Think Caribbean, think reggae music, beaches, and dance. This PhD researcher, Gabi Ferdinand, cleverly wraps it all up in a study, and shakes some booty while at it. Here is our interview with Gabi on her field research trip to Trindad & Tobago.
Tell us about your research…
My research looks at brands and how it affects the dynamics of the Caribbean creative industry/economy. I look at how individual cultural producers use branding techniques…the idea of the collective Caribbean brand and how that affects how our products are marketed internationally.
When you say “creative economy”, what’s that about?
The creative economy refers to a lot of the cultural industries and industries that turn creativity and cultural products into a sort of economic returns, so to speak. It was originally referred to as cultural economy, so it kinda stems from that.
How are you going about this research?
I am doing interviews with a range of people …people who work in the fashion, festival, and music industry. I am also looking at the other spectrum in terms of the national agencies in the Caribbean. – So the Ministry of Culture and the way that they use branding, and how they think it can help in furthering our Caribbean culture out there. I focus on the regional organisations as well. We have a lot of regional organisations for the Caribbean…who look beyond national products and events, but also try to market the region cohesively.
What music have you looked at for example?
In the Caribbean, I typically focused on the Soca artist – Soca music kind of drives our festival industry because we have a lot of carnivals. Trinidad and Tobago carnival is kinda’ the second biggest carnival – and I like to say that we do carnivals best because we are also in charge of the Nottinghill Carnival, which is the biggest carnival in the UK. We are in charge of Caribana which is the biggest carnival in Canada. We are in charge of New York Liberty Parade, and we just launched the Hollywood Carnival. So all the major international carnivals are produced by Caribbean people. It’s what we do best. Party!
You went to the Caribbean this year…
I did. I went for two to three months, which coincided with the Trinidad and Tobago carnival. It was a really good opportunity, because not only am I studying it, I got to party-ique (partake). So you know you have a very unique perspective to it right now.
So wearing a bikini was part of your research…(now giving her the knowing look)
It was (laughs)!
And do you know what, it really fed into a lot of my interviews. because when you are interviewing people about festivals, you can kind of put your own personal spin on it and say, “I noticed that as a masquerade this year when I played…“…my partaking did actually fill some questions, and I think it also makes people realise that you are not just a researcher. They realise that I am true lover of the culture and I think that is nice.
I would have thought research should be you know, rigorous (she smiles), with you being a participant and enjoying it, how were you able to separate the entertainment from the research value?
I think qualitative research has a lot to do with understanding meaning and subjective experiences. I think my being a participant didn’t have a negative effect. I mean, one should acknowledge the fact that for qualitative researchers, our personal experience influence the way that we would see and interpret the things that we are writing about. So I really do feel that me being a Caribbean national and being invovled in Caribbean music and festivals, being a person who patronises fashion shows, and being in these different sectors was a plus. I think it made me aware of certain things. I think that had I not been involved I wouldn’t have known some questions to ask, I wouldn’t have known which people to reach out to.
We don’t have a lot of databases in the Caribbean, so you need to know people on the ground. You can’t go online and google Caribbean fashion designers and expect to find a list. You have to know about it, you have to be involved in it, to be able to research it.
If I were to go to the Caribbean today, where are the must-visit places?
Well, the Caribbean is a string of Islands, we call it the “Caribbean Archipelago” . It depends on what you want, that’s the good thing about it. There’s something really different about them all. If you want carnivals you got to come to Trinidad and Tobago. If you want beautiful beaches, Barbados or St Lucia. If you want really interesting acts, if you want to learn about reggae music, you have to go to Jamaica. If you want a little bit of french cuisine, go to Guadloupe Martinique. Whatever you’re looking for, I guarantee you one of our Islands has it.
What’s fashion/dressing in the Caribbean like…I see the carnivals and the bikinis no doubt…
It’s hot the year round (she exclaims)! We are talking the coldest you are going to get is 22 or 24 degrees when night falls. It’s a hot island… because of the carnival culture, you see how everything – our cultural events kinda shape the entire way that we work the year round and because of the fact that we are in carnival and we have these gorgoeus bikinis, it means that we spend a lot of time on aesthetics as well…because of that we like to show it off year round…
What was challenging about doing research in the Caribbean for you?
I think the lack of access to information. We don’t have a lot of online portals and databases. They are not updated, and I think trying to track down people is difficult. Even things like having an email address for somebody or having a list of directors on a board, was not accessible online. So you had to make a phone call for that. And then when you call government officers, that is a whole other story. You also have to time it, because they are closed at lunch time…
Also, because I went there at carnival time – we have a very relaxed culture, and we take our celebrations and quality of life very seriously. so, carnival time is party time, and it is not just an individual thing – the whole country partakes. So government organisations, all of our banks (Royal Bank etc), each have our carnival fetes, hospitals have their fetes. It’s a way to make money so we partake in the festival celebration. So because it was a time when everybody and EVERYBODY was partying, it was hard to get people to pin down to do interviews because they have to go to a party to go to two days from now and they’re looking for outfits …people were just absolutely too busy.
I was interviewing people who were the musicians, people who work in fashion, who also would then be costume designers. I look at festival, music, and fashion, so for all of those people that was the peak of their business. It was a challenge getting people to interview during that time period.
If someone is thinking of doing research on the Caribbean…
I’ll tell them do it, because every time I go there and try to find something, and I can’t find it. you wish someone else before you had done it. You know, you wish there was something that you could build on. I always say even though I dont live in the Caribbean, I still want to be involved in producing Caribbean research, or helping further Caribbean culture – because I dont think that we’ve reached as far as we can go. We need young people like me to be able to put in time.
What else is there to research?
In the Caribbean, there’s a lot. I feel like we have a lot of cultural products that do really well, like reggae music is huge worldwide … in the club, but we don’t get the benefits of it. So I think there needs to be a lot more research into the ways that we can kind of monetise our industries and get the money to trickle back to our local economies.
Thank you for your time Gabi!
Feature Photo| Stylish Academic || Carnival Photos by Gabi Ferdinand