GET REAL: The festival season strategy
NATURE DID NOT GIVE Barbados four distinct seasons. No worries. We no longer have to make do with just rainy and dry.
Soca season and carol season come every year. Reggae season could be next.
Business and music are powerful forces. Art moves people. Business tries to control art so it can get people to move in its direction.
Until Mother Nature decides to assert herself, militant religious fanatics take over, or ordinary people get wise, business is the greatest earthly power. Most of politics, religion and art answer and respond to the concerns of the dollar first.
Soca season and carol season both started as festivals. If a festival generates enough business, it will get bigger, longer and deeper. A festival grows into a season by feeding it. A season is a festival on a steroid called investment.
Here is the formula, overly simplified. You create literature, images and music designed to get people deep into the spirit of the festival. You flood people’s brains with the festival art. People will pay to take part. Gradually lengthen the period that people are exposed to these words, pictures and sounds. Finally, use the festival art in your marketing and advertising to get people to spend money.
Music defines our festivals. Radio is a more efficient delivery system. If our TV and film industry were stronger, images might compete. Costumes and craft “ain’t pulling” like one time. The Crop Over Festival part of soca season. It now starts so early in the year and is so all-encompassing that it is more than a carnival. And it has little to do with the crop.
Christmas used to be a religious festival. It could be called carol season now. Its length has nothing to do with dates Christians established to celebrate the birth of Christ. It starts with the first Christmas songs on the radio. As early as November. Like bush it has overgrown and is choking what was once a promising Independence festival.
Independence could be a season. But business can’t seem to make sense of it. Christmas generates dollars. Independence could possibly stimulate the economy too. But business is lazy or, rather, economical with effort. Why struggle to create a new indigenous season, when you can import one ready-made? Especially if you are not particularly patriotic.
Christmas comes prepackaged. We grew up with a childhood illness called seasonal envy, caused by listening to the radio and dreaming of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, of Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Erecting imported pine trees indoors made us feel better about our temperate deficiency. We watched children on TV playing in the snow, while never having to even imagine shoveling it. Seasonal envy is a media-borne illness.
The entire nation starts to transform from the time radio stations start changing their format. Song by snowflake-song, we are blanketed in a blizzard of wall to wall Christmas music or wall to wall soca.
The festival season strategy creates a spike in economic activity. Tourist fly in, outfits fly off the shelves, and sales of advertising soar. Business leads, politics and religion follow. Politicians will hitch a ride on whatever boat the people are on and the church goes where the people are. See the Walk Holy band and Christian calypso tents during soca season.
Despite its popularity, soca season has had it tough. It does not have the foreign infrastructural support of carol season. And Bajan business has a reputation of being complacent. Persistent musicians fighting to build a music industry, have made Crop Over into a season. Wider business has not really-really caught on. Maybe this is due to the usual criticisms of Barbadian business: risk-averse, not innovative, cliquishness, made of a narrow demographic. Maybe we are waiting for Trinidadian business to step in.
The reggae festival could become a season. We hear wall to wall reggae on some stations meant to build the vibe. Not just any reggae will do. Artists whose music was last played on turntables suddenly turn up in the radio stations’ computer systems. Deejays remind us of hits we forgot, and tunes that never were. When the big day comes we must be well primed to receive the reasons for the season with thanksgiving.
The Reggae Festival could grow into a season. Business would have to get busy. To build all this infrastructure around reggae, without supporting the development of a local source of the raw material would be short-sighted.
If we got over our myopia we would see the possibilities. By developing our seasons we can give the rest of the world seasonal envy. They will yearn for sand over snow, to wuk up in the street, skank and drink sorrel.
Music is at the core of all this: original, innovative, indigenous, multifaceted cultural products. A lack of cultural identity and entrepreneurial creativity prevents us from seeing it.
The influence and power business people, artists and the media wield could also be put to use to help prevent crime, support education, promote environmentalism, to transform society for the better. Concerns about too much partying miss the fact that music can be much more than entertainment.
That would mean, though, that societal benefit would have to replace financial profit as the bottom line. Business people, artists and the media would have to admit the amount of influence they have over the minds of the people. They deny it even as wall to wall (insert festival music here) plays on the radio to programme us and hype us up into festival mode.
Myopia is hard to cure. The concept of a jazz festival was too far-fetched so we let it fly to St Lucia. We still can’t see the benefits of a strong season of Independence.
As we go from wall to wall reggae, then soca, then Christmas music, it is revealed. The music moves us. The media is the pipe and business is the Pied Piper. And he must be paid.
Adrian Green is a communications specialist in reggae mode. Email [email protected]