Thu | Jan 18, 2018

Corporate sponsors go it alone - for free

Published:Thursday | March 31, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Romain Virgo gets up close with a fan during his performance at the Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum Signature Nights Series at Macau's, recently.
From left: Ky-Mani, Damian and Julian Marley onstage at the Bob Marley 70th Redemption Live Concert at the Waterfront, downtown Kingston, last year.
Karlene Lal (right) hands out school bags at a previous staging of the LIME Skool Aid, held at Jamworld, Portmore, St Catherine.

Recently, each week there has been an entry in the weekly listing of events which appears in Friday's entertainment section of this newspaper, inviting the public to a free concert put on by probably Jamaica's most distinguished rum-makers.

Normally held on a Tuesday night, a typical example of the ad reads: Appleton Estate presents Signature Nights at Italian Cafe, Negril, featuring Romain Virgo. Indulge with us as we enjoy great music and epic cocktails courtesy of Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum.

Christopher Martin and Tarrus Riley have also been involved in the concerts, which have also been held in Ocho Rios and Kingston.

It is hard to beat the value that these concerts offer - held in small, well-appointed venues; there is no need to navigate the parking hustlers; a variety of decent food and drink is available; and chances are, no outright hooligans are going to turn up and make the night uncomfortable.

Most of all, they are free. All you have to do is turn up. You don't even have to buy a drink.

An event like this is good news for the public, but not so good news for those putting on events hoping for sponsorship from a corporate entity like a rum-maker or a cell phone company, entities which a decade ago were scrambling to fund large concerts, clothing the venue liberally with their banners. That situation, although maybe not totally behind us, has certainly changed dramatically, promoters GT Taylor (who puts on Christmas Extravaganza in Black River, St Elizabeth) and Supreme Promotions (which stages Sting on Boxing Day) having publicly acknowledged that corporate support has fallen off tremendously.


But not their involvement in music. Appleton's single-artiste concert series is just the latest in a number of free or very low-cost events put on by companies which would have previously supported an event staged by an independent promoter. And many of them are annual, large-scale events, such as Digicel's Redemption Live, which celebrates Bob Marley's birthday in February. Also, there is the LIME Skool Aid, a two-day affair in Portmore, St Catherine, which has a stage show component at the end of each day. Add to that the Arthur Guinness celebration, put on by Red Stripe, which also hosts the Jamaica Beer Festival.

In terms of frequency, none of those can beat the bar parties which have been staged by the Magnum, Red Stripe, Heineken, Guinness and Charley's JB brands. Using heavily branded mobile sound systems, they simply set up at a liquor shop and put on a session, sometimes with dancing girls in tight clothes to help keep the eyes busy and the drinks flowing.

It does not mean that the corporate sponsors have totally abandoned supporting events staged by independent promoters for their own productions, but it does seem that they have found a working model in putting on events for themselves. What this means for Jamaican popular music culture is something that bears close scrutiny.