The forecast is Sunshine: New York’s Sunshine Awards

Caribbean musicians are honoured in an annual ceremony that brings a ray of light into a New York autumn: the Sunshine Awards

Gil Figaro and Trinidad and Tobago High Commissioner to Uganda Patrick Edwards during the Sunshine Awards reception in Uganda. Photograph courtesy The Sunshine Awards

Gilman T Figaro agrees with Atilla the Hun, who said in 1938 or so, in his calypso “The Banning of Records”: “All local talent, is my contention, should be given help and recognition”.

That belief led Figaro to set up the Calypso and Steelband Music Sunshine Awards in 1988. The 21st annual ceremony takes place this year, and they’re still going strong, but it wasn’t easy in the beginning. The Trinidad-born Figaro remembers when he began putting plans together for the awards, he walked New York City, visiting the Caribbean consulates, where he was told his idea was not going to work, since calypso had no track record in the United States. But he ignored the naysayers, and produced an event that has grown over the years. It was renamed simply the Sunshine Awards so that it could be all-inclusive, while still focusing on the Caribbean.

He chose the word “sunshine” because it “reflects the Caribbean, and when the sun shines it brings light to a brand-new day”. The Sunshine Awards, he said in a telephone interview, is doing something similar, bringing new awareness and appreciation of Caribbean musical forms and those who created them. The awards invite nominations for performers in categories such as chutney-soca, creative humour, gospelypso and reggae, as well as journalists (both print and broadcast) whose stories or programmes focus on Caribbean artforms.

Last year’s winners include Guyanese actress CCH Pounder, Grenadian Lauren Ramdhanny for her contribution to Caribbean music, dancer Mamadou Dahoué from the Ivory Coast, St Vincentian calypsonian Quintyn Toby Joseph, and Jamaican comedian Oliver Samuel.
The Sunshine Awards includes a student recognition programme, in which each year, a male and female high school student from a Caribbean country are selected to go to the US, along with a chaperone, to be presenters. The education ministry in the chosen country helps select students who are doing exceedingly well academically, and who are involved in community service. Figaro and his team are also working with the US National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences to establish a category for soca, calypso, and steelband in the Grammies.

Every year the Sunshine Awards are dedicated to a specific event that has affected the lives of regional people. This year, the US-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is celebrating its centennial, and the awards ceremony will be dedicated to it.

In 2008, Trinidad and Tobago’s High Commissioner to Uganda, Patrick Edwards, in an effort to bridge the cultural gap between Africa and the Caribbean, submitted African nominees for awards. Ugandan philanthropist and businessman Habib Kagimu received the Sunshine Award for humanitarian service, and as a result, the Ugandan government asked for a version of the awards to be presented in Uganda as part of its independence celebrations this year.
The awards for Caribbean artistes are scheduled to be presented at the AXA Equitable Center in Manhattan on October 17 and the Ugandan awards for African artistes on October 24. Comedians Errol Fabien and Nikki Crosby will present the awards, as they have done for the past 12 years.

In these tough economic times, sponsorship has been even harder to come by, but Caribbean Airlines has taken up where its predecessor left off (that was BWIA, which supported the awards from the beginning) and has been involved with the Sunshine Awards for the past three years.