A standing ovation for Barbados
Excitement was high among the hundreds of American college students queuing to get into Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville in Nashville, Tennessee – a town many consider to be the world’s music capital. Barbados Night On was the draw. A show with four outstanding Barbadian bands promising to charm the crowds with a mixture of Soca, reggae, pop and rock rhythms.
“The place filled three times,” recalls George Thomas with pride. Mr Thomas is the Head of the Barbados Association of Music Entrepreneurs (AME) and one of the masterminds behind staging Barbados Night On at the 2013 National Convention of the United States National Association for Campus Activities (NACA).
Devoted to helping the country’s music industry take off internationally, Mr Thomas explains how important it is to break into the United States college circuit, where millions of 18 to 21 year old potential fans “are looking for new experiences,” he notes. “This is where most bands get started. And, if you are going to make it, you have to make it in America, still the largest consumer of music products.”
Mr Thomas is still grasping the many knock-on effects of the Nashville hit. “Only a few days ago I sat in Parliament with top Barbadian musicians. This had never happened before.” Members of Parliament were debating the passage of the Cultural Industries Bill. “The Minister of Culture spoke about NACA and called for the allocation of more funding for our growing music industry.”
Like many other Caribbean countries, Barbados is filled with music talents but only few opportunities for them to make a decent living. With tourism generally on the decline, the traditional hotel and nightclub live music scene has also taken a beating, leaving most musicians at the mercy of the international markets.
David Kirton, known as the Bob Marley of Barbados, and Alison Hinds, mostly referred to as the Soca Queen, were two of the artists who wowed the Nashville youngsters. Thanks to the exposure in Nashville they were booked to take part in dozens of performances after the Convention. “It was an excellent opportunity for me to generate some revenue and take my music to a much wider audience,” says David Kirton.
Mr Thomas has no doubts; Barbados Night On was the “highlight of the Convention.” As a result, Soca Cartel and Nexcyx, the other two bands performing at the gig, are currently negotiating contracts with VP Records in New York. The company is famous for launching Caribbean artists such as world-renowned Jamaican singer Sean Paul.
Showcasing their music at NACA conventions has long been the aspiration of many Caribbean artists. But so far only AME has managed to strike an unprecedented three-year deal with the Association. UNESCO´s International Fund for Cultural Diversity has been supporting this initiative. The 2013 Barbados Night On was a boost for the Barbados music industry but according to Mr Thomas, 2014 and 2015 are looking even brighter. “This has brought a lot of hope to Barbados, keeping many artists in the game and encouraging others to form new bands.”
In the meantime, AME and its US-based booking agent Degy Entertainment are already working on a Barbados Experience package to offer to clusters of universities within single states. The Barbados Experience will also involve presentations of the history, culture and the gastronomy of the island. “We hope this approach will not only increase booking opportunities for our talents, but also foster interest in Barbados as a tourism and education destination,” says Mr Thomas.