The three Caribbean music arena shows this Labor Day weekend will precede Brooklyn's annual West Indian Day Parade
A contingent of prominent New York City based Caribbean music promoters have come together to stage a three-day festival at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Labor Day weekend with the aim of spotlighting the Caribbean region’s musical diversity and the economic power within its fan base.
Presenting the inaugural Caribbean Fever Irie Jamboree Music Festival, Aug. 30-Sept. 1 is a quintet of music executives: Dahved Levy, executive director, Devonish Productions and host of Caribbean Fever on NYC’s WBLS (107.5) FM, Steven Williams CEO of Stephen Williams Enterprises, LLC and Robert Clarke and Louis Grant, respectively the CEO and vp of Irie Jam Media Group.
The Promoters & Mr Loverman: (L-R) Louie Grant, Steven Williams, Dahved Levy; and Bobby Clarke (extreme right) with Shabba Rnks (center, with mic) at the event’s press launch at Brooklyn’s Milk River on Aug. 9 (Photo by Roland Hyde)
Caribbean music, especially soca, provides a vibrant soundtrack to the numerous concerts and parties in New York City throughout Labor Day weekend leading up to Monday’s 46th annual West Indian American Day Carnival parade, which draws upwards of 2 million people to Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway. Parade organizers West Indian American Carnival Day Association (WIADCA) estimate the parade and related activities bring some $300 million in revenue to New York City.
Music Festival at the Barclays Center, America’s most profitable concert venue with a capacity of 18,103 and bringing in some $46.9 million in concert ticket sales between Nov. 1 and May 31, the promoters hope to elevate the visibility of the region’s music beyond Labor Day events and its core Caribbean following.
“This show is the perfect vehicle for our Caribbean culture to be shown to people across the world; Beyonce, Jay Z, Justin Bieber, The Rolling Stones have all sold out the Barclays so it is important, not only from an artistic standpoint but from a standpoint of financial feasibility, that Caribbean artists can share the same stage where artists from other genres have been successful,” observed Dahved Levy.
“Three nights at the Barclays Center is a major stepping stone for Caribbean music; if we can sell out the Barclays, we can set foot in any major arena in the US and replicate what we accomplished in Brooklyn. From there we can replicate it in any arena in the world,” adds Steven Williams, who estimates the cost of the Barclays festival at $1 million dollars with most of the funds raised by the promoters.
The festival’s opening International Night on Friday features acts from the French (Creole) speaking Caribbean including Haiti’s ambassadors of kompa Tabou Combo, Haitian-American rapper/producer Wyclef Jean and Paris based zouk super group Kassav.
Saturday night’s Carnivalmania boasts soca artists from St Vincent, Barbados and Grenada and a long awaited return to New York by Trinidadian legend Super Blue alongside his daughter and son in law Fay Ann Lyons and Bunji Garlin. Garlin’s single “Differentology” was one of the biggest hits at Trinidad Carnival 2013 and a Major Lazer remix of the song has brought Garlin much deserved international attention.
Sunday’s Irie Jamboree reggae night offers Jamaica’s finest talents with Damian “Junior Gong” Marley and Shabba Ranks as the marquee names. Signed to Epic Records in 1991, Shabba’s massive crossover success, topping the R&B album chart with his Epic debut “As Raw As Ever” took dancehall reggae to the mainstream and paved the way for the subsequent success of Shaggy, Sean Paul and Junior Gong who cites Shabba as a major influence.
Levy, born in Barbados, has promoted Caribbean music events in the NYC area since the late 1980s, including sold out shows at The WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden (featuring Beres Hammond and Buju Banton) and at Radio City Music Hall with soca superstar Machel Montano. Last December, Levy brought the Caribbean Fever Music Festival to the Barclays, starring Montano, sibling reggae group Morgan Heritage and dancehall star Mr. Vegas. The event, rescheduled from Nov. 2 due to the damage brought by Hurricane Sandy, attracted nearly 8,000 patrons and, along with Levy’s past triumphs, proved a significant factor in securing the Barclays for three consecutive nights.
Levy’s co-producers, the Jamaica born Williams, Clarke and Grant are the promoters of Irie Jamboree one of America’s largest reggae concerts, held annually in Queens NY on Labor Day Sunday between 2003-2009, pulling an average 15-20,000 per show. Williams brought his concept for an outdoor reggae concert to Clarke and Grant whose Irie Jam Media Group includes Irie Jam radio, a popular Jamaican/Caribbean music and news format broadcasting upwards of 40 hours per week on WVIP 93.5 FM, New Rochelle. The initial Irie Jamboree celebrated Irie Jam’s 10th anniversary; this year’s edition at the Barclays commemorates their 20th anniversary and all principals agree is a major step forward.
“It’s a bold move to do something at the Barclays on Caribbean weekend but being there for the first time comes with its share of challenges,” Grant discloses. “Ticketmaster is the major ticket outlet so we don’t have as many tickets available in the community outlets; we have to purchase the tickets from Ticketmaster and put them in stores, which obviously is not as easy as when the tickets originated with us. So that’s an adjustment for our core market but it is balanced by the appeal of Junior Gong, Wyclef and Shabba among a mainstream clientele.”
While the festival’s directors have extensively promoted the English speaking Caribbean’s reggae, soca and calypso artists to the greater New York concert going public, they have a limited acquaintance with the French Creole speaking Caribbean community so they recruited White-Mark Entertainment, led by its Haitian born founders Blandine Jean-Paul and Jean “Marco” Guerrier to handle management, production and promotion of (French Caribbean) International Night. White-Mark’s far-reaching multi-media, multi-generational and bilingual marketing campaigns have been very effective as reflected in the brisk ticket sales for Friday night.
“We went to carnival in Haiti in July to promote the event and our street teams in Boston, Philadelphia, Maryland, Georgia and Florida have targeted specific neighborhoods there to put up posters advertising the show,” explained Jean-Paul. “Our newspaper ads, radio and TV spots are bilingual (French Creole and English) but our digital, text, email and social media campaigns are in English. The older generation from Haiti who are more familiar with Kassav and Tabou Combo still love their (French Creole) news and radio stations, but the younger audience, the Wyclef fans, are usually tech savvy and most comfortable speaking English even if they were born in Haiti.”
According to a report by the Migration Policy Institute, in 2009 the United States was home to 3.5 million immigrants from the Caribbean, with more than 90 percent arriving from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago; one-third of Caribbean immigrants reside in the New York-Northern New Jersey and Pennsylvania metropolitan areas. The spending potential of Caribbean nationals residing in the US is estimated at $16.3 billion, according to data presented by Kevin Hughes at the Caribbean Media Exchange conference in St. Thomas, USVI, December 2011.
“The Caribbean dollar is strong here; we are the blue collar working class but we also have the masters degrees, own homes and businesses and we spend money to celebrate our culture,” explains Robert “Bobby” Clarke. “Our people will come to the Barclays to celebrate their heritage and as promoters we have a responsibility to deliver that properly. We are reggae and soca and if hip hop and R&B can present themselves at the Barclays so can we and we take pride in that.”