Vaughnette Bigford, our local vocal goddess, has a new CD where, says Cathy Shepherd’s Thursday review, she “reinterprets 11 songs from the Trinidad and Tobago calypso, pop, soca and soul songbooks, spanning a 39-year period.” It isn’t on iTunes. It was out for weeks and I still didn’t have it. So I contemplated trekking into downtown Port of Spain to Cleve’s, one of the few surviving brick-and-mortar “record stores”. Earl Crosby’s St. James store is another, but less and less so; numbers has become their core business, along with re-selling tickets for local shows. The ticket outlet role is a key part of Cleve’s business, too.
Parking and wrecking always deter me from shopping downtown. Even if I shell out for the Parkade, I’m likely to get a spot on the top floors, often exposed to the elements, multiple lifts are likely to be out of order, and there are never signs, so you find out by waiting too long. Then there’s the sheer driving skill to navigate those tight curves, that I’m just no longer interested in trying to master as I age. The same reason I avoid the badly paved, badly laid-out private lots that look like uninsured accidents waiting to happen, with their lean-to booths I imagine will be deserted, and thick chains I imagine will trap my car inside if I reach back a few minutes beyond an unposted closing time.
The needle on the car’s gas gauge was heading for E, rush hour traffic was thickening, but I chanced it, and pulled into a street parking space outside Cleve’s a little before 4. He’d already shuttered the shop and gone home early. Another few weeks would pass before I got the stamina to try again.
The story of Trinidad’s economic advantage is that, against a set of historical relations, in a global capitalist system we don’t control, we figured out smart ways to get oil and gas out of the earth, then how to make gas into an industry. (The story of the parallel cycles of squander continues to be told.) Much of the new chatter (hastened by a global downturn in energy prices) about diversification of our economy beyond enslavement to oil and gas drifts toward the idea of our creative capital—the brilliance that could turn a waste product of that same industry into a musical instrument that became the centre of a swath of cultural and community practices. In short, the hope is that, in a fashion similar to hydrocarbon resources, we can monetise our cultural resources more effectively.
Besides old people and freshwaters-come-home, everybody knows Trinbs don’t buy music, though. Or most creative content, frankly—ask this paper’s business managers. Which is why nobody is selling music any more, Rhynner’s disappeared, and it’s largely Cleve’s and Crosby’s left.
Worse than praedial larceny, young people see digital content on the internet as something to be shared for free, not as any artist’s intellectual property.
That’s not quite the case with literature, where print books have held their own globally, and recently rallied ahead of digital books. But I still don’t have a well-practised response when people ask how sales of my poetry collection published last year are going. I don’t have the energy for a lecture about local bookbuying and selling habits—captured in my Facebook pic of unopened boxes of school textbooks blocking the Caribbean literature shelf at a Trincity Mall bookseller—nor the wotlessness to just cuss. So I was one of those audibly gasping in glee when the upcoming NGC Bocas Lit Fest (don’t miss it—or me several places in it—starting with an LGBT writers’ lime Wednesday night at Euphoria Lounge on Dundonald St.) announced Joan Dayal would receive this year’s Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Literature. Apart from being the nicest person, Dayal has kept the Paper Based Bookshop (literature’s Cleve’s) in operation over 30 years.
Vaughnette’s isn’t the only CD I want. I messaged Collis Duranty, the other local musician I worship— Chike Pilgrim calls him a “musical diadem”—to taunt him. I’ve been longing to hold a CD from Collis, to put it on replay, ever since I heard the first song by this bearded dude who showed up to sing for free when some USC students asked him—at a debate about gay rights. I’ve puzzled why for so many years some of the most inspiring and accomplished local vocal compositions outside soca haven’t found a producer. We had a conversation about how in small spaces like here the little things we do for each other can matter hugely.
But in any thinking about creative industries and economic diversification, how you buy music is both real small and an enormously fundamental thing.
I was in search of yet another CD the other day. Michael Cherrie had told me there’s a cast recording of Derek Walcott and Galt McDermott’s 1970s musical “The Joker of Seville” on CD. After seeing its Little Carib production twice, my family played the vinyl LP and sang along till we wore a groove into the record. I’ve called Trinidad Theatre Workshop, stopped by a few times, left messages on people’s personal cellphones—to no avail.
Speaking of fallen giants, my last memory of Lloyd Best was him sitting in a car on lower Richmond St. not using his famous term “state of pre-collapse,” but describing it. What stuns me about our turn to “neoliberal,” non-ideological democracy in the Caribbean, away from romantic ideas of national development, is why our aspirations remain mired in concrete forms of patronage like highways, box drains, markets, jobs, and how no politician has ever dared run on the promise “We will make things work.”
Nyan Gadsby-Dolly seems among the most competent and media-savvy in Keith Rowley’s Cabinet. Damian Agostini the wood sculptor, whose work (which we know from the pavement of the Queens Park Savannah) the Port of Spain City Corporation seized and destroyed, may have an earful for her about cultural industries.
But mine has to start with me being able to buy music. (And not having Tobago Jazz and the Bocas Lit Fest on the same weekend.)