Immediate redress is needed to counter the complete standstill of the entertainment industry in a post-pandemic economy.
This was the fervent call to action from Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) president Brother Resistance (Lutalo Masimba) yesterday.
A concerned Masimba said he is yet to see any specific plan for the sector in the Government’s Covid-19 “road to recovery” initiatives. Failure to apply the right impetus could leave one of this country’s leading economic generators crippled, he said.
“This is a particular and peculiar situation that requires a specific approach. Everything has come to a complete stop. We all know the economic generation of Carnival and the cultural arts. It would take at least a year to put festivals back on stream,” Masimba warned when he spoke to the Express via WhatsApp yesterday.
He said while many businesses can simply recall staff, open and return to operation, the creative industry requires a great deal more planning to get up and running.
“All persons in the entertainment sector and creative industry have been seriously affected by the lockdown. While it may be a simple matter for the Government to announce reopening of businesses from tomorrow, and they just have to turn a key and bring back out employees and begin to do business, it does not work like that for the creative sector.
“For us, it’s more difficult because we won’t have any performance spaces active. Even when the economy is completely opened back, we have to wait for all these things to fire to get an opportunity,” he said.
Entertainers singing the blues
Masimba said the public misconception that all entertainers earn large amounts of money is wrong. The truth, he said, is many of this country’s cultural practitioners have been starved of income as a result of the pandemic and are struggling to put food on the table.
“One of the misconceptions that people have about the entertainment industry is we all earn well. Most times, the industry is misrepresented by the quality of prize money in competitions and the quality of performance fees in mass audience events. These (erroneously) become the point of reference.
“In truth and in fact, in calypso, the performance fee for an entertainer in a tent is not significant and the income they make during Carnival will have to last them until. Under normal circumstances, that entertainer would find alternative ways to put food on the table through causal employment like a barber, mechanic, taxi-driver. In this era now, it eh have none of that,” Masimba said.
Masimba said he wrote Finance Minister Colm Imbert on April 9 requesting discussion on a way forward for the sector, but got no response. The TUCO boss said he didn’t press the issue, understanding the unique challenges of the global pandemic. When the sector was left out of initial plans for national recovery, however, he said he was left with little choice but to break his silence.
“I don’t want to create a situation. All of us are affected the world over, but when you say the road to recovery and begin to open in phases and nothing is mentioned about entertainment, I must say something,” Masimba said.
The veteran rapso performer said TUCO has been assisting members at the regional level by distributing food hampers and by accelerating Carnival 2019 payments.
Team already in place
Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said the Government has already put a recovery team in place to address economic recovery in all sectors: Team 22.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced on April 16 that he would personally chair Team 22, which includes second in command, Public Utilities Minister Robert Le Hunte and vice-chairman, businessman Gerry Brooks.
The Culture Minister said the team is open to feedback from all stakeholders, including the entertainment sector, and the process of gathering information is ongoing. Submissions can be made at roadmap2recovery.gov.tt.
“Covid-19 has had an impact on every sector, not just in Trinidad and Tobago but globally. The Government of T&T has put a recovery team in place which has provided a forum for considerations to which all interest groups and individuals are free to contribute, and has allowed for the views of interest groups operating within affected industries and sectors to be sought,” Gadsby-Dolly told the Express during a WhatsApp conversation yesterday.
In response, Masimba suggested a team more in tuned to particular nuisances of the creative industry should be established to work within the current framework. That team should include culture, trade and industry, tourism, finance and social development experts, he recommended.
“It’s not just a matter of accessing grants like the average citizens. We would need to begin to put facilities in place that would encourage the jump-start and the movement of the entertainment sector.”