Ok, so let me start with some of what I deem “notable” points of the 2016 Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival. Firstly, that the “arts” component seemed to have taken on a life of its own. What needs to happen now is that there must be a continued platform for the “creatives” to channel their work year-round and I am not talking a STEP programme for the arts. Take the Arts Village for example; as good a concept that it was, what now? The second thing that somewhat caught me by surprise was the thriving water-taxi business that goes on between Rodney Bay and Pigeon Island during the main-stage shows. For EC$20 (one way) I was able to get to the park quite easily, avoiding the traffic and long queues in the process. There is even an SLTB ticketing booth right there near the jetty at Pigeon Island.
And finally, overall the festival seems to have captured the imagination of local entrepreneurs and restaurateurs who seek to cash in on the influx of visitors here for the event. One such venture was Tapas on the Bay’s “Voices on the Bay” performances which sought not only to give locals and visitors something on the side with the Jazz main course, but afforded a wonderful platform for some amazing young Saint Lucian talents.
Now on to the “not so noteworthy.” Let me start at the end. The 2016 Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival ended on a really anti-climatic note, not that I anticipated anything different. This false sense of climax was for many reasons, some of which I have articulated in past articles as the issues remain the same. One of these criticisms that I have directed to the SLTB Director Louis Lewis on at least one occasion on a “live” TV show is that over the past umpteen years it has been a total waste to spend in some cases close to half a million EC dollars on a headline act just so patrons can walk out during their performance. With a ten-day festival with so many activities, there is absolutely no reason for the finale on the Sunday to have five “major” acts. I have argued that three good acts will do at an event that boasts food, drinks, side-stage performances and other engagements for the whole family. Many persons brave the grueling heat from as early as 1 p.m. for the 2 p.m. start on a day which usually runs sometimes past midnight – way too long. By that time most are exhausted, have had too much to drink; some too old to stand any longer or too young to be out so late. Simply put, less can sometimes indeed be more.
And so Marc Anthony became the latest victim of the walk out on Sunday for that reason as well as the fact that he could not ignite the masses with his heavy dose of Latin songs. Yes, I have the mouthpieces who place themselves like pampers on the SLTB’s bottom who say, “the man is a Latin singer.” True, but in these parts most of us know him for his songs sung in English, infused with Latin rhythms. Again, the suggestion has been made that after 25 years the SLTB should be in a position to dialogue with the artiste about their set without infringing too much on their creative license.
And finally on Sunday’s finale – where was the wow factor to end the chapter of the Silver Jubilee? It simply was not there. With a little more thought, some collaboration or surprise guest or cameo by a celebrity could have put some icing on the cake.
Talking about surprises, two of them also caught my attention during the festival. On Friday, during the main-stage show at Pigeon Island, Shaggy brought on Dancehall singer Popcaan – the self-proclaimed “Unruly Boss” – as his surprise guest. Before he had sung a note Popcaan was calling on the crowd to chant “Cocoon Mamaw” (a curse word referencing one’s mother’s privates). While the SLTB may not have been responsible for this unruly behavior, at least a word of apology immediately after to those of us who were offended would have been appropriate. Again I must remind the SLTB’s pampers that this is a state event, paid for by taxpayers like myself, and not the organizers’ private domain. On that note too, why was Movado, who is well-known for his explicit lyrics, the choice performer for the opening?
The second surprise was Omarion putting on an act on Saturday that was way below standard. It would seem like the R&B singer was enjoying a vacation here, paid for with our money, to cavort on stage with his family and friends, hardly singing a note. Again, without fear of being repetitive, I have said it before: at no point in the festival should we allow an artiste to perform to playback music instead of a “live” band. Instead of Michael Robinson’s side stage performance being rudely cut, Omarion should have been asked to pass the mic after his third singing attempt.
Overall for me the festival did offer some good and great performances, including Saint Lucian acts Teddyson John, Ace (who was brilliant) and Ronald “Boo” Hinkson. Kassav gave another sterling performance on Saturday while Air Supply again wowed the crowd and Kool & the Gang had everyone dancing on Sunday. The funk and R&B group could have easily closed the festival doing “Celebrate” as the fireworks went off, possibly joined by some of the local acts. to evoke that awe in the audience in the end.
In closing, I know that the SLTB will soon be boasting the numbers who attended the festival. But after 25 years we should have moved past just attendance numbers and the festival should now be edging closer to profitability and accountability of the people’s money. I strongly propose a commission to review this festival, headed by Ronald “Boo” Hinkson as someone as informed and close to the festival. This grouping should be mandated with the responsibility of reviewing all the contracts we have entered into with the artistes, some of which have been quite questionable. It would also help to investigate ways of making the event profitable and re-positioning it against some of the best festivals in the world. I also propose that following the festival each year a published itemized account is given to the public as to how their money is spent. Anything less will be unacceptable and will continue to cast a dark shadow over the festival and the organizers as to why the numbers don’t always seem to add up.