New Guyanese music should be at the heart of Mash
Stabroek News
February 2, 2002

Dear Editor,

On Wednesday January 30th I read a news item captioned "Government chipping in with $16 million for Mashramani 2002". I could not believe it. This happens every year in this country.

The Government is allocating 16 million dollars toward the Mash activities through the Ministry of Culture. Well I would like to congratulate the Government on supporting Mashramani 2002 in a big way. But, hey aren't we trying to compete with the likes of St Lucia, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago for a piece of the Caribbean's most popular festival by attracting citizens to Guyana for Mashramani?

I thought that was what we were supposed to be doing. How come after all these years we are still doing things the wrong way.

We all say, after Mashramani is over, that next year is going to be bigger and better. But we are only fooling ourselves. A promise is a comfort for a fool. We are supposed to be competing, improving and attracting the Guyanese citizens abroad along with the tourists to Guyana, for the festival. But this cannot happen when the Ministry of Culture don't invest in the product that will attract those Guyanese and the tourists to this country.

New Guyanese music is the only key for success when it comes to putting Guyana as a country on the tourism map for festivals in the Caribbean. Floats enhance the music by putting the ice cream on the cake. I once put a question to Minister Gail Teixeira at the Umana Yana after Mashramani. This was at a meeting for musicians and businessmen and women. I asked for anyone to show me anything tangible that came out of Mashramani that year after 12 million dollars was spent. No one had anything to say to me. I said when you have spent millions to make or create a set of floats, what can you use it for the day after Mash?

The only tangible things that will ever come from any Carnival or festival are video cassettes, T-shirts, and the most important one of all - cassettes and CDs with music from your festival.

I see that $100,000 each is being paid to hinterland regions to assist them in bringing their floats and revellers to the city on Mash Day and $85,000 to assist other regional administrations to do the same.

In addition $3 million was budgeted for the children's Mashramani competition and the children's road march and some 2.2 million dollars in advertising.

Don't forget that Fernleaf Milk Products has always sponsored the children's road march and float parade from its inception in 1995.

I think last year the sponsorship was over two million dollars.

The first prize for the calypso monarch is $500,000, second prize is $300,000 and $250,000 for third prize. Demerara Tobacco Company Limited, distributors of Bristol cigarettes, will sponsor the second prize. I don't know who will sponsor the first and third prizes. The youth calypso competition for young people between the ages of 16 and 25 years will not carry any monetary prizes.

This is what I have read in the newspapers. I can't believe my eyes as a musician and performer that the most important ingredient in the whole festival has been left out high and dry and that is what the people will come for - the music. This has happened every year since I came back to Guyana in 1986. Nobody cares about Mashramani if it lives or die. All of the Ministers and Government officials past and previous who have had Guyana in their hearts have failed to bring Mashramani alive or have failed to put it on the same pedestal as St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent, Grenada, Dominica, Jamaica's carnival or that in Trinidad.

The people who spend the country's money given by the Government of Guyana are lost and they have been lost for a very long time. They just do not know their way out and are ashamed to ask for the right help. Anyone who has travelled to Carnival and the other festivals across the Caribbean knows that music is the key for the success of all the festivals. If you don't create new music for people to jump to then they will go where they can hear new music and jump there.

In all of the islands and countries around the Caribbean large incentives are given out to the creator and singer of the winning calypso song. Large incentives and serious respect are bestowed to the creator and singer of the road march song which will represent those countries all across the world.

The reason why the Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados Road March winning songs are so popular in the Caribbean and wherever these people reside in the world, is in the credibility the people of that country give to that song by certifying it. It means the majority of the country love and respect that song which would make the whole country move.

I would say that 20,000 US dollars would be a wonderful start for a road march winner, and in years to come we would look back and say we should have started sooner. Where else can a Guyanese calypsonian win 20,000 US dollars? Not in this world and not in the Caribbean unless he or she has been living there for a long time.

When a Guyanese singer realises that he or she can win that amount for a winning song, they will all come back to take part and bring all of their friends too.

And when the Guyanese people who had left these shores many years ago hear and read about this they will want to be a part of the new creative Guyana and be glad to come home for Mash in their thousands.

Every Guyanese singer no matter which country they live in will have to enter the Road March competition with a proper CD single or a properly made CD album. When I say proper, I mean marketable CDs like those made by Michael Jackson, Eddy Grant or Celine Dion. The standard has to be first class and the production has to be first grade, if he or she wants to win the prize money of US$20,000.

I am sure we will get around 60 entries or more to create the foundation we are looking for in order to enhance Mash. Every artiste coming to Guyana to take part in the Road March competition has to bring 1,000 copies of his or her single CD or album for sale to whoever wants to buy.

You can't walk with copy CDs and expect to win US$20,000. We are trying to build something of serious standard and we don't want to go back to where we have just come from. We also must have duty free status to all Guyanese artistes who are coming back home to help build the Mashramani festival, by allowing all the CDs in the country duty free for the months from December to March.

If Mashramani was an Indian festival with competitions we would not be talking like this because the Indian businessmen and women and major corporations in this country would be giving prizes that would make Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago scream. US$20,000 would be a joke for a Guyana Road March . But it is not so in 2002. The creative music minds in Guyana have to solely depend and pray on the Ministry of Culture, hoping that they all see the light before we all get lost in the dark.

We are e chain in Guyana and the links have left for other countries. Let us make the chain strong again by bringing back home the links.

Yours faithfully,

Rudy Grant