Were the French of the OECS unwelcome at the “Stronger Together we are a global Family” concert for St Vincent and the Grenadines?

Photo: Screenshot "Stronger Together we are a global Family"

On Sunday May 23, 2021, a programme entitled “Stronger Together we are a global Family” for the reconstruction of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which, as we know, has been facing the wrath of its volcano La Soufrière since April 9, was broadcast on the Facebook page of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

This cultural event, intended to raise funds to help our brothers and sisters in this Caribbean state, was organised by the Commission of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, in collaboration with the Global Coalition for St Vincent and the Grenadines, the O2N Foundation, the Global Leadership Forum, Reggae SunSplash, among other partners.

More than 15 performances from over 10 Caribbean countries were offered to Internet users during this programme which lasted nearly 2 hours. A stellar line-up of artists from the region came to sing, play, dance and deliver a message of solidarity. These stars included Beenie Man (Jamaica), Machel Montano (Trinidad & Tobago), Romain Virgo (Jamaica), Alison Hinds (Barbados), Michele Henderson (Dominica), V’ghn & Cryave (Grenada), Teddyson John (St. Lucia), Voice (Trinidad & Tobago) etc.

This is certainly a very serious moment, and it is not the time for polemics, as it is a matter of giving assistance to a devastated country and a suffering population, however we have some questions.

After seeing this “virtual concert”, the first questions we might ask ourselves concern the absence of French Caribbean artists at this musical event. Indeed, even if it is a question of solidarity here, it is also a question of enhancing the image of the participating islands through their artists, as is often the case in this kind of event. It should be noted that the OECS spoke of a “virtual showcase of creative excellence in the Caribbean” in its presentation of the event.

Why did no artists from Guadeloupe or Martinique participate in this event, when artists from Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago or Jamaica, which are not members of the OECS, were present? Were our artists approached by the organisation? If so, did they refuse this proposal? And why?

Ary Chalus
Ary Chalus, President of the Regional Council of Guadalupe – Photo: Screenshot “Stronger Together we are a global Family”

Other more important questions that we could also ask ourselves concern the absence of Ary Chalus’ name on the screen during his speech after 1 hour and 23 minutes 56 seconds of performance. The organisation simply wrote: “President of the Regional Council of Guadeloupe” while the names of all the other Caribbean political leaders were written. Note that Ary Chalus addressed a message in English to the people of St Vincent even though French is now an official language of this institution.

Who should we blame for this omission? The OECS, which is an international organisation and has no right to forget the name of the representative of one of its member islands? The Guadeloupe Region (communication department, official in charge of the OECS, Cooperation Commission) which should have immediately pointed out this omission for a correction?

What may seem like a detail is not a detail. Guadeloupe is certainly not an independent country, but its inhabitants elected a political representative to head a territorial assembly, so his name should be mentioned, as is the case for the names of all the prime ministers of the Caribbean islands. In addition, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, created on June 18, 1981, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Guadeloupe and Martinique (French Caribbean territories) became associate members of this intergovernmental institution in 2019 and 2015 respectively.

Our recent integration into this organization composed of English-speaking islands requires an additional effort on our part to make ourselves known to our Caribbean neighbours. We have more than 30 years to catch up. To succeed in this exercise, we absolutely need the help of the OECS. It is also said that Guadeloupe and Martinique would have been paid a substantial amount of money to join this group of islands of the Lesser Antilles. If Guadeloupe has to contribute financially to any OECS operation, the institution will surely not forget the name of the President of the Regional Council… We must be respected.

In any case, this programme, which consisted of several virtual shows, allowed us to enjoy several rhythms from our region, such as reggae, soca and, even if artists from Guadeloupe and Martinique were absent, we could hear the sounds of zouk.

From the first days of the disaster, Guadeloupeans and Martinicans sent tons of donations to the Vincentian people. In 1976, Guadeloupe experienced the eruption of its volcano, also known as La Soufrière. In 1902, the city of Saint-Pierre in Martinique was destroyed by the explosion of La Montagne Pelée.

“Stronger together, we are an international family” was the name of this virtual musical programme. Even though we did not feel part of this family, we respond with a local Creole saying : “Sé grenn diri ka fè sak diri” (Grains of rice make bags of rice). St Vincent and the Grenadines still needs our help.