I’m still mulling over whether this year’s Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival was indeed “the best yet” as some have proclaimed. I will not hesitate to say the event was very good, filled with more than a few highs and only here and there a low.
Then again, after covering the festival for all of its 22 years maybe I am a little bit jaded. And while some of my past critiques may have marked me a trouble-maker by some friends at the Saint Lucia Tourist Board, others have seen the wisdom in what I wrote, though they won’t admit it.
Still, I have always supported, even when others have not, the continuation of the festival. The main complaint for some observers of the event has been that staging it costs too much money for the festival to be profitable. In any case, that profit argument was washed away this week by the undeniable financial benefits accrued by vendors, service providers, restaurants, guest houses and small hotels, beverage companies, boutiques, taxi drivers, Saint Lucian performers and so on.
On the last day of the festival, which drew more than five thousand paying patrons at EC$200 a pop, the fact that Heineken and other beverages ran out quickly was indeed a sign of the amount spent this year by patrons. I am sure those with more financial acumen than I can arrive at a figure far exceeding the EC$8 million that the SLTB spent on the festival.
The feel-good factor of this year’s festival could have easily been attributed to the number of Saint Lucian singers, musicians, dancers, poets, sculptors, painters and stage hands who were now involved through the arts component of the event. Add to that the hundreds of volunteers now all serving as ambassadors to the event and the picture gets clearer. The line-up of the festival this year (which I believe was very good but not great) only tells half the story. Indeed, it cannot on its own set the stage for a festival without great venues and the buy-in from your local populace.
The festival for me has always meant more than standing in the media pit all day analyzing each and every performance. It has been and continues to be about engaging patrons, visitors and some of the performers, the ambience. This year’s atmosphere throughout the festival was astounding.
So with all of this said, let me now point out a few lows of mine at this year’s festival:
• First; the performances by Ginuwine and Akon. Both wore white, which goes to show it does not always indicate purity. Ginuwine’s performance was lackluster and devoid of any strong connection with his audience. But then what do you expect when you pay a man who has had four major hits twenty thousand dollars. As for Akon, he entertained the crowd with some of his monster hits and while many enjoyed his ride through the crowd, his flawless lip- synching just would not cut it. Come on, Akon, you came here with a more than 20-strong entourage just so people might read your lips? Maybe lawyer and SLTB deputy chairman Thaddeus Antoine can slip in a clause into next year’s contracts that demands all performers actually sing live.
• My final low, and this one is not on the SLTB, was the lack of initiative taken to offer patrons and visitors “Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival” branded souvenirs: caps, bandanas, tee-shirts and the like.
The highs of 2013:
• The return of Jazz on the square of course which created a buzz in the city around the festival.
*The long list of Saint Lucian performers involved both on main-stage and fringe activities. Emrand Henry, Barbara Cadet, Luther Francois, Ronald “Boo” Hinkson, Rob Zi, Ricky T, Ace, Superman HD, Mervin Wilkinson, Mongstar, 4th World Band, Emerson Nurse, TJ, Stacey and many others. Both “Boo” and Luther went the extra mile to showcase more local talent during their main-stage gigs, Luther with a calypso collective featuring Invader, Minel, TJ and others and “Boo” with a Jazz and Folk ensemble. Producer singer, songwriter Ace also had a wonderful set on Friday outdoing Ginuwine who followed him. The singer also featured Teri, Shani and Mr Vegas.
• The Secret Band. The Folk group that seemed like they were on a Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival tour was a hit with visitors and locals alike.
• Headphunk on Thursday May 3 at the Rodney Bay Marina. What a setting, what a show, featuring poetry, spoken word and music and some first class original pieces!
• Jazz in the South, at the Cultural Centre. This was an event of the highest quality and the introduction of theatre was well thought out. Emerson Nurse and the Meddy Gerville trio were also superb!
• Fond D’or Jazz featuring Kassav, Barbara Cadet, The Secret band and others was the show that threatened to steal the thunder from many of the main-stage events—and maybe it just did.
• Soundstage at Rodney Bay. Saint Lucian talent shone bright, What is needed now are some actual international talent scouts attending the event. Can someone please call Simon? Cowell, not Paul!
• Hot Couture. With a name like that you knew there was bound to be controversy, right? Still, onstage it was almost flawless. The fashion show brought local designers and their regional counterparts together, as well as home and overseas-based Saint Lucian models doing their highly impressive entertaining thing.
• Jazz Showcase at Rodney Bay. For Jazz purists this was a joy and Etienne Charles and Fal Fwet proved the injection of some Creole and West Indian vibes into an international fare can be quite appetizing.
• Arts at Pigeon Island. From visual arts to flash mob dancers, to performers on side stage, there was never a dull moment during the festival.
• The O’ Jays. Never mind that during the advertising for the festival R&B powerhouse R. Kelly eclipsed these legends, nonetheless the O’Jays rocked with their old school jams like Money, Backstabbers, Love Train, She Used to Be My Girl and others.
• We may not have realized it but we were part of history when the Jacksons reunited and came to Saint Lucia as their first and maybe only Caribbean stop. And yes, the brothers can still jam and did just that at Pigeon Island Friday.
• Brian Culbertson was my surprise performer on the final day. Did someone say white men can’t jump? This white boy was funky and boy, can he jump—and prance too.
• Tito Puente, David Rudder, Robbie Greenidge on Saturday, May 11. Latin Jazz meets steel pan and Calypso. Phew! “Muy caliente,” is all I’ll say.
• The Finale: R. Kelly. He is the king of R&B and more, for good reason. What a class performer. With more than fifty hit songs to his credit, some obviously had to be cut short or left out. But from his up-tempo jams to bed-room songs, ballads and classics such as the incredible I Believe I Can Fly, R. Kelly laced the icing on an already tasty Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival cake.
Did someone say more? I second that emotion!