In August 1959, at the peak of his fame, Miles Davis was taking a break from a recording which he was making downstairs an equally famous club called Birdland Jazz Club. He was on the pavement when a white policeman told him to move on.
“Move on for what? I am working downstairs. That’s my name up there,” said Davis pointing to his name in bright lights over the entrance to Birdland.
Then dry so, with little further interaction, Davis was arrested and a baton buss head followed.
This notorious incident is depicted in the film Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool. As many readers will know, Miles Davis was a great jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer and a seminal influence on music.
When first looking for movies during this lockdown time, I noticed the Miles Davis item. I chose it immediately because, when on the phone with a close Trinidad All Stars compere, I frequently hear the trumpet in the background fuelling his great appreciation of Miles Davis.
The film turned out to be confirmatory of the stimulus which the playing of music gives to self esteem, especially when the type of music comes out of the soul of a community located in difficult circumstances. Regular readers of this column will know precisely why this narrative holds my interest, especially so now as we contemplate the road to recovery.
Covid-19 will force us to re-build our economy. We should place our vibrant performing arts at the core of the recovery agenda—not merely with the disproportionate focus on one transitory Carnival season, which we may not even have in 2021. Its possible absence clears the way for re-consideration of diversification of the economy through the creative sector and to do so on a varied multi-seasonal basis.
On the road to recovery, a decision should be made to invest in music and theatre enterprises to be operated by the performing groups themselves, with additional managers of their choosing, and by reference to a business plan and a clear cultural funding policy. If these activities are to become enterprising, the manipulative hand of ministries of government on culture must be eased.
I believe that the now dissolved Economic Advisory Board treated with some of this subject among the reportedly 20 papers it submitted, but which were largely ignored by this Government who set it up in 2015.
Large scale international tourism will probably not recover for several years, but we must become ready and work meanwhile with discrete markets towards making Trinidad and Tobago a unique and authentic performing arts destination, a place full of well organised varied multi-seasonal events, facilitating the rediscovery of exciting cultural event travel. Unique and authentic are key words in branding. No banana boat songs and imitative renditions.
Like every sensible citizen, I would like us to have a remarkably low number of Covid 19 cases and related deaths through the government’s management strategy. However, the Ministry of Health made an attempt last week to dilute accountability for the deliberate maintenance of a limited testing policy for four weeks until it announced some increase in testing scheduled to start Tuesday last.
The Ministry failed to deliver on its promise of testing facilities additional to the CARPHA monopoly, the proverbial one basket in which it had placed all its eggs, constrained further by the dictates of CARPHA regarding the clinical case criteria for testing.
The Minister belatedly emphasised that the WHO mantra ‘test, test test’ applies to ‘suspected cases’—but why then was there any need to make a promise weeks ago to deliver additional testing facilities? Had the Ministry recognised that the limited testing of cases exclusively governed by CARPHA criteria was too restrictive?
The Ministry has only last week started surveillance testing in public health facilities. That is a critical means of identifying asymptomatic or mildly ill persons who are ‘reservoirs of the virus’, capable of triggering community spread, but probably not qualifying for testing by CARPHA.
As the road to recovery is now in contemplation, I am fervently hoping that the risk taken with a limited testing policy does not drop a backlash on us.