Since its inception in 1991, Saint Lucia Jazz has grown from a clever marketing idea into one of the Caribbean’s most important events. Here’s a potted history of the festival.
It all started as an idea for attracting more tourists to St Lucia during the traditionally quiet month of May. This is toward the end of the island’s annual peak visitor season, but the tourism providers were of course keen to extend that season just a little more, and so the idea of a music festival was born.
In a region where music festivals have a tendency to peter out after seven years, the fact that Saint Lucia Jazz celebrated its 20th birthday in 2011 is testament to the hard work and dedication that goes on behind the scenes to ensure this colourful event endures. That – and of course the array of musicians, from little-known local acts to household names, which grace the festival with their talent year after year.
During initial meetings about increasing tourism to St Lucia, organisers brainstormed extensively before finally coming up with the idea for a music festival. But despite the excitement at the thought of such a project, there was an overwhelming feeling that the limited resources available made the festival a ‘bad’ idea. Not to mention the fact that some critics felt that jazz, not being an ‘indigenous’ style of music to St Lucia, was the wrong medium for any musical event that was to be held on the island.
Despite objections and concerns, the first Saint Lucia Jazz took place as planned in 1992. The festival was pretty small, there were few attendees, and only four venues took part. Clearly the festival was not the huge success it had been hoped to be, and it would have been easy at that time to give up on the idea. But the organisers still felt the idea had legs, so they brainstormed again and worked on ways to improve the festival. By 1994 things were picking up, and the festival started to morph into the Saint Lucia Jazz we know and love today. The musical mix – acoustic and fusion jazz with some R&B – was clearly a winning formula, and the expansion of the festival into the fringe has also contributed to the success of St Lucia Jazz today.
In 2012, far from the gaggle of small clubs and hotels that Saint Lucia Jazz started off as, the festival has expanded into a ten-day event that sweeps the entire island up in its enthusiastic wake. The development of fringe events in the south of the island has virtually turned the fringe into a separate festival, where the flavour is distinctly Afro-Caribbean and appeals to a wider range of audiences, particular local music fans.
These days, Saint Lucia Jazz is considered one of the best music festivals in the world. It ranks second of all the Caribbean festivals (pipped to the post by T&T’s Carnival). Far exceeding its original objectives, St Lucia Jazz is today a big brand, attracting thousands of visitors every year.
A festival as prestigious as this obviously attracts musical artistes of the highest quality and talent. In 2012 performers include Lionel Richie, Ziggy Marley and Gypsy Kings. Past performers have included Shaggy, Maxi Priest, Chaka Khan, Dionne Warwick and of course Amy Winehouse, who was a regular visitor to St Lucia.
Saint Lucia Jazz has achieved what it set out to achieve. It has grown into a phenomenon that has vastly improved the island’s tourism figures every May, and which provides local tourism businesses with opportunities to run ‘specials’ in the lead-up to the festival every year. Look out in particular for special offers made by hotels, who often sell rooms at preferential rates during Jazz or provide complimentary transport to the venues throughout the duration of the festival. If you’re considering St Lucia as a potential holiday destination, this is definitely a good time of year to grab yourself a bargain!
We’ll be announcing details of our Saint Lucia Jazz 2012 offers in plenty of time for the festival. To make sure you’re kept in the loop, why not sign up to our newsletter? Use the subscription form at the bottom of the page, and you’ll never miss out on our news again!