In our editorial last Friday, February 12, 2016, we celebrated the 16th anniversary of the opening of the African and Indian Library, which was/is a dream fulfilled of the late Dr. Leroy Taegar. We did not mention in the said issue of our newspaper that Thursday night last week, February 11, 2016, there was an important and valuable show on KREM Radio which marked its 21st anniversary. This is the show called BELIZE MUSICIANS PAST AND PRESENT. It is hosted, indeed it was created, by the singer/songwriter, Tony Wright, and his deejay/engineer partner, J. C. Arzu.
As a business venture, KREM Radio has not been a success. To my mind, there are several reasons for this. The main problem from the beginning in November of 1989 was the fact that the power structure in Belize could not conceive of (which is to say, “tolerate”) so much media power being concentrated in the hands of an organization which had a revolutionary past, a roots present, and an uncontrollable creativity.
KREM Radio, from one perspective, was the political experiment of a few leaders in the People’s United Party (PUP), and those PUP leaders did not intend for KREM Radio to survive and succeed. The concept of the private radio station was to be used to assist in winning the September 1989 general election, is all, and so it did.
With respect to the Amandala newspaper, I have often said to you readers that the loyalty you have showed our publication has enabled us to survive some serious challenges over the decades. At the point in 1981 when this became the leading newspaper in Belize, 12 years after its establishment in August of 1969, this is not something which I have ever been able to analyze satisfactorily. I’m saying that in some ways it doesn’t make sense what happened back there. But, this essay is about KREM Radio, about Tony Wright, and about J. C. Arzu.
Visiting New Orleans along with Rufus X in February of 1979, I saw where a radio station didn’t have to be a large, three-storey building like Radio Belize’s Albert Cattouse Building corner Regent and Bishop Streets. Then, sometime between 1981 and 1984, it seems to me, the British Forces in Belize began broadcasting from their own radio station at their Ladyville garrison. The British signal was loud in Belize City, the population center of the new nation, and this was taking place after Belize had theoretically become independent from Great Britain. Strictly speaking, it may be said that this British Forces radio station was Belize’s first private radio station.
To be truthful, as a black Belizean I felt insulted by this state of affairs. Radio Belize remained a colonial entity in its disrespect for the street life and roots sounds of Belize. When Belize experienced its first change of government in December of 1984, it seemed that perhaps there were other changes that could take place. But the new United Democratic Party (UDP) administration began using Radio Belize the same way the PUP had done for more than two decades – government monopoly propaganda radio.
Beginning in 1982, the entry of television had become the headline story in media news here. Remember how it began with an elite group of 24 or 32 subscribers being sold a package where only they would be able, with a special box, to view live television programs pirated from satellites? The reason this idea got off the ground was because the shipwright/businessman Arthur Hoare was a partner in the venture, and Mrs. Arthur Hoare was the chairlady of the new Prime Minister’s Freetown constituency committee. Television in Belize was only supposed to be an insider’s delight in 1982, but the cat got out of the bag. Long story, but the expert on this is Stewart Krohn, not I.
Anyway, Evan X Hyde had become the publisher of the leading newspaper in Belize in 1981, and by early 1989 he had become tired of listening to British Forces Belize and watching American cable television. Esquivel’s new UDP was playing games, and the desperate PUP swore they would support Radio Amandala if they won the 1989 general election.
What I wanted in 1989 was not a radio station as such, but rather a radio license. With a license, I would have been able to organize investors, presumably, to set up a proper radio station. But that would have been too dangerous for the new PUP government, and for the established power structure which regulates the PUDP, so a KREM Radio began broadcasting on November 17, 1989. Three weeks later, the PUP government privatized Radio Belize, in essence instructing the 40-year-old broadcasting powerhouse to compete with, or let’s say crush, the feeble, fledgling KREM. When KREM, against all odds, survived, the power structure created LOVE. But, that’s yet another story.
KREM Radio, to repeat, has not been a business success. But, because of people like Tony Wright and J. C. Arzu, KREM Radio has been a creative miracle these past 26 years. There is so much KREM Radio has done which had never been done before in Belize radio, so much that has been copied from KREM and become the norm. And since 1989 so many radio licenses have been issued to so many wealthy politicians and internationally-financed religious organizations that the competition on the radio waves has become almost chaotic.
Still, there is no show in Belizean radio like BELIZE MUSICIANS PAST AND PRESENT. To understand the significance of the show, you have to appreciate what music is. Let me give you an example. When I was younger, I used to write poetry. I think some of it was pretty good, but my poetry was not musical: it was more cerebral. Now, if you listen to Leroy “The Grandmaster” Young, you will hear poetry that is musical. No one needs to tell the Belizean people that this is so: all they have to do is listen to The Grandmaster, and they feel it in their bones. This is real.
Music is a natural mystic, and those who were blessed with the gift of creation and performance, were selected by divinities. Music. Music is the food of love. Music is the gift of life. Music speaks for itself. Music makes you sing. Music makes you move. Music makes you dance. Dance, and sing …
Before I die, if God is willing, I would like to open a Belizean theatre of the performing arts. Everything, beloved, everything begins with music. Tony Wright and J. C. Arzu will cut the ribbon …
Power to the people. Remember Danny. Fight for Belize.