By LaWanda McAllister
The creative world is a beautiful escape for a lot of people, allowing them to transcend into an alternate universe where they can forget, even if it is just for a moment, all of their worldly problems.
Creatives allow us to enter their space and make us feel at ease. They can invoke emotions we did not know existed. Their work can take us to the happiest place on earth or cause us to introspect.
However, 2020 has not been good to creatives, who were already scarcely earning. In Guyana, the creative world has the potential to be one of the best in the world but it lacks the protections for our artists.
So, when the coronavirus pandemic hit and brought the world to a standstill, creatives were heavily impacted. Those in showbusiness were especially hard-hit because their sources of income were taken away in a matter of days.
In Guyana, the COVID-19 guidelines did not cater for those in the creative industry since bars and restaurants were initially closed. Large gatherings were also prohibited because of how COVID-19 spreads.
Speaking about how the creative world has been impacted, Director of the Unique Arts Entertainment (UA), Kelton Jennings told the Sunday Times that they were forced to cancel their annual dance production which meant taking a big financial loss. While he understood the public health implications of large gatherings, he was also disappointed that they were not able to perform for an in-person audience.
Jennings said ever since the pandemic struck Guyana, the Afro-centric dance school, like every other company, was heavily affected.
“Personally, I as the instructor have suffered because of work. Due to the fact that performing arts is what I do for a living, and COVID-19, everything was put on a hold. In terms of the dance school, we weren’t able to meet as a group to perform for the john public,” he said.
Unique Arts Entertainment was founded on July 1, 2009, by Jennings and to date serves as one of the major entertainment companies in the country. It has more than 200 dancers as part of its membership and they are stretched across Guyana.
The dance company does not restrict its performances to just one genre of dance rather they are all about pushing the boundaries. However, they are known for their flawless Afro-based performances which they were initially formed to perform.
For Jennings and the Unique Arts Entertainment dancers, the joy that comes from dancing is incomparable. They are allowed to express themselves through their movements and truly allow their bodies to tell the story.
Now they are unable to perform for their physical audiences because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Jennings said despite the odds, they still managed to do a virtual production earlier in the year that showcased the challenges Guyana faced during this trying year, while giving hope to all Guyanese. They used their art to tell the story of all that transpired for during the 8-plus months of quarantine.
They focused on activities such as the gruesome murders of the West Coast Berbice teens – Joel and Isiah Henry and Haresh Singh, race relations, the importance of a paternal figure, messages to single parents and others. They called that production “Painting the Picture.”
“The pandemic is definitely one of the main factors for us not having to execute our plans, our dreams and aspirations this Christmas…”, he posited.
Jennings said even with COVID-19 still standing in the path of the company, he will not use it as an excuse as he is hoping to put on a Christmas production.
“Our Christmas production was supposed to be entitled ‘Thankful’ showcasing that we had a really rough year from January to now,” he said.
As for 2021, the Director said he would not want to tell the public what is in store for the dance company, because of how the pandemic destroyed all plans for 2020. However, he said he awaits what the future holds. He is hoping that his company will be able to garner the public’s support for performers attached to the company who have been out of work for almost a year because of closed theatres.
To lend your support to Unique Arts Entertainment, you can contact Director Kelton Jennings on 656-7499 or visit Unique Arts Entertainment on Facebook.
Forced to change
As COVID-19 continues to limit the workings of the world, it is with a sad inevitability that some of Guyana’s musicians have had to find other means of income, since the pandemic has practically brought the music industry to a halt.
2019 Chutney Monarch winner Stephen Ramphal is one of those singers who would have had to find other means of providing for his family. The 28-year-old now solely depends on his newfound career in photography to sustain his family.
Ramphal in an interview with the Sunday Times said this year has been a challenging year for musicians not only in Guyana, but around the globe. He said he is still grappling with the hit of the pandemic, and was struggling to produce content.
“It has been very hard because as a musician we depend on shows, events, we depend on everything that is based on entertainment and due to the pandemic, the whole entertainment industry had crashed,” he said.
The young artiste said now there are no events for the musicians to attend and perform so that means no income for them. They are now forced to do other jobs to make ends meet while they watch their career in entertainment slowly diminish. He said the only things they are presented with are virtual shows which do not feel the same.
“Some of them are paid and some of them we just have to do it because we have to keep our name out there,” he explained.
The musician said for about five months he was not getting any job with music, and it was a struggle to not have a job, and still try to produce content.
“As much as we want to keep our name out there, we cannot invest when we are not getting back …I know people have not been hearing from me, but I guarantee them new year to come you are going to have some music,” he said.
He said he wants Guyanese to know that it is not just about putting music out there, but it is a struggle and it is a job. Ramphal said he has been told on many occasions that musicians have to produce music constantly so that persons can know about them, but that cannot happen since there is no source of income.
“We have to invest to get quality stuff out there, and it is very hard to get sponsorship from businesses because a lot of businesses have crashed because of COVID and they can’t give a hand when they need a help,” he said.
The 2019 Chutney Monarch winner said from the time he lost his source of income that came from music, he has been spending his time trying to improve himself in different areas. He said he has been digging for new ideas and doing a lot of writing.
Ramphal said if it was not for his photography business, he would not have been able to cope.
“My career is in music but if it is not there to bring in an income, the photography business is there to bring in the income. COVID didn’t give a choice… to know now that I am young and have a family, and have to depend on these two things it was my lifelong dream,” he said.
He encouraged other musicians that are facing the same dilemma, to stay focused and keep pushing through this challenging time. To book Stephen Ramphal for any event either for photography, videography, or a musical performance, you can contact him on +592-618-8820, or his business page, SR photography on Facebook.