Bashing Ringbang with no plan

January 5, 2000
By Terry Joseph

As it turned out, just about everyone in this country had always known precisely how to market our indigenous culture and as we discovered over the past fortnight, an equal number of people were certain that a $41 million Ringbang concert is not the way to do it.

Yet, with this tremendous body of available knowledge, no one has come up with a single viable strategy-in-lieu for getting a toe in the door of the global entertainment market, which is what last weekend's concert said it would help us do. It would have been nice if, along with public condemnation of that effort, an alternative plan was proffered.

Historically, some of this country's finest minds have argued that the way to effectively promote our culture globally, is by sending groups of artistes (presumably flying free on the national airline), to visit all the major capitals of the world. Once there, the argument continues, they would present professionally produced shows and win attention and investment for Trinidad and Tobago.

That model of cultural economics, fashioned after Sweden's extraordinary success in the early 1970s with the soft-rock group Abba, has, however, produced nothing but a string of successive failures thereafter. In the interim, global television had made it easier (although frightfully more expensive) to bid for international entertainment markets.

But no one in this region seems to take notice of these technological developments. As recently as last year, Barbados mounted the Spirit of Unity tour, which flew a troupe of that country's finest talents to 43 North American cities and Africa. Sponsored by the state-run Tourism Authority and National Cultural Foundation, with funding also coming from its Hotels Association. The EC$30 million adventure was a flop, even with headliners like Allison Hinds and Arturo Tappin on board for selected concerts. Nor did the importation of talent like England's Maxi Priest and Jamaica's Third World help the hapless junket.

One newspaper editorial yesterday suggested that we follow the St Lucian model with its jazz festival, apparently unaware of the fact that the annual event, which is not primarily intended to boost the island's culture, has been a bust from year one. Jamaica's Reggae Sunsplash did no better.

So how then, do we mine and market this wealth of cultural talent about which we continually boast?

Okay, so it is not via a Ringbang concert (although one is not certain whether there was any real objection to the concept). The cost of the exercise, the questionable manner in which its funding was secured and the presence of Guyanese-born, Barbados-based Eddy Grant at the head table are clearly out. Grant, public enemy number one in this country since Carnival 1996, when he tried to secure for his artistes, the same copyright fees for which we now so passionately argue, has continued to anger locals with his contentious claim that he is the father of soca music.

Trinis, therefore, could not resist taking pot shots at the Ringbang concert, even to the point of declaring it a total waste, because of a few production glitches and the fact that it was not seen by anywhere near the number of people promised. Mark you, England's billion-dollar production, meant to reposition that country as a 21st century technological force, was hit by even greater disappointments.

The London Eye, a ferris wheel that stood 50 feet taller than Big Ben, could not pass safety tests on Thursday and therefore remained closed to the public and the plan to set five miles of the Thames River on fire with pyrotechnics, failed to ignite on cue. In Johannesburg it was worse. The whole show rained out. And in Lagos, pepper spray, presumably released by police to calm rowdiness in the crowd, disrupted the show mere minutes before midnight.

Ironically, the biggest blooper of all came from France, the country that put on the most spectacular display. Some 200,000 lights were used to illuminate the Eiffel Tower, which commanded even greater attention when fireworks were sequentially exploded from every tier. But the piece de resistance, a massive clock atop the Tower, which counted down the minutes to the 21st century, suddenly malfunctioned and went dead shortly before midnight.

So, no more Ringbang concerts. And let us not ask those techno-experts of the developed world to stage these events for us. What should we do then? Just continue jumping around on Carnival day, spending an annual pittance on each edition of the festival, but finding no way to sell its marketable components to the world or extract sustainable profits?

You tell me.

Terry-J at I-Level