Music dies a slow death

Entertainment is drying up in the Cayman Islands. This statement can
be substantiated by simply looking at the handful of live shows that have
visited our shores in recent times and the palpable, mystery that seems to
surround the process of what is required to accomplish these apparent fetes. It
would seem that there is a prevailing sense of rules, regulations and fees that
does more to stifle the arts than to encourage them. Anyone who does try and
negotiate the turgid waters of bureaucracy then finds themselves up against
apathy and a lack of venues. Yet the arts, as well as being an expression of a
culture, enhance and contribute to our psyche, wellbeing and imagination and
last but not least; visitors to our shores surely deserve some entertainment.

Somewhere along the way we have
become penny wise and pound foolish ……by taxing an area of activity that
supports most other forms of recreation.

In most jurisdictions on planet
earth, save those with communist or oppressive and dictatorial regimes,
concessions are made for the arts, whether it be in the form of the waving or
relaxing of fees,  providing grants or
creating competitions with real purpose and reward. However, since the early
seventies, the Cayman Islands have moved more and more away from this model and
as a result, the arts are looked at simply as another kind of business that contribute
to fees/taxes.

For many promoters in Cayman, one
of the sticking points is trying to bring in acts from other countries and the
length of time it takes to get anything done at the Immigration Department. “It
is simply impossible to get anyone at the Cayman Islands Immigration on the
phone via their switch board if you do not have a direct extension, and even
this proves to be like pulling teeth. It is killing commerce in our Island. The
bureaucracy here as opposed to other Caribbean destinations puts us at an
immediate disadvantage as promoters and purveyors of entertainment,” said
musician and promoter Steve Morgan.

Several calls and a visit to the
Immigration Department for a comment regarding this article were frighteningly
unsuccessful and no one at the department could say whether there was an
information manager, through whom requests could be made.

Artist and musician Gordon Solomon
also agreed that more should be done to relax the system currently in place for
hiring musicians and allowing individuals from all over to be able to play.
Solomon felt that this was particularly necessary to encourage younger people
who want to get into the music industry. Although many students leave
government schools with extensive training in music -once they leave school
they fade into obscurity because of lack of opportunities for expression.
Solomon thinks that if there were more musicians and entertainers coming to
Cayman with experience and knowledge from elsewhere, it would serve as an
example and teaching tool for these youngsters, who could also apprentice under
such people.

However not all are fully sold on
less stringent immigration policies being in place. President of the Cayman
Music and Entertainment Association Jean Eric Smith said he felt it was a more
sensitive issue than meets the eye.

He noted that the resource pool of
musicians in Cayman was as a result of the opportunities that existed and one
could not be separated from the other, adding that the infrastructure – in
terms of live venues and facilities for live music – have been compromised,
resulting in artists/musicians have nothing to aspire to. He believes that
until you have more and better venues there is no point in taking in musicians
from abroad.

“If the opportunities to play
increase and the venues excel, I would be for easing the current restrictions
but not before, he said, adding, “When I was playing with the Juveniles 25
years ago at the Galleon Beach the stage was a super structure and when we were
rehearsing we had that image in our minds. It made us want to step up and rise
to the occasion. Now what we have is a situation where people who are receiving
liquor and music and dancing licences do not have adequate facilities for music
and dancing. What needs to happen is have the CMEA and the Liquor Licensing
Board work more closely together or separate music and dancing from the liquor
licenses so that we can ensure facilities will meet the standards in terms of
lighting, accessibility. sound etc.”

Most of the outdoor venues in
Cayman, particularly those along Seven Mile Beach, have been silenced as a result
of complaining residents in condos along the strip and the indoor venues that
do exist under the guise of live entertainment, many times do not even have
plugs in the proper places or a standard stage, except for a few.

Another problem Mr. Smith pointed
out is how live entertainment is perceived here.

“When you have a live show and it
cannot happen properly because of condo owners complaining, is one of the
biggest problems with entertainment on the West Bay Road that no one talks
about.” Smith says that in his opinion, a lot of the people we have allowed to
invest in the Cayman Islands do not see the value of the local dollar and actually
see local business as impeding their foreign clientele and more and more former
venues are being lost.

“Instead of keeping the facilities
for live entertainment, like Stingers Lounge at the Treasure Island, we have
turned those places into restaurants and gyms.”

Taking these factors into account,
Smith believes that the very things that made Cayman special for tourists and
locals alike and an example to other Caribbean countries is being lost.

“…The Cayman Islands were built
on people mixing, we didn’t have any industry here and we figured out early
that tourists wanted to come and rub shoulders with our local people. Now other
Caribbean countries that have learnt this from us successfully, are putting
this into practice and we are practicing some kind of segregation thing. The
rich man at his hotel does not come in contact with the fisherman from West Bay
anymore and we have lost that dimension of cross reference. Integration is the
way forward and we are not coming together for various reasons.”

One way forward, according to the
president, would be for the places that are successfully offering live music
now, to extend their line-up to include more acts, giving each artist or group
three months at a time and making for a more all inclusive, integrated offering
and encouraging entrepreneurs to not get stuck in their brand but rather to
remain open minded about world music variables.