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Intellectual Property The New Frontier: A look at the Vincentian music industry and its comparative advantage

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by Richard McLeish
Part III of V
Chapter III

ST. VINCENT & THE GRENADINES MUSIC INDUSTRY PRE 2005

In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, there is no documented statistical data to rationalize the music industry’s contribution to the national economy. Indeed, the only study to date on this industry was conducted by Dr. Keith Nurse, the region’s foremost writer on the Caribbean music industry.

In a 2001 study commissioned by the Caribbean Export Development Agency, Nurse looked at the OECS as one music market and found that the industry experienced expansion (6). Nurse stated that the OECS has developed into a regional music production center, rivaling Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados, in the contribution and innovations in the calypso and soca genres. There have been Cadence, Bouyon and Zouk from Dominica, Jab-jab rhythms from Tallpree in Grenada, and lately Ragga Soca from St. Vincent & the Grenadines.{{more}}

Michael Peters, Vincentian music aficionado credits Alston ‘Becket’ Cyrus for developing the Ragga Soca genre, with his experimentation of Rhythm & Blues flavors in his calypso compositions of the late 1970’s. Peters states that Becket’s “Coming High” (circa 1977) was the Caribbean’s first Ragga Soca or as Trinidad and Tobago now calls the genre, Groove Soca (7).

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines music industry for most of the 1970’s and 1980’s was outward looking, in the sense that Carnival and calypso lovers had to wait until music arrived from New York. Granville Straker, a St. Vincent-born Brooklyn-based record producer and owner of the Straker’s Records label controlled the music production for much of the 1970’s and 1980s.

During this time most of the Vincy music was recorded in New York then re-exported to St. Vincent. Artists who were unable to travel to New York recorded in neighboring Barbados or Trinidad, countries with a thriving recording industry, adequate technology and recording studios. Most of the New York-based artistes were often packaged by Straker in the All Stars Calypso Show during St. Vincent’s annual Carnival (8).

The only source of documented information on the early Vincentian music industry is the Performing Rights Society (PRS) of the United Kingdom, which was the only copyright organization representing OECS artists until 1999. PRS lists St. Vincent and the Grenadines membership as (6):

• Source: Paul Berry, 1999.

Most artists are not able to live as full-time professionals, and rarely perform locally outside of the Carnival season. Even those who have achieved some regional and international fame are required to earn a living overseas in North America, mainly through performances in the Carnivals of the Caribbean Diaspora.

Revenue for many of the locally based artists is gained primarily on the performance income from the Carnival season, especially from the calypso and soca competitions. In this context sound recordings are essentially viewed as promotional material more so than merchandise for sale.

Nurse estimates that the OECS music industry, driven by festival tourism, generates over US$20 million to the economies of the sub region (9).

There are no estimates of the contribution of the Vincentian music industry, but a measure of its impact may be garnered from the economic impact assessment of Carnival, the largest festival on the St. Vincent and the Grenadines entertainment calendar. Best estimates put Carnival’s effect on the Vincentian economy to be in the region of EC$20 million (10).

While Carnival stimulates the Soca, Calypso, and Ragga Soca genres, which dominate the Vincentian industry, it may be argued that the music is in fact the driving force behind the festival. The music creates the mood and momentum for the festival.

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