By Yasser Musa
December 9, 2012
There are many things I need to say about the cultural and artistic affairs of Belize. I wish to start with music.
In April 2010 Moses Michael Levi AKA Shyne was appointed Music Ambassador by the UDP government. Wilfred Elrington, the Minister of Foreign Affairs who appointed him said at the time, “What we want to have him become the director of the music program in NICH working in conjunction with NICH for the government of Belize so that he will put in train the formal music education in all our schools and learning institutions to give our children the chance to tap into that tremendous resource they have.”
The appointment of Shyne as a music ambassador was a slap in the face to the credibility and emergence of a vibrant original music industry in Belize. Nothing against Shyne the artist, I am a big fan, but his grandiosity rubbed many people the wrong way, especially the struggling artists. I heard DJ Keegan recently making the salient point on air that each day that passes with an absentee ambassador is an insult to all artists not just musicians.
In April 2011 at a University of Belize forum on culture Belize’s acclaimed music producer Ivan Duran stated that music in Belize is in a state of “coma.” The reason for this began with the blow to the head from Shyne’s appointment. Music is about credibility and authenticity. Shyne’s appointment was and remains a sick joke.
The music mess we find ourselves in stems from three structural problems. The first is education. Our education system has no real regard for the arts. It is a system designed to control and crush the youth. The arts are about liberation, so music in our schools remains an extremely marginal activity when we examine the national picture.
The second structural problem we face is the approach to music from a government investment standpoint. Sure we hear of NICH supporting and sponsoring various events and activities, but this is superficial. Even when I was at NICH 2003 - 2008 and we saw the rise of music as a vehicle for social and cultural development with Andy Palacio as a key leader, it was just the beginning and nowhere close to our destination. However, the people currently responsible with making forward gestures for our music industry on behalf of the state are in over their heads. The only way to move out of our rut is to hand over all the monies budgeted for music to the musicians, producers and activists. Music promotion is not a government activity. Government should be a key investor, not manager or organizer.
Finally, the third problem we face with our dying music industry is the colonial attitude that corporate and private sponsors have toward our Belizean musicians. The producer Young C stopped me in the street recently and bemoaned the disgraceful approach Digicell is taking toward its 10th anniversary concert. From reliable sources I discovered that Digicell the “great” national company is paying almost one hundred thousand dollars to bring in international artists. What is criminal is that they are also hiring Belizean musicians, but for cents on the dollar. This disparity has always existed and Tony Wright is one of the few artists who have fought against this corporatist practice for decades. The Digicell concert is just one example of corporate ignorance, arrogance and anti-development mentality that exists.
The time has come for an art bond. If we can raise $20 million for a single small city, then why not raise just half of that for a four-year culture plan. We could use the art bond to do three key things, (a) market music as a global commercial product like peppers, tourism and bananas, (b) establish a culture fund for small grants to artists, musicians, writers, moviemakers and (c) invest in equipment and technical support for art in schools, and non-academic institutions.
At the end of the four years our $10 million investment will create a bloom and a boom. This bond could easily be floated on the condition that a percentage of the NICH revenue is allocated to its repayment. The same way the IDB dished out millions for us to restore our Memorial and Archaeological parks, well the time has come to invest in the living. In the end Belize will have more books, more children in school, more music records, more art, a good name on the world stage and a chance for many to make a living.