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The Way(ve) Forward for Local Content
Posted: Thursday, September 2, 2010

By Christian Hume
September 02, 2010

Maestro's plaintive appeal on behalf of local culture to "play me" (see Youtube clip below) is still as sadly relevant in 2010 as it was 34 years ago in 1976. In a nation 48 years old, it is something of a near-tragedy that local music is still struggling for airplay. This is a DESPERATELY SERIOUS issue as we move forward in our evolution as an independent nation.

I would like to open the rest of this note by quoting from another recent note by my friend Phillip Edward Alexander (see link below), where he said:

"Other forces had to be at work here, either diabolically conscious and dedicated to the destruction of 'our' art, or unconscious and based on our colonized minds, ashamed to claim what we birthed, and unfortunately netted the same results."

I focus here on the aspect of what Phillip calls "diabolical forces". The recent sale of Radio 94.7 FM to the Chinatown Syndicate,and more importantly, the refusal of the syndicate to keep its word and maintain the prior format of the station, is the latest evidence of the existence of these "diabolical forces". This along with the fact that advertisers are known to not be supportive of local music formats is all the evidence we need to see that Phillip's quote is more vexatingly true than we would like to admit. So, now that we know these forces exist, what do we do?

The first step in combating these forces is to admit that they exist. We must admit, and PUBLICLY DECLARE, that there are "diabolical forces" at work, forces that, for reasons best known to themselves, have no real and abiding interest in the propagation of local music. This is the first step. It is only when this happens, that we will find the resolve to fight this enemy. So, question, how will we fight this enemy?

For starters, we must STOP BEGGING for airplay!! Airplay is our RIGHT. It's Trinidad and Tobago airwaves we talking about here. No decent, civilized, or "first world" country anywhere on the planet has a system in place that deliberately stymies and holds back its own music. So we can NEVER, I repeat, NEVER, come anywhere close to first world status if our music is still scrunting for airplay. We have to find ways and means to recapture our airwaves – ways and means that do not depend on the largesse of the Chinatown Syndicate and others of like mind. We recall the example of Marlon Asher and his smash hit "Ganja Farmer". When first refused by the radio stations, he and his producer, Carl 'Beaver' Henderson took the song to the streets, handing out free copies, and once the song caught on at the street level, the same radio stations had to 'back back' and play the music. The traditional radio stations are not the only portals to the airwaves. I read an article recently where the Radio 94.7 people were talking about embracing HD radio as an alternative to the over-crowded FM band. This is definitely a step in the right direction. We have already seen an explosion of local content on Youtube. This too is a step in the right direction. I'm pretty sure, as I write this, and as you read it, that there are creative ideas for taking back our airwaves that have not yet been ventilated, or even thought of. We have to brainstorm, think, and then do! The technology exists for us to circumvent traditional FM radio, even as we make attempts to get back on the FM band. Think internet radio, think DIRECTV, etc, etc, etc..... We can do it people! We WILL do it!

Now, once we resolve to recapture our airwaves, we have to be crystal clear as to what we mean by "local content". So, I would like to propose a sub-division of local content into two areas. These areas are, "Indigenous Music", and "Non-indigenous Locally Produced Music". We need to be serious enough to treat the definition of our terms with the same care and detail with which diplomats sit and spend and entire day haggling over the wording of their documents. It is slip-ups like this that unscrupulous opponents use against us. More on that later.

"Indigenous Music" would of course refer to music in the genre of our Trinidad and Tobago artforms – Calypso, Steelband, Soca, Chutney,Pichakaree, Rapso,Jamoo, Folk Music, among many others. These indigenous artforms deserve their own special place on our local airwaves, and there is MORE THAN ENOUGH music in this category to keep a serious radio station busy.

"Non-indigenous Locally Produced Music" would refer to the music of non-Trinidadian genres that is produced by Trinidadians. Trinidadians and Tobagonians make music in ALL genres. We produce ORIGNAL reggae, jazz, R & B, hip-hop, rap, dancehall, pop, latin, instrumentals, gospel, among many others. You name it, a Trini could do it. These productions also deserve their own unique space on the airwaves, because not everyone will do the indigenous stuff, but whatever they do, they will do it in a manner to bring pride and joy to our little country. Names like Ralph McDonald, Billy Ocean, Marlon Asher, and Prophet Benjamin come to mind. There is also enough music in this category to keep any serious radio station busy.

If we fail to make this distinction abundantly clear, our enemies will create confusion in the minds of the populace, who still think that "local music" means "calypso". When we agitate for 50% local airplay, our enemies will paint a scenario where we are asking the government to "force" them to listen to calypso. And they will then plead "freedom of choice", and we will NEVER win THAT argument in a freedom loving society such as ours. Ironically, if we have just TWO strong radio stations following the formats I just outlined (one for "indigenous music", and the other for "non-indigenous locally produced music"), we will not need to BEG anyone for 50% airplay. Once we succeed with these formats, and people see that our music is commercially viable, other stations will follow.

So my main arguments here are, firstly, for the dissecting of "local music" into two distinct streams – "indigenous music", as well as "non-indigenous locally produced music". Secondly, I am making a strong plea to the powers that be...Let us STOP BEGGING!! The days of begging are over. We have to TAKE our airwaves back – using creative strategies and 21st century technology. Let's do this people!!

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