He currently has one of the more popular songs on radio—“Ramen”—a fun ditty on the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT). Ambi indicates that no longer is he able to afford fast food or groceries for himself and his girlfriend and now he has to settle for low cost “Ramen,” an instant Japanese noodle dish which comes in a packet.
Well it would seem that VAT is not the only thing causing the young artiste some “anxiety, pain and anguish” (three of the Prime Minister’s favourite words) but he is also haunted by the fact that to date he and others have not been paid in full their 2012 Carnival prize money. Ambrose “Ambi” Joseph, who placed third in the Groovy Soca Monarch competition and second in the Power Soca broke onto the music scene here three years ago. However this year he has been facing some serious frustrations since the end of the carnival season on July 17. His management team practically went begging the relevant authorities in September in order that he would receive some of the monies owed to travel to Labour Day carnival in New York where he proudly represented his country.
The STAR spoke with Ambi’s manager Alva Joseph this week who says that the young performer is understandably exasperated with the whole process. “Added to that we went into the competition on good faith not even knowing exactly what the prize monies would be, but expecting it to be about the same as last year,” Joseph says. However, after approaching the CDF and the “Carnival stakeholders committee,” there seemed to be some disparity about the actual figures owed Joseph told us. In 2010 and 2011 the first, second and third place prize money was EC$30,000, EC$20,000 and EC$10,000 for both competitions. However there is much disputing this year since the second place prize has been magically reduced by the carnival committee to EC$15,000 even after the insistence by CDF that it should be EC$20,000.
“This is totally unacceptable for organizations who are supposed to be professional and want the artiste themselves to grow and act in a professional manner,” Joseph told the STAR. “I mean we have invested a lot in this and we are yet to get the total prize money. Ambi is doing this full time, carnival is seasonal, so you can imagine he is really low right now,” the manager added. However, besides the Groovy Monarch winner and Power winner who have reportedly received their prize money after some delays, a number of other performers at this year’s competitions have had no such luck. The carnival bands have not been paid either. And while some are speaking out and expressing their views generally there is an unusual silence.
Could it be that some Carnival power brokers were way too close to a certain election campaign last year? That “making noise now” might affect the benefits to come from the newly laid out ministry of Creative Industries where carnival now falls? Adrian Augier, head of the Carnival bands association, who spoke to the STAR this week admitted that he is not one to be cantankerous and create problems with the same persons whom he will work with next year, when asked why the CBA had not spoken out on the matter. However he did reluctantly stated that better could be done as far as the process was concerned. “Last week we received an e-mail from the stakeholders committee indicating that the funds were now with the Ministry of Creative Industries and that it would be a couple of weeks before all the administrative arrangements would be made before they could be disbursed,” Augier says. Asked whether there would be a prize giving ceremony he indicated he was not sure, but said “it would be nice to have one.” “It is always a wonderful way to bring the season to closure end all the anxiety and just bring everyone together as we prepare for another season,” Augier whose band Rituals won band of the year says. Veil Tobiere band leader for “Just 4 Fun” told the STAR that he too had received the e-mail mentioned by Augier but so far the bands have not met since carnival to discuss the matter or any other issues.
“Right now there are so many people and entities involved, CDF, Stakeholders Committee, the Ministry even SLTB, that you don’t know who to blame or who to go to for a satisfactory explanation,” Tobiere says. He added that not only is receiving their prize money important but the bands need to take seriously how VAT and the imposition of the tax on donations will affect carnival which is just six months away from the launch date. Head of the Carnival Stakeholders Committee John Joseph spoke to this reporter on Tuesday pointing out that in the last few months the group has been meeting with the various carnival entities.
“We have done our reviews, the process is almost complete and we have sent an initial document to the Minister of Creative Industries for review,” Joseph says. Asked about the lifespan of the committee Joseph told us that this was not clear admitting that the shortcoming had to do with the fact that such a group was formalized by Government much too late. He however revealed that although the surplus was higher in 2011 in terms of carnival revenue, there was indeed a surplus this year.
“But we have to find ways and means of consolidating costs, particularly when it comes to setting up and breaking down for events and we need to start the process of planning for carnival a lot earlier,” Joseph pointed as two major concerns of his committee. With all of this in mind the performers and the band leaders who say they create the core of carnival are at a loss as to why with sponsorship money from main sponsors like the government of Saint Lucia, Digicel and Piton that they should suffer when it comes to being rewarded. The fact that it is now being revealed that the carnival books this year are reflecting a surplus, leaves more questions. It would seem like the ominous ghost of carnival is present again this year; an old story where just the names of the knights, bishops, queens and pawns have been changed.
Maybe Ambi already knew a thing or two when he sang the following in his Power Soca Song “Chanting;” “they seat there round de table planning big campaign/Now everybody happy drinking nuff champagne/We sit down in de ghetto and we suffering/Deh eating mac and cheese while we eating plantain/I try not to involve myself in certain tings/But music is my heart, my soul, my everything/ but in de soca music there’s so much fighting/have to go down on my knees and I cyar stop chanting.” I wonder if Ambi, in this guava season, would accept a lifelong supply of “Ramen” as his prize?