Fri | Nov 27, 2020

Local entertainers fight for their jobs in hospitality

Published:Thursday | September 8, 2016 | 12:00 AMShereita Grizzle
Princess Saba Kebede were recently in Jamaica to participate in 50th anniversary celebrations of his grandfather’s Emperor Selassie’s visit. During his visit, HIH Prince Selassie enjoyed aspects of Destination Jamaica’s multifaceted tourism product. Here, HIH Selassie (second left) and Princess Saba Kebede (second right), with Maracas in hand, enjoy the cultural presentation of the Hatfield Cultural Group at Meliá Braco Village.
Karen Smith

Jamaican musicians and entertainers in the hospitality sector are today upset as they believe that they are being denied a livelihood in their own country.

This follows claims that major hotel owners have been replacing them as the main source of entertainment, opting instead to use entertainers from countries such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner, Jean Hill, a foundation member of the award-winning Hatfield Folk and Cultural Group lamented that after more than 20 years of performances throughout the hotel industry, the group has been removed from the hotels' weekly entertainment roster and is now being hired only for special occasions.

"They (hotels) don't use us anymore unless they are having something where they want to highlight something cultural," she said. "Outside of that, we have not performed in the hotels like we used to for the past three years."




She went on to explain that the talent now being used by the hotels is not Jamaican nationals and the entertainment being offered to guests is not reflective of the island's culture.

"Based on what I've heard, these persons are performing Spanish-based dances etc., nothing Jamaican to tell the people about the culture," she said. "I am thinking that we are a multicultural country, so there's nothing wrong with Spanish entertainment, but if we want to highlight culture, then it should be a combination."

Hill is concerned that the new approach to entertainment by these hotel owners will damage the product Jamaica is offering to guests.

However, the director of entertainment for one of these hotel chains disagrees. He said that the story being told is a far cry from the actual situation.

"What we have had to do is change the product that we offered over the past 40 years. This has taken effect over the past five years. We have had to increase the type of entertainment that we offer in terms of live performances," he revealed. "We do have some Cuban performers, but it's what the guests are asking for and we have to create that platform. Hatfield will always have a special place in our hearts because traditional entertainment like Mento is important, but I also have a responsibility to young people who are bringing new and different art forms, and we have to provide that type of space for them and create that balance and a space for everyone to coexist."

He went on to explain that hiring talent from different nationalities did not mean that hotel owners were neglecting local talent. In fact, he revealed that the talent these hotels hired, was booked through an agency that also has local talent on their clientele. He also rubbished claims that talent from other countries negatively affected the product that Jamaica sells to visitors because Brand Jamaica and all that it entails involves a little bit of everyone else's culture.

"If you have a talent that's not traditional, say, spoken word, for example, and you have a knack for entertainment and I find a space for you, does that make your product non-Jamaican?" he questioned. "Offering a more diverse package does not take away from the Jamaican experience that the guest will have. It's actually adding to it."

The Jamaica Federation of Musicians (JFM) and Affiliated Artistes Union, however, does not share this opinion.




In a release sent to The Sunday Gleaner, the JFM said that a real danger exists within the tourism industry as far as the sustainability of jobs is concerned. They believe that with the new approach that some of the hotels have been taking, many up-and-coming local talent may not be able to get their foot in through the entertainment doors, especially in the hospitality sector.

"The stage door may soon be shut for (new) talent," said Karen Smith, first vice-president of the JFM, Cornwall local.

"Our guests should be given the opportunity to have a Jamaican experience, especially considering our rich cultural heritage. The inclusion of Hispanic talent displacing Jamaicans, which is now a major part of the tourism landscape, is unacceptable."

Smith wants the Government to intervene. "The JFM thinks that the time has come for the Government to step in and ensure the preservation of the Jamaican culture and the sustainability of the Jamaican worker. Jobs are disappearing before our eyes and we are given no hope."