Jennifer Hudson, Kool and the Gang and Jill Scott are among an impressive lineup of superstars who will perform at the 2015 staging of the Tobago Jazz Experience. Scheduled for April 18-26, the weeklong festival is a fusion of music, heritage, cuisine, hospitality and everything that is Tobago. As not only will visitors get to revel in the music from the above named headline acts, but they’ll also get to see performances from Trinidad & Tobago soca artists Kes The Band, Shurwayne Winchester and soca/calypso artist David Rudder. In addition, the schedule is action packed with various cultural, food, outdoor and watersports activities. To find out more about the history of this jazz festival now in its 7th year, below is an interview with John Arnold who is chairman for the Tobago Jazz Experience 2015.
When was the first Tobago Jazz Experience?
The first jazz event was in 2005 with the Tobago Gourmet Jazz Festival and then that was changed to the Plymouth Jazz Festival. When the world downturn occurred in 2008, a major sponsor pulled out and there came a new festival the Tobago Jazz Experience in 2009. So we are in the 7th year of the Tobago Jazz Experience.
What was the original impetus for the festival?
The original impetus was creating marquee events to increase visitor arrival and hotel occupancy in Tobago. Similar to many other Caribbean destinations, attracting visitors is competitive and so event tourism started off in a big way in 2003 with the hosting of the first ever International Gospel Festival targeting the Southern Bible belt in Atlanta, Georgia. The jazz initiative then followed.
How has the Tobago Jazz Experience grown/changed over the years?
We have experienced amazing growth in the number of attendees to the event. Plus there has also been growth in the caliber of headliners, growth in the event industry with suppliers, capacity build for artistes who want to get on the big stage, community spirit and pride as villagers take ownership of the village events, multiplier effect for the whole island in accommodations, food sales, tours, etc. Bottom-line growth has occurred in every area.
How many people typically visit Tobago for the Tobago Jazz Experience?
Normally the audience for the main weekend range from 3,000 to 6,000. However last year was fortuitous as we had an artist — John Legend — who was on the upward trajectory and as such we benefitted tremendously. The audience actually increased to 14,000. This obviously created other challenges of supply and limited road access etc. – things we are working to improve this year!
How is the Tobago Jazz Experience different from other jazz festivals in the Caribbean region and elsewhere across the globe?
It is different in that the emphasis in the other festivals is straight entertainment. For the Tobago Jazz Experience, it is about an experience with communities, historical sites, music, culture, food, water sports, village life, customs, etc. I always say its experiential tourism, community tourism, ecotourism, festival and event tourism all meeting at the same junction of expression.
So what exactly are some of these other activities/events happening during the festival?
All the villages showcase cultural and outdoor activities during the day. For example at Jazz In The East happening in Speyside, one can get boat rides to Little Tobago, divers have the opportunity to dive, some go to Blue Waters Inn to relax, while others venture up to neighboring Charlotteville to lime with the fishermen. In Northside Castara, one can experience dirt oven bread and many other pastries along with real time fish broth on the beach with the fishermen (finishes fast too)! Later on, patrons can do what is called siene pulling where the fish catch is shared among the laborers. Finally, the festival offers many fringe events around the island with fashion, food and music at other local venues.
Who are some of the regional stars that will be performing during the 2015 event along with headliners like Jenifer Hudson, Jill Scott, etc.?
Kes The Band, Shurwayne Winchester and David Rudder from Trinidad and Tobago are scheduled to appear. We are also talking to Busy Signal and Romaine Virgo but they are not confirmed as yet.
When will the confirmed schedule be available?
The schedule which is continually being updated along with ticketing information is on the Tobago Jazz Experience website. So definitely check it out and more importantly, come experience what is sure to be another spectacular jazz festival in Tobago!