizers face the music and change the arrangement or continue pretending that the sticky stuff on their faces is honey from heaven.

St Lucia Jazz: the good, the bad and the ugly of this year’s festival.

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