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Bajan Jazz $core$

By Terry Joseph
January 24, 2004

The eclectic mix of contemporary jams that is the annual Barbados Jazz Festival may be a musical delight for fans of the genre but is good business for the host country which, form all indications, expected to top last year's attendance figure of some 35,000. Speaking at a press conference at the Sherbourne Centre last Friday, producer Gilbert Rowe said this year's figure was likely to exceed the 2003 record attendance, a claim that remained uncontested by Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA) officials at the head table.

Praising colleague Oliver Jordon for securing an exclusive television rights contract with BET on Jazz cable network, Rowe said resultant advertising through that medium had delivered fans from Moscow. The Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) also supports other claims made by Rowe, particularly from financial perspectives, conceding that January visitors to the island did not all come specifically for Jazz but saying definitively in recently released data that Barbados Jazz earned BDS $1.4 million (TT$4.2 million) more last year than it did in 2002.

Completing its 11th annual edition last weekend, Barbados Jazz is presented at several locations around the island, incorporating tourism tours as it moves. Rowe is however adamant that the majority of patrons should be from the host country. "When we started this festival, our thinking was that the strength of this event should lie in response from the local population," he said.

"The ratio was 80 per cent local to 20 per cent visitor participation at the start and that has now moved to 60/40 still in favour of Barbadians. We are determined it doesn't go past 50 per cent foreign attendance and to ensure that we will go as far as limiting the number of tickets available, because the rise in local patronage is responding to a long process of attracting mor Bajans," Rowe said.

"We didn't meet a ready local market of jazz fans, so it was also an educational process, starting with a lot of R&B music blended with jazz and when we got to the point where the show was properly installed, we raised the pure-jazz component. Our research indicates that people are going back to real jazz, so this will be our focus but you will always see an element of popular music. You must understand that, for decades, we in the Caribbean have told our children 'You can't make a living from music,' so we reduced emphasis on studying music, but I am glad to see a reversal of that thinking nowadays. India.Arie's workshop at the Barbados Community College showed the children have an interest in properly constructed music.

"So while Barbados Jazz is a tourism product first and foremost, hosted by the most beautiful island in the world, tourism products are not static but fluid and we will reshape or redesign the festival to suit changing needs.

"I have invited Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia and Grenada to bring such events to Farley Hill, but there has been no response from Trinidad and Tobago. This was a first step in integrating our efforts to command a larger audience in each territory, because this is not a competition. I hope the day will come when we can sit as a regional entity, using a bigger budget to get better deals with even bigger artistes. But the people of this country must never feel we have created a product that alienates them. I believe strongly that we will stand together as a region or we will die apart, and that applies to not just jazz but everything," Rowe said.

Some 65 foreign journalists were hosted by BTA for last week's Barbados Jazz Festival.

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