Dexter ‘Blaxx’ Stewart speaks during the TTPA media conference at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s, yesterday.

With many artistes struggling to survive, the Trinidad and Tobago Promoters’ Association (TTPA) yesterday made a desperate appeal to the Government for the events and entertainment sector to be reopened, at least to vaccinated people.

The call was made during a media conference at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s, highlighting the struggles artistes, promoters and others in the sector have been facing since it was closed two years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

TTPA president Jerome Precilla said the announcement by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley that there may be some aspect of Carnival later in the year has still brought little hope to the sector. Instead, he said the group wants the Government to give the green light for Carnival 2023 and have the sector reopened for vaccinated events only.

“If Carnival is so much of an important product to the tourism of Trinidad and Tobago, it should be given way more attention and decisions should be made way earlier because for us to put on any semblance or taste of Carnival in six weeks’ time is absurd,” Precilla said.

He said many of his members were struggling to make ends meet and they were appealing to resume in some way to earn a livelihood.

“This is a cry for our sector to reopen, not we want a handout, or we want something, we want the opportunity to work, to get back out there and do what we do to earn an income to mine our families, to put food on the table. … This is a sector that provides an income, a revenue for people to live for our livelihoods and our livelihoods have been put on halt for two years,” he said.

Emphasising that the sector was not all about “wine and jam,” Precilla said all they want is the opportunity to earn a living once again.

“The mas producers have to produce their costumes so they could have band launch season in June. They would have to start importing products and designing so all these things will have to start happening from now,” he said.

He lamented that the country’s vaccination rate has not been increasing fast enough to achieve the goals they are seeking.

“If I was going to take my vaccine in order to go to a party or to go to an event and you telling me that cannot happen, then I am going to ask myself, well then what I getting the vaccine for because if the whole promise is that okay, it is going to help you get back on with life … but for our event sector, we are not going on with our lives,” he said.

However, he said he believes resuming activity in the sector will encourage more people to get vaccinated.

TTPA advocate Paige De Leon said the group has exhausted the consultative process with Government and Ministry of Health over the safe reopening of the sector. She claimed what is being proposed to the association will only benefit a few.

“It has been ongoing for many, many months. What is being proposed is no different from what was obtained one year ago. We have made no progress,’ de Leon said.

“Five weeks to the end of the Carnival 2022 season, we are not in a position to collaborate in general with the plans that were presented to us. It is the point of the members of the TTPA that it is too little too late. The Carnival 2022 ship has sailed. What has been proposed only benefits those who get government subventions and fall under the arm of the financial protection of the state and we do not.”

De Leon noted that the group has never been beneficiaries of government subventions and they do not intend to start now.

However, she said it is time for new systems, as the old ones are no longer working.

“We ask that the private sector, as part of Trinidad and Tobago’s economic landscape, the sector be opened to vaccinated people, not for a short few weeks to facilitate state-sponsored events at state-owned venues but so the business of events can begin again with vaccinated persons,” she suggested.

“We ask for vaccinated only outdoor events to resume. It is accepted that outdoor gathering is much safer than indoor gathering, so we are confused about the motivation here and ask for clarity on the reckoning of this policy,” she added.

The TTPA pointed out that countries like Barbados and St Lucia, which have health sectors and vaccination rates similar to T&T, have “successfully and safely” reopened their entertainment sectors and asked why T&T was not willing to at least start “small.”

Blaxx: Most difficult time I’ve ever faced

Meanwhile, veteran soca artiste Dexter ‘Blaxx’ Stewart said he is now selling his personal assets to get money to survive.

“On one hand, the pandemic give me the opportunity to know who is my big daughter boyfriend, work with the kids, spend more time home and on the other hand, this thing was devastating man,” Stewart said.

“It was really devastating. Right now, I have a Macbook, anyone want a laptop computer to buy? I does just sell out stuff to make ends meet.”

According to him, producers are now bartering their skills and are no longer looking for money up front. This, he said, is how he’s able to record.

He said older artistes like himself have not been able to get gigs abroad and it is not financially feasible to host virtual events.

“A lot of people talk about artiste could go outside and earn money. It is not so for every artiste. It is very, very hard sometimes for the artistes who are mature and the artistes that are doing well to find jobs,” he lamented.

Saying it was a harsh time for all in the sector, Stewart also called for its reopening with small numbers of patrons initially.

“This pandemic is not going nowhere. Man, this is one of the most difficult times I have ever faced in my life and is good to see we making effort as a body,” he said.