After pumping millions of dollars into Caribbean #music, entertainment promoter #Eddie Grant feels he is being given the short end of the stick. Instead of supportin his goals to develop Caribbean Music, he feels there are people actively “chipping away” at the efforts of his empire.
#Eddy Grant has been a name that has alternately been respected, feared, denounced and criticized. He is one of the most powerful men in the regional music business, and worldwide Eddie Grant’s name is synonymous with Caribbean music, and he has earned the title.
Every West Indian knows of his story. Born in Guyana, Grant emigrated to England. He made it big as a reggae artiste, going so far as making a jaunt up the American Billboard charts, stopping just shy of the coveted number one position. His base has always been in the Caribbean. The music videos for his songs, at that time were entirely shot on, or included shots of Barbados. After his time was up where the American pop charts are concerned, his focused shifted to calypso, soca and record production.
When the Guyanese-born Rastafarian artist, created Ice Records in the mid-1970’s, he did more than start producing records. Ice became one of the driving forces behind many calypsonians and Soca artistes, and the force behind some of the more popular developing Soca trends.
His plan was to develop Soca as an art form on a commercial level. This is particularly true in Barbados and Trinidad, the two major exporters of Calypso, Carnival and Crop Over in the region. But the road for Grant has not been smooth. In the years since ICE became a player in the soca game, Grant’s name has been linked to controversy after controversy. For years Grant has been accused of plagiarism, and various other underhanded business etiquette.
“Everytime you find a successful man, there are detractors,” says Grant as he dissmissed his critics. Although he is no stranger to these types of accusations, until now, most were not than mere grumblings and resentment. Grant has been publicly advocating artist rights in speeches and interviews, but behind closed doors disgruntled artistes have spoken out, (although often off the record), about his ‘policy’ of not giving the artistes on his label their fair share of the bounty that flows into ICE for their music.
Grant, has denied all of this in separate interviews, and re-iterated that the artistes on his label receive their share of the profits. “I’m tired of discussing this though. The whole thing is too gruesome for me to talk about it over and over,” he adds.
A well known Barbadian artist, Wayne ‘Poonka’ Willock, spoke on the record about his “run ins” with Grant. Poonka has for roughly twenty years, been the reason why the ‘tuk band’ and tuk music has not died out in Barbados. An indigenous combination of Scottish marching band music, and African rhythm patterns, it was an integral part of Afro-Barbadian cultural life, throughout the years of slavery. Poonka forced the Barbadian public to recognize tuk as being part of their heritage, by making it as visible as possible. According to Poonka, this wish for tuk to become as accessible as possible, led him to experiment with the music. He wanted to combine tuk and calypso, and try to get a producer interested in recording it. Poonka said he gave a demo tape of the combination to Eddy Grant, Kadooment day 1985. However, Grant said he was not interested an nothing more was heard or said about it. Poonka took Grant’s response to his word and went on “with the struggle.” He continued to play tuk music everywhere, and it has continued to be the at the core of the tuk band movement. It was only later, as he [Poonka] claims, that the ‘ring bang’ craze began a few years ago, that he recognized tuk band rhythms in it. He claims, that his ideas were stolen by the Grant camp, and used by others.
“Our national beat has been raped, not only here in Barbados, but it has been taken to another country. It’s been raped, renamed and exported. Now the credit is going to someone else, not Barbados, not tuk,” he commented.
Poonka’s claim has been dismissed by Eddy Grant, no matter how vaguely. “If tuk has anything to do with ringbang, then Jazz has to do with West African drumming. The are all related. It’s all one beat.” Grant though, has been struggling to take calypso to ‘another level,’ as he is repeatedly quoted as saying, on the international market. To bring it from it’s globally obscure origins and make it, he has says, ‘as big, or bigger’ than reggae, the regions other major musical export. He has spent millions of dollars developing artistes, promoting and distributing the music as far globally as possible. The money is nothing to him, “Calypso can take every cent I have, because it gave me every cent I have.” and, unlike other calypso promoters/ producers, he means it too, as he has consistently put his money where his mouth is.
