Ha! Now That’s Funny! Barbados To Be The Cultural Capital of the Caribbean by 2020!

Barbados the cultural capital of the Caribbean? We don’t want to spark any senseless rivalry, but seriously? It’s an idea that would make the bulk of the populations in Jamaica and Trinidad (two Caribbean countries that actually have culture) laugh themselves sick like horses on weed.

What? Why isn't Barbados laughing too? They want the lead!

Chris Harper, programme manager for the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation is dead serious about the idea. In fact, Harper is not just pitching for Barbados to become the cultural capital “in the near future” – no. He is proposing that it be done in just 8 years. Wow.

What Are Harper’s Reasons Behind His Bold Proposition?

Harper insists that Barbados’ has an “abundance of talented musicians” (his words), “performing artistes, chefs, designers, fine artists and cultural entrepreneurs,” along with a “rich blend of food, music and fashion,” and “a creative spirit,” that “persuades tourists to fall in love with” the “little paradise.”

on any given weekend in Barbados one can find over fifty events to attend, with diverse entertainment ranging from poetry readings and jazz trios to nightclub bands and pop concerts. Additionally, there are also the many well-established, annual events such as the Holders Season, Christmas Jazz, the Crop Over Festival, Strictly Latin, Soca on de Hill, Barbados Jazz Festival, the Sandy Lane Gold Cup and the Barbados Music Awards, just to name a few.

A racer at Rally Barbados, one the Caribbean's biggest racing event (& it's held in Barbados!)

Additionally, Harper says Barbados has a number of venues. These include “the Frank Collymore Hall, Farley Hill, the Wildey Gymnasium, the Plantation Garden Theatre and Kensington Oval, which has already proven that it is capable of hosting international concerts with the successful staging of the Rihanna Loud Concert on August 5th, 2011.”

Why Harper’s Proposition Is Ludicrous

A round of applause for big dreams. Now, back to reality. Again, rivalry is silly, but by it’s very definition, the title “Cultural Capital” would suggest that Barbados would be the leading destination in the Caribbean for the arts, literature, music events, cuisine, landmarks, theater and many more “cultural” activities.

Here are four things that Harper has clearly missed:

1. Barbados could never compare, much more, surpass Jamaica or Trinidad in the cultural race.

Too many things have passed on ahead. For example:

  • Jamaica created and is the home of reggae music. (Plus Jamaicans have won perhaps every Reggae Grammy since the category was invented).
  • Jamaica created and is the home of dance-hall music.
  • Jamaica is home to the Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell, 3 of the fastest men alive; and Veronica Campbell Brown and Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce among the fastest women alive.
  • Jamaica’s signature jerk chicken, signature dread locks, and signature accent are known and loved across the world.

  • Ever single continent and country and perhaps village in the world knows Bob Marley (Album of the Decade).
  •  Jamaica created a religion! (Very hard to top that boss). Rastafari may not be officially recognized in Jamaica, but people across the world adhere to it.
  • Visit New York, London, Miami, Toronto, Tokyo even Bridgetown Barbados – in perhaps every city across the world there is a Jamaican restaurant, selling “Jamaican cuisine.” Travel anywhere and when you spot a Barbadian restaurant, snap a pic.
  • In Harper Barbados has on any given weekend “over fifty events” – Jamaica has some 13,000 plus “registered” events per year, that’s over 35 major events per day.

A very similar list could be written up for Trinidad and Tobago, the other English speaking Caribbean country that comes closest to Jamaica in grasping at the title for cultural dominance. For starts:

“TRINIDAD and Tobago has been voted the World’s Best Tourist Destination for 2012 and has also been declared the Favourite Cultural Destination in 2012.”

Enough said right? If anyone is in the lead, it is Trinidad and Tobago, but there is more:

Ladies at Trinidad's Carnival. Photo Credit: Ricardo F. Reyes

  • They invented the steel pan
  • Calypso and Soca in the Caribbean – regardless of what anyone may want to protest – are both attributed to Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Trinidad has a most distinct culture owing to the ethnic blend.
  • Doubles, roti, curried mango, chutney and a whole list of foods with titles too hard to spell – make Trinidad’s cuisine stand out.
  • Trinidad’s Carnival is one of the most anticipated events in the Caribbean.

2. Culture is not something you create overnight, or worst, in just 8 years.

Harper fails to realize that nothing in Jamaican, or Trinidadian, or any major, strongly distinct culture that is easily recognizable today, was created yesterday. For Jamaican music – there was slave drumming, mento, ska, lovers rock, toasting, old school dancehall, clashes and much more.

Culture takes years to form, to become real and marketable.

3. Barbados does not have any real distinct or easily identified culture.

Ask  ten people from around the Caribbean to list 5 things about Barbados and see what they come up with.

Harper, in making his case for Barbados speaks to “many talent musicians.” God bless Lil Rick. On any given ZR (Barbadian bus) ride the featured artiste is Jamaican (if reggae or dancehall), or Trinidadian (if soca or calypso).

4. Culture Is Not Enough, It Must Be “Right,” “Likeable” and “Inviting”

Harper wrote, “In addition to attracting more international guests, successfully establishing Barbados as the cultural capital of the Caribbean would mean that our island neighbors would increase their visits to our shores…”

Very serious issue.

Not very likely. The Shanique Myrie case now before the CCJ tells a story. Barbados is known – whether truthfully or untruthfully – for its culture of xenophobia and intolerance to any outside criticism. Harper must fix that first.

A Warning…Do Not Take This For Granted

Harper was heating up when he said:

Importantly…supporting factors include a relatively safe environment with a low crime rate; and, with specific regard to events, very low incidents of lawlessness.

He is right. Barbados has an advantage here and though Harper’s dream may appear to be a piped-dream, Barbados’ ambition should be a warning to the Caribbean’s culture leaders.

Just because you have the upper-hand, Jamaica, does not mean that Barbados cannot import all your culture, repackage and sell it like the Japanese do your coffee. Remember Trinidad’s steel pan patent troubles..

For now, we wait for 2020. Then we will see who laughs last.

Carnival Photo Credit: Ricardo F. Reyes

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