ADAPTING THE ENTERTAINMENT SECTOR DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC: THE ONLINE CARNIVAL EXPERIENCE

Interview by Marie Moncaut

Mr.Azem Bailey is a young entertainment entrepreneur, sound engineer and producer from the Caribbean federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. When the pandemic shut down the twin islands, the cultural sector had to find alternatives to adapt to new forms of expression, diffusion, and promotion of the art, culture and identity. It became a necessity to maintain a cultural dynamic within the territory and the online version of the National Carnival was a tremendous success, giving a new platform of promotion for art and offering new perspectives

🔵 Can you present yourself ?

My name is Azem Bailey, I’m an entertainment entrepreneur, mainly operating in the field of live event production and sound engineering. I own the “Red Pill entertainment agency“for event production and management, creative branding and artist bookings. We are located in St Kitts, but we operate all over the region.

🔵 Can you explain your production company’s work and how the pandemic has affected you ?

Well, the pandemic affected the entire entertainment industry. Perhaps more than other industries since our industry is based on people gathering together. The pandemic, which limited people’s movements and gatherings, really put a strain on the entertainment industry and on my role specifically, as an organizer of live events. So, as a sound engineer, which was one of my main sources of income prior to the pandemic, I would travel and work at large gatherings. Those are the two things that have been mostly affected by the pandemic and so I really had to make some decisions about how I was going to operate from then on. Many live events pivoted and were done virtually. They went online in a way to try and keep artists connected with their fans. Initially, many DJs were performing from home and streaming, using social media to stay connected with their fans and patrons and then that inspired artists themselves to put on concerts and other live events in order to interact with their fans. In fact, there was an opportunity for us to lend our skills to some of these new events online. We coordinated the production of the election campaign here in St. Kitts in 2020, because it relied heavily on culture, creativity and art. Later in the year, we had our carnival celebrations and we were asked to produce virtual events for the Carnival committee.

🔵 So how was carnival ? Can you explain to us the format of the carnival production ?

Several islands totally cancelled their carnival events. We went into lockdown in March and our Carnival is in December, so it gave us some time to see what was happening and to plan. The chairperson of the Carnival committee, Ms. Shannon Hawley, contacted me for some ideas because they wanted to produce a virtual series of events. We started brainstorming and figured out that there were some events that would work well virtually and some that we would have to postpone until we would be able to have more traditional events. We were able to showcase certain unique art forms to not only locals, but also to people all around the world. We had people logging on in Taiwan, in Singapore and all across the US. We had a lot of viewers from other Caribbean islands. Our Carnival garnered more than one million views. At first we were thinking about having pre-recorded events, with only performers and the technical staff on set. After some time, we were allowed to have just a few spectators. We did a Steel Pan night and invited some local bands for the Opening Ceremony of the Carnival.

I think that was one of my favorite events because we were able to showcase different types of culture. It featured folklore, clowns, our local music and “the actors“(a unique troupe of local acrobats). It was an opportunity for some of these unique art forms to be shown worldwide and we’re very proud of being able to organize that. I think it forced us to focus on the widest broadcast of the events possible. For years, carnival shows weren’t necessarily produced for an online audience. They were produced for a live audience.

🔵 Can you imagine a combination of the live and online audiences ?

Yes, I think we could have a fusion of the two audiences, there can be a balance. We realize now that the technicians and those involved in the technical side of these events really had to step up their game. From the graphic artists to the costume designers, everyone understood that this is something that is not just going to be seen on stage for five minutes, this will basically be online forever. Therefore, everyone really had to upgrade production techniques for live and online viewing. We didn’t have a choice; it is already the new normal. The expectations and the landscape have changed and that’s a good thing. However, production costs are high, mostly because it is new. There are some upfront costs associated. Above all, we have not yet figured out exactly how to manage this new type of broadcast.

🔵 So what new model or economic models are possible with this new approach ?

A few bands have tried “pay per view“type events with limited success. I don’t think that this is the model that we could use here. We’re going to have to find a new model, in close collaboration and negotiation with the corporate community. Now, we’ve reached the point where sponsors aren’t seeing crowds of people at the events, but they still want value for their money in order to gain exposure, although we’re getting more people to look at the event. However, the sponsors have yet to recognize the value, right ? So it’s about having that conversation with companies. On this specific point, it has been a difficult negotiation here in St Kitts. That’s also what I have been trying to ensure that producers understand, since all of the audience is not local, then the companies that we should be trying to attract should not only be local as well. Even though there has been some adaptation, there are still a lot of creative artists who are suffering. The promoters who put on these events have fewer tickets to sell and are scaling back on the amount and type of entertainment. So, for instance, a promoter may have hired three singers and a band to play. Now, he may only hire two singers. He may not even hire a band. But it’s not just even the people on stage; many support staff in the concert venues etc. have also been affected.

🔵 So how would you qualify your role during these times, as sound engineer, but also a head of a production company and the role of entertainers in general ?

It’s far more than just work; it is a human necessity, right ? I think that’s why we’ve seen the adaptation happening so quickly and so aggressively because as humans, we have to connect. We connect through these crafts, art forms and culture, right ? Our culture is our identity; there is no way that we are going to be able to just stop creating our culture. Whether it’s sharing messages, ideas, feelings or emotions, now that we’re not able to connect physically in the way that we used to traditionally, how do we still share the same messages, emotions and ideas?

🔵 So what are your future projects then ?

It’s not enough for us to sit behind our screens, cell phones, televisions or tablets and watch artists perform. One of the things that we found very interesting about the virtual carnival was the “Comments’’ section: people still tried to interact in a way that was very similar to a traditional event. So when they were at a live event, people would chat on the way to the bar. Viewers would say hi to others every night, then they would come back and continue conversations as if they had physically met the night before and so on. Right now, my company is working on the introduction of virtual reality where we use the technology we have to create an illusion. Using elements like Google Glass or Google cardboard, which are very affordable options to bring the event into people’s homes since they’re not able to physically go to the venues. So, we’re working on several events: the first one will bea virtual club. So you literally go to the club on the weekend from the comfort of your own home. You will use your cell phone as well as a piece of cardboard with a lens and be able to feel like you’re in a physical, yet virtual, space when you’re actually at home.

ampersan Amérique art and pandemia art et pandémie arte y pandemia Asuncion Barranquilla Caraibes Caraïbes cine cinema cultural rights culture derechos culturales direitos culturais droits culturel indigene industria musical latine Marcelo Munhoz nicolas mateus écologie

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