TOMAC organiser: Burna Boy fed off crowd's energy

Grammy-winning afrobeat star Burna Boy on stage at the TOMAC festival, early Friday morning, at the Plymouth Recreation Ground, Plymouth, Tobago. Photo by Leeandro Noray
Grammy-winning afrobeat star Burna Boy on stage at the TOMAC festival, early Friday morning, at the Plymouth Recreation Ground, Plymouth, Tobago. Photo by Leeandro Noray

TORRENTIAL RAIN, thunder and lightning marred the grand finale of the Tobago Music and Cultural (TOMAC) Festival, but Grammy-winning Afrobeat star Burna Boy, inspired by his drenched but vibrant fans, lifted the dampened spirits at the Plymouth Recreational Grounds with an electrifying performance.

Thousands ignored the Met Office's upgrade of the adverse weather alert from yellow level to orange, hoping the weather would hold up enough to enjoy the show.

Two hours into the concert, it was clear this was not going to happen. Rain fell throughout performances from soca stars Nailah Blackman, Ricardo Dru and Shurwayne Winchester.

The concert started around 8 pm and by then hundreds were at the venue sheltering under umbrellas and tents.

Donning their best attire for the highly anticipated show, some were seen wearing garbage bags, which they bought for $5 at the entrance gate, as vendors capitalised on the opportunities presented by the bad weather. The garbage bags were sold after umbrellas and raincoats were sold out.

By 10 pm, the downpour became heavier, but the crowd grew larger.

An hour-long interval between the last performance and the headline act left the crowd agitated and eventually disgruntled. Chants of "Burna, Burna," were eventually replaced by "Refund, refund," as DJ music kept the show going without an announcement.

One patron was heard saying: "They could at least come out and say what’s happening, instead of leaving us wondering if the show will go on.”

Scores of disappointed patrons eventually left the venue, but many stayed to get their money's worth.

Midnight had passed and the stage remained in darkness, with instruments covered with polythene plastic.

However, around 12.40am, Burna Boy took the stage, much to the delight of his fans.

The energy of his performance sent the crowd wild, forgetting their soaked clothes, hair and shoes.

Burna delivered hit after hit, including Toni Ann Singh (his collaboration with Popcaan), Jerusalema, Ye, For My Hand (a collaboration with Ed Sheeran) and Last Last.

Song after song, the crowd screamed in excitement, singing his lyrics word for word.

Burna told the crowd this was his first time in Tobago and he was excited to visit an island “only heard about in the movies.” Even as the rain continued, he connected with his fans, performing for an hour to thrill his patient and appreciative fans.

Burna Boy ended his performance just at 1.30 am with the same energy and hype he started with.

'Burna fed off crowd's energy'

TOMAC organiser Arlene Lyons acknowledged the challenges with the weather, but felt satisfied with the overall outcome and impact of the festival.

In an interview with Newsday, she said, "For the first time attempting to do something of this magnitude and significance, we are happy to have given this gift of Burna Boy to the people of Tobago.

"To me, it has been a very challenging and inspiring experience, and it's almost a perfect manifestation of the resilience and struggle of the African spirit. I feel like we have had to draw on that to be able to come to this point and pull off this event.

"We have had a lot of (challenges), and some of them were natural, but some of them were ones that are put in front of us by people who may not have the best interest of what we were trying to do."

She praised the crowd for the energy during Burna Boy’s performance, which she described as scintillating.

Patrons get low while dancing in the rain on the closing night of TOMAC festival at Plymouth Recreation Ground, Thursday night. Photo by David Reid

"The crowd loved it. According to his (Burna Boy’s) team, it was one of his best performances. He fed off of the crowd. His team said he has never seen anything like this, where people in this kind of inclement weather give off so much energy – and they said it was one of the things that inspired Burna to do a great performance.

"They said any other place might have cancelled the event with weather like what we had."

Asked if TOMAC considered cancelling the event as conditions worsened into the night, Lyons said it was never an option.

But there was a major concern: "whether or not Burna's team would want him to perform in those conditions."

She thanked the patrons for showing up despite the heavy rain.

"I must also thank Burna Boy and his team for pushing through despite the weather challenges."

She said the hosting of the event was not a perfect experience but a lot was learnt.

"It literally took a village to pull this off, so we want to thank everyone who supported what we wanted to do. It was well worth it and my soul and I bet everyone else's soul was fed."

She said there are plans to keep the momentum going with the rediscovery journey of what it means to be Tobagonian.

Speaking to Newsday about their experience, patrons had mixed feelings.

Adrian Howe of Chaguanas told Newsday, "I enjoyed the show. The weather was out of our control, and if we put that aside, we would see how excellent this event would have been. Overall, I enjoyed it."

Joshua Lashley told Newsday he felt disappointed with the time allotted to local performers. "The soca artists should have performed longer. The festival said it's about culture; soca is part of culture. While I was here for Burna Boy, the circumstances needed soca to get people mind off the bad weather."

Shaquille Sylvester praised TOMAC for the work put into bringing the festival together.

Soca artiste Nailah Blackman performs at the TOMAC Afrofusion Celebration Concert experience featuring Burna Boy at Plymouth Recreation Grounds, Plymouth Village, Tobago, Thursday. Photo by David Reid

“I got the same quality I hear on YouTube and on radio from Burna Boy. It was proper feedback and good endgame between crowd and artiste. His performance was just too short.”

Steven Purity of Washington, DC, said he only came to Tobago after reading a Newsday article on Burna Boy’s scheduled appearance. He was disappointed by the delay in Burna Boy hitting the stage.

"I paid for a concert that starts at 8 pm, ends at 11 pm – and it was after 12 am. That’s the next day, so I left.

"They just keep saying, 'He's coming,'  for over an hour, and that wasn't reassuring."

One woman added: "People standing in the rain was one thing, but having to wait for him was another thing. I left the venue at 12, when I was already on my way out. I hope they hold to their word when they promise the performer would be there."


"TOMAC organiser: Burna Boy fed off crowd’s energy"

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