Flying the flag: T&T Ent

T&T Ent funds performers to help them put the country on the map

Sitara Baal performs at the launch of T and T Ent in July 2007. Photograph courtesy T &T Ent

Last October, 3Canal, the Trinidad and Tobago rapso group featuring Wendell Manwarren, Stanton Kewley and Roger Roberts, was selected to perform at the prestigious World Music Expo (Womex), a music conference, trade show and showcase for world music.

The group needed about TT$400,000 to make the trip to Seville, Spain, a reality, and while they held a fund-raising concert to help, they also approached a number of organisations for assistance. One of them was the Trinidad and Tobago Entertainment Company, also known as T&T Ent.

The company assisted with their airfare, and, for 3Canal’s European tour in mid-2008, offered more help with airfare and CD production.

Operating under the aegis of the Ministry of Trade, T&T Ent was set up to “internationalise” Trinidad and Tobago’s entertainment industry. This it does through funding given to singers, dancers, painters, actors and anyone involved in the industry for international projects, via a revolving investment arrangement; familiarisation tours to Trinidad and Tobago for international entertainment executives; international marketing and promotion of the country’s entertainment products; and joint venture projects to stage international promotional music concerts and major performing arts productions abroad.

Also crucial to the company’s strategies is the development of the T&T Ent website for downloading local music, videos, and visual art, and an online database of artists and cultural entrepreneurs, whether based at home or abroad. The only criterion for the latter, says CEO Jenny Lee, is that they must be flying the Trinidad and Tobago flag wherever they live.

Lee, a former executive chef and president of Steelpan European, an organisation that comprises steelbands from all over Europe, says the mandate for T&T Ent is very broad. And with five years to become sustainable, the pressure is on for the company, which opened its office in January 2008.

In spite of the popularity of Trinidad and Tobago’s culture across the West Indian diaspora, it is nowhere near the global scale of Jamaican culture. This is due, in part, to the fact that efforts to promote the T&T “brand” have been largely individual and limited to small, West Indian-dominated markets.

“The government saw a need to support artistes and stakeholders,” said Lee, “with efforts to get into the international arena. Those efforts need consistency and sustainability. So we need to get into that mindset. Our job is to give you that footing and brand it as from T&T.”

The organisation works with all artistes, even amateurs, said Lee, and holds workshops to build professionalism. To access funding under the revolving investment arrangement, artistes must have a strong development plan. The funding (up to 70 per cent of costs is given) is a loan, and T&T Ent expects to see returns on its investment. To assist in the branding efforts artistes are provided with a branding kit that includes a flag, T-shirt and Angostura rum.

To date T&T Ent has assisted 3Canal’s incursions into the European touring circuit; Choc’late Allen, a 15-year-old singer establishing a career in Jamaica; reggae singer Marlon Asher; singer Nadia Batson; dancer and choreographer Sonja Dumas; and photographer Andrea De Silva—a regular contributor to Caribbean Beat—who held an exhibition at the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in London last August.