I cannot recall who invited me, but approximately a year or so ago I was in the audience when Trinidadian Dr Keith Nurse gave a sterling presentation here dealing with regional issues relating to Caricom. One week ago, Dr Nurse was again in Guyana piloting a Caribbean Development Bank programme to propel the Caribbean music industry. I cannot speak for the other Guyanese music people present, but for me this also sterling discourse brought to the front of my mind the extreme difficulties our industry faces.
The most pressing one related to Dr Nurse’s advice that our music industry in Guyana must embrace fully the digital revolution, as well as the spinoffs from it, which has taken place in music worldwide. We have to achieve such things as industry-wide digitisation, playlists of recordings for producers, categorising of our music product, and essentially being able to bring combine music catalogues for the market, if we are to have a music industry that can function effectively internationally. Without that, he says, we are doomed. Anyone in the bowels of the music industry here would be aware of how enormous a leap is being proposed for us in that suggestion. Many of the fundamental aspects of recording and marketing music – enforced copyright laws, a copyright fee collection agency, affiliation with international agencies and promoters – are not in place here, despite much outcry about it from various music industry principals. To put it another way, the engine is not in place and neither, it seems, are the circumstances to create it.
Indeed, to step back from that infrastructural dilemma and look at the business at ground level, is to notice that even as fundamental an aspect as the simple existence of places for musicians to play is also missing. With the exception of Pegasus Poolside, and occasionally the Marriott, places offering music to patrons in Georgetown are almost exclusively using DJs, or recorded material – live music is a rarity. In the engine, therefore, that creates a music industry – musicians playing live to resident audiences – we have fallen short. Furthermore, we are also minus the important ingredient of foreign audiences, essentially tourists, drawn to the region by our various festivals, as is the case with Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica, Antigua, etc. Mashramani, which employs some musicians here for a few days, is not widely known internationally, and is not a very powerful draw even for Guyanese living abroad. Overall, the opportunity to play and learn and improve and promote, is not here for local bands and, as a result, persons seeking a musical career – Dennis DeSouza, Eddy Grant, Keith Waithe, Tameka Marshall, Jumo, myself – have had to go abroad for it.
Beyond that, for the resident performers who do become known in whatever fashion, the impediments at home of no royalty collection agency for music work, and no enforcement of IP rights, have repeatedly drawn criticism here, but while the condition is known the remedy awaits.
The other deleterious aspect, in a struggling economy, is obviously the shortage of disposable income for entertainment, and, in their defence, the reality for various entertainment business places in Guyana not offering live music is simply that it is an unprofitable exercise. Trust me: if there was money to be made there, it would be happening.
As a result of the conditions summarised above, a somewhat negative mindset has begun to affect persons involved in our music industry. The paucity of engagements, sometimes with low compensation, have inevitably fostered resentment among musicians, competing for the same slice, and while there is no significant open enmity, there is a resulting discord among musicians here as opposed to what one sees in Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, et al. I can attest from personal experience in the past 51 years with Tradewinds that there is virtually a brotherhood bond among musicians in the region, and internationally, that is missing here. I remember in my early days in Canada breaking a guitar string one night, and having no replacement, with all music stores closed, I picked up the Music Union membership list and phoned a member in the guitar category. He didn’t know me, but he got in his car, at 11pm, and drove to where I was downtown with a replacement string, refusing my attempts at compensation. A friend of a musician here would do that, but this man was a complete stranger helping out a fellow musician. By contrast, we have suspicion and discord among musicians when efforts to generate a music association or music body are attempted here. One recent example was a push by Burchmore Simon of Krosskolor Records, for something of that nature, only to eventually find the idea being avoided by musicians essentially distrusting other musicians. It is an internal matter, but it is, as we say in Guyana, ‘wukkin ‘gains’ in that the proposal by Mr Simon, for something that would have brought income to musicians, at no cost to them, with a Board that could be voted in or out, did not come to pass.
The intimations presented by Keith Nurse are fundamentally sound according to the current business mentality in the music industry, but it will be interesting to see if the suggestions are taken up. Coming from where the industry is now in Guyana, we have a long way to go on this journey, but perhaps we should focus on the Chinese motto of ‘taking the first step’.