Grant stands like a wall against the constant barrage against him. The claims can neither be proved nor disproved, but his skin has to be thick. One does not get to be the one of the most powerful men in the Caribbean music business without developing a steel spine or stepping on more than a few toes. His core of artistes are loyal- and with good reason. Grant has been in the business of making modern day legends of calypsonians like Super Blue, The Black Stalin, The Mighty Gabby and the Mighty Grynner, since the early eighties at least. More recently, as part of on-going campaign to make the classical traditions of calypso available, The Roaring Lion, an early pioneer in calypso music, signed with Ice Records. Since that time, Lion has become more visible producing a successful remake of one of his old songs, ‘Dorothy.’
Lion also had a Caribbean hit on his hands, with the release of ‘Pappy Chunks’, another Grant production.
However, with the mantle of power brings criticism and open hostility. Over the past year and a half, Ice Records Ltd. and Eddy Grant specifically have been embroiled in controversy. Last year, Michael Doland who, was later described by Grant as being “…at all times my employee”, claimed openly that he was the owner of Ice Records and not Eddy Grant. Doland’s statement traumatized many Caribbean artistes concerned with the validity of the statement, and their status on the Ice Records food chain. Grant reassured however that Doland’s claim on ICE Records was non-existent.
Doland filed an injunction in Antigua, effectively grabbing Ice by the throat. Every Ice office and all its operations, in Barbados, New York and London, were shut down. The stand off was fought publicly in the press, and there was much feather-flying between the two parties. Grant had to surrender to the Court, all documents, as well as any and everything else that belonged to ICE Music Ltd. Shortly after the injunction by Doland was filed, Grant counter sued Doland for fraud. Before the outbreak of hostilities and accusations, Doland was the legal counsel of ICE Music Ltd. He was responsible for the legal signing of artistes.
Grant said in an interview, that he was greatly disturbed by the legitimacy the public gave Doland’s claim, and he based it on the fact that Doland was Caucasian, “…here comes this white man who worked for me…he easily convinced some that I was a front man.” Adding, “You see, we are significantly a slave society in the Caribbean….those who are not, are almost (slaves). With this comes attendant stigmas, chief of which is, as far as a Black man is concerned in business, his role is that of a front man for white people.”
The battle over ICE Music Ltd. ended when in a 15-page document, Antiguan High Court Judge Kenneth Benjamin agreed with Grant that Doland’s claim was non-existent. Benjamin ruled that Grant was “the sole legal and beneficial owner of all issued shares of ICE Music Ltd.” and that Doland be ‘permanently restrained from continuing to act as owner of ICE Music Ltd.” Justice Benjamin further added, “I am satisfied that the omission of matters referred to from the facts presented to the court by the plaintiffs must in some measure have been deliberate and was calculated to portray the third-named defendant as a stranger and appallingly as a burglar.” ICE Music Ltd remained in the hands of Grant.
However, with only six months breathing room, to recover from the fight over ICE, Grant found himself embroiled yet again in another controversy. A showdown between Grant and the National Carnival Commission (NCC) of Trinidad, is (at press time) being duked both inside and outside the courts. The recent turn over of governments in the twin island republic, apparently led to some confusion as to who had the international broadcasting rights for Carnival coverage.
Grant has been the holder of the rights since 1994. In March of that year, the NCC had to pay Grant somewhere in the region of US$50,000 before they could broadcast T&T Carnival on BET’s Pay-per-View channel. It has been suggested by sources though, that the impasse between the NCC and Grant is for all intents and purposes, a personal attack on Eddy Grant, by people who do not wish to honour the contract that was signed by the previous NCC board.
One source very passionately said, “These people are making fools of themselves in public. If the man has a contract with the NCC, whether or not these people like it, they have to honour it. “What is happening is, that they are uncomfortable with Eddy Grant. They don’t want to deal with a black man who is far more powerful, far more richer than any of them could hope to be. So the only way they can deal with him is to attack him,” he adds. In an affidavit filed in Trinidad, Grant said in February 1994 he had negotiated with then NCC Chairman, Alfred Aguiton, “with a view to agreeing a longer term arrangement for the commercial exploitation of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival abroad.”
In mid-February of this year, a day prior to when the international carnival coverage was to begin, Grant filed and was granted an injunction preventing the NCC from negotiating to sell any international broadcast rights of the 1996 Dimanche Gras Show, The National Panorama finals and the Champs in Concert Show, all held at the Queen’s Park Savannah. After a futile meeting was held between the two conflicting parties, to discuss Grant’s claim to broadcast rights with the new chairman of the NCC, Roy Augustus, a contract was signed between the NCC and the Caribbean Communications Network (CCN) Group.
