Full Disclosure: This writer is a producer of the annual Jazz Artists on the Greens, and both Kalabash and Brownman have been featured artists there.)
Their return led to questions of the sustainability of a music career outside of this space, especially a jazz music career. Toronto, for all it’s worth, seems to be a haven for the Caribbean migrant seeking fortune in the creative industries. Caribbean born authors have found commercial and literary success there. Canada has been described in recent times as post-ethnic and trans-cultural, so the idea that Caribbean-born musicians playing jazz influenced by their homelands to an eager market there is not unreal. It is a more open market than the introverted and prescribed US, which is genre-defined and has restricts music with jargon terms such as world fusion jazz, ethnic jazz or non-Western jazz.
Brownman and Kalabash represent test cases for our examination of the possibility of our musicians making a space in the crowded global music market. Organised music markets like Canada have the range of commercial opportunities in recording, music publishing and live performance with supporting legislation, corporate structure and high levels of subsidy to enhance and stabilise them. Too often, locally-based musicians decry the conditions and the business environment here in TT: low levels of copyright infringement prosecution, low local content played on broadcast media, minimal promotional opportunities outside of Carnival, fewer venues for live performances, high production costs, low prospects of return on investment, based on all of the above.
CaneFire featuring Trinidadian pannist Mark Mosca and Grenadian-born keyboardist Eddie Bullen.)
Scott Henderson, writing in Popular Music Journal in 2008 noted that,
...the rise of a successful Canadian ‘scene’, spearheaded by bands such as Arcade Fire...demonstrates the impact of policy in creating a national music culture that is confident enough to no longer have to be explicitly Canadian, either sonically or lyrically. CanCon regulations would appear to have aided in situating Canadian acts comfortably within a wider music culture within Canada.Theoretically, that may be the case, but stories vary among nationals there.
Brownman leads a variety of Latin-jazz ensembles. He markets himself as being from Trinidad, yet avoids melodies or rhythms from this island. His lengthier immigrant experience renders him neutral to niche market genres, and points him towards what sells, hip-hop jazz and Latin jazz. He says he just plays jazz. Even within this calibrated music market, the exotic is “gentrified” to irrelevance.
Ultimately, Toronto is a less commercially competitive music market than LA or New York, but the minimal gains of Caribbean-born artists in all genres in terms of wide commercial appeal define a pattern in North America of native appeal superseding foreign and more so foreign-sounding music. "Someone else's local music" is never enough. Multiculturalism, be damned!
Brownman is a constantly gigging globe-trotting musician concentrating on live performance while Kalabash’s performances have been focussed on a few cities. The recording opportunities beyond performance remain untapped in this city of potential. The template for a music career outside of TT would need to focus on popular similarities rather than exotic differences.
ADDENDUMThe attempts to support the shallow pool of local jazz artists has made the production company to which I belong look to the diaspora for new talent. Toronto, Canada is the home to a number of Caribbean jazz artists with commercial recordings reflecting a more mature approach to the industry. Popular TT artists have also made that move north including Shazelle, Kobo Town, Kerwin DuBois, David Rudder, and Anselm Douglas.
The phenomena of immigration, assimilation and accommodation in Canada—Toronto more specifically—has long been used by modern anthropologists and writers to describe the plight of Caribbean immigrant. Neil Bissoondath has aptly described “the cult of multiculturalism in Canada,” a nationally legislated exercise in social engineering, as “exoticizing and trivializing cultures to create “mental ghettos for the various communities.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel has admitted since 2010 that her country's exercise of multiculturalism has "utterly failed." Trinidad went against the tide of modern history and created a Ministry of Multiculturalism.
Many writers of Caribbean birth make use of the mature publishing industry to their profit: Bissondath, Clare Harris, Dionne Brand, NourbeSe Philip, Rabindranath Maharaj, Shani Mootoo, Ramabai Espinet, the late Harold Sonny Ladoo, all of Trinidad; Austin Clarke and Cecil Foster of Barbados, Olive Senior and Nalo Hopkinson of Jamaica, Richardo Keens-Douglas of Grenada are identifiable authors of multiple volumes carving a space in the Canadian publishing industry.
- An edited version of this article appears in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian published as Canada a haven for Caribbean musicians
© 2013, Nigel A. Campbell