THA Minority Leader: 'Prove Tobago Jazz infeasible, unsustainable'

THA Minority Leader Kelvon Morris - File photo by David Reid
THA Minority Leader Kelvon Morris - File photo by David Reid

THA Minority Leader Kelvon Morris is calling on the Tobago Festivals Commission to show the data which proves hosting the Tobago Jazz Experience (TJE) was infeasible and unsustainable.

The commission announced the cancellation of the jazz festival, effective immediately, in a media release on March 8.

The commission said the decision to cancel the event was not made lightly but aligned with its commitment to deliver high-quality cultural experiences that resonate with the evolving interests of its audience. The commission said it will support private events during the traditional Tobago Jazz period.

Owing to the covid19 pandemic, TJE, usually in April, was not held from 2020-2022, but returned last year, with Boyz II Men and Koffee among the main acts. The TJE usually encompasses a weekend of music with a Speyside Jazz concert followed by the main international night.

At a media conference on March 10, Morris said the commission must come with facts before taking such a drastic decision.

"Produce the data that shows Tobagonians that this Jazz Experience was unfeasible and unsustainable. Where is the data? What would have informed this decision? Is this a decision taken by vaps, as in other things?"

He said the former PNM administration recognised the importance of the festival to the Tobago economy and the cancellation will hurt Tobagonians' pockets.

"For many Tobagonians, that is their bread and butter.

"For the taxi driver, that is a time they make a lot of money, because there are so many people on the island that require transportation.

"For the hotelier, the person with their bed-and-breakfast, guest houses, Airbnb, they see a serious uptick for accommodation during that time. Many are now facing significant cancellation during that period.

"For the tour operator, many people utilise that period as getting a bite at two cherries – killing two birds with one stone. They get the experience of the jazz and get a vacation – enjoy the beach, the adventure, the tourism."

Morris said the PNM, if returned to power, will return the TJE as a staple on the calendar.

He said after the failure of the Ring Bang festival in 1999, under the NAR-led THA, the PNM realised it was important to conceptualise an event to boost tourism.

He recalled that former tourism secretary Neil Wilson convinced the CL Financial conglomerate to support the vision, and the Tobago Gourmet and Jazz Festival was born in 2005.

"Because there was such a demand and because it was so successful, that morphed into what became the Plymouth Jazz Festival."

He said global stars such as Whitney Houston and Elton John graced Tobago's shores.

"The best of the best came to Tobago."

He said the THA later rebranded the event as the Tobago Jazz Festival after CL Financial was unable to continue its support.

Arguing the impact of hosting the event, he claimed the 2014 Tobago Jazz Festival, at which R&B superstar John Legend was the headliner, was a major success.

"Over 25,000 persons came to Tobago during that time. And Tobago recognised, based on the multiplier effect, over $60 million was injected into the Tobago economy. That underscores how valuable festival tourism and the TJE is to the Tobago economy.

"Yes, the THA would have had to spend some money, but it was never intended to recoup that investment that was made." But spending the money had a "multiplier" effect, he said.

He said everyone was "caught by surprise" that the TJE had been cancelled, two months before it was scheduled.

"What about the people who are invested in this jazz festival?" he asked.

"After one year of announcing TJE – The Return, this administration has admitted by their actions that they are unable to fix the Jazz. Instead...they have mashed it up – and they have mashed it up without consulting you."

He said Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, despite being from Tobago East, has derailed and destroyed the east's involvement in many cultural activities.

"Your Speyside boy has now taken away the Speyside Jazz from you. I want to ask the people in Tobago East, is that what you voted for?"

He questioned whether the transition to a private environment would actually benefit Tobago and young Tobago performers, saying private enterprises would just be interested in making a profit, and not investing in Tobago's orange economy or budding entrepreneurs.

In a brief phone interview, Newsday asked Tobago Festivals chair Cindy-Lou Edwards whether she would be willing to publicise the data Morris asked for, but she referred all questions to Secretary of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation Tashia Burris.

Asked by Newsday whether she would be willing to disclose the data showing the TJE was infeasible and unsustainable, Burris replied via WhatsApp, "The decision to no longer host the jazz experience was announced since last year by the Honourable Chief Secretary, The press release issued by the TFCL outlined the reason for the decision."


"THA Minority Leader: ‘Prove Tobago Jazz infeasible, unsustainable’"

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