According to Grant, “On entering the room it was apparent to me that the representatives of the defendant company (NCC) were very hostile. It is regrettable that rather than engaging in meaningful negotiations with ICE Music Ltd. and it’s attorneys, which were being held without prejudice, the NCC should have opted to misrepresent the position in the media, and to do this without even the courtesy of responding to ICE Music’s attorneys.” The injunction was fully exercised on Carnival Saturday night when a live broadcast between the Queen’s Park Savannah and being aired on CHIN FM, Toronto, Canada was interrupted. Without a doubt the battle between the NCC and Grant is very much being fought in the press. Both Grant and the NCC have been issuing statements, defending themselves and their actions.
The case is being decided in the court of public opinion as well. With a recent appearance on a Trinidadian morning talk show, Grant said he would prefer to settle out of court. He said that he had already paid approximately $100 000 on legal fees, and that sum was larger than what he was asking form the NCC. He drew “rapid fire” toward the end of the show when a caller identifying himself as Arnem Smith of the NCC, accused Grant of fraud, and ‘misleading the public of Trinidad and Tobago.’ To date no details or evidence has been presented by the NCC or rather, Arnem Smith, on the show or at a later date, as to the extent of “Grant’s fraudulent claims to the Trinidadian public.” Grant remained calm and composed throughout the verbal attack which was punctuated with wild and largely incoherent attacks on Grant’s character. However, Grants’ composure seemed to have offended Arnem Smith as he became increasingly upset, devolving into remarkably difficult to understand sentences, which did not reflect well upon the board of the NCC. Grant commented on the level of contempt Smith had for him, that he raged, calling him names in a meeting held between ICE and the NCC.
“If it was possible for him to physically assault me, he would have,” says Grant. He accused the NCC of going as far as to bring Mike Doland into the fracas. “The only reason that we are in this situation, is because the NCC said they didn’t have the money to pay my publisher’s share of the monies that were owed for the use if my copyrights. I told them to pay only the writer’s share and for the publisher’s share, we would enter into a quid pro quo arrangement where they would allow me to use archival footage of the Trinidadian artists signed to ICE Music for promotional use for those artists. It’s a non-exclusive arrangement, meaning that I don’t own exclusive rights to the archives.
“The NCC claimed that they were not making money from the international broadcasting of Carnival events, so I suggested I should have rights of first refusal, and that I should decide who would be the agent for the 1995 and 1996 international broadcast. In other words, they couldn’t make money from the broadcast so I offered to try.” At press time the case is in the breathless moments before the a decision is made. Grant has been speaking with reporters, but in the interview for this story he said he was getting a “run around” by the Trinidad and Tobago media, and he was distrustful of their motives.
He made a fiery statement saying he has been vilified and made to look like a monster by the journalists in Trinidad and he’s reached the point where he doesn’t care for anyone else but the everyday man and the music of Trinidad. The outcome of this very public court case, if it goes against Grant, will clear some of mist shrouding the name and business workings of Eddy Grant. At least that is what is hoped for by the people he mystifies. At the very least, Grant will no longer seem as indestructible as he does now. Grant is larger than life, and he is constantly at the centre of someone’s attempt to bring him down to a level where they feel comfortable. A black man is rarely left to manage himself in the business community, especially a black man with as much power as Eddy Grant. Whether it’s a disgruntled calypsonian accusing Grant of plagiarism, or someone who just wants a piece of him, he is and will probably remain a major target for controversy, in the seedy politics of the entertainment business.
However, despite all these tribulations, the calypso lyrics of one of Grant’s most prized artistes, The Roaring Lion, are more true. ‘…Jump high, jump low…” Grant will still remain one of the most powerful men in the region’s entertainment arena. He will also continue to be the recipient of accusations, derision and admiration and fierce loyalty. All will journey between the unfounded and founded. When it was suggested that there be a follow up interview, for a look at the man that is Eddy Grant, away from the controversy and the melee. He replied with mild irritation, “I don’t want people to know who I am. I don’t have a social life, and I’m not the social creature everyone wants me to be, saying things that they want to hear. ICE and calypso are my life. What you see is what you get with me. This is who I am. There is nothing else.”