T&T at Fifty

Trinidadían High Commissioner Garvin Nicholas



It’s a great PR scenario on paper.


The Caribbean’s richest territory is about to celebrate its 50th year of independence.



The date – at the end of August – lands right at a time when British people focus on hosting what is now Europe’s biggest street festival, Notting Hill Carnival, developed in London by Trinidadian migrants.


So, you would think that it’s a date made in heaven for oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago to mark its 50th independence celebrations in London.


But then you have to factor in a few little other things happening in London around the same time.


There was the peak of the Olympic Games where, luckily for Trinidadians, the twin-island republic did pick up some medals.


However, if everyone’s watching and then still glowing the Games, how do you focus on the T&T party?


TT v Jamaica


There’s also that small PR thing going on for Trinidad’s long term rivals in Caribbean relations – Jamaica.


Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary was at the start of August – just over three weeks before Trinidad’s event.


Add to that the global focus on the mighty Jamaican athletics team, whose poster boy Usain Bolt became the face of the London 2012 Olympic countdown and literally took gold on the eve of his country's 50th independence celebrations.


Once again, as in trade, diplomatic and other issues within the Caribbean, the region’s richest nation, Trinidad and Tobago, is pitted against the largest English-speaking nation, Jamaica.


Trinidad and Tobago’s diplomatic team in London was being, well, diplomatic about the upcoming clash of celebrations.


Also, on a tighter budget than you might imagine for Caricom’s oil and gas-rich nation, they’re not throwing money, but carefully planning a longer-term strategy which they hope will bring benefit to T&T.


"We’re marketing the breadth and depth of our culture," Trinidad and Tobago’s High Commissioner to London, Garvin Nicholas, told Caribbean Intelligence©.


"Ours is a legacy that can stand the test of time."


Showcase diversity


For those who do not know Trinidad and Tobago, it’s the twin-island republic at the southernmost end of the Caribbean island chain.


It has the most diverse mix of ethnic groups even in the diverse Caribbean. Its last census indicated that 40% of its population are of Indian origin, 37.5% of African origin, 18.5% of mixed origin with 0.6% of European/ local origin and 0.3% of Chinese and Trinidadian origin.


Mr Nicholas says his team has been planning a way to showcase this diversity for the last 18 months.


Its central showpiece is a Culture Fest which will run at its Cultural Village set-up in Kilburn, west London, to run from 26 July to 25 August.


Mr Nicholas says that it will showcase a "flavour of everything".


Welcome to T&T


For anyone who thinks they have not had a flavour of Trinidad culture, think again.


If you’ve heard of Carnival (not the Brazilian large-stage style show, but the street festival which all can join, as recreated by Trinidadians at Notting Hill, New York’s Labour Day and Toronto’s Caribana), if you’ve heard steel pan being played, eaten a roti with the filling on the inside or ever seen limbo dancing and listened to soca music, then you have come across Trinidad culture.


Unlike Jamaica’s high global profile for its music and its food, Trinidad’s cultural gems are more for people in the know. Trinidadians call it "We Ting".


So the challenge for T&T@50 in London is to spread the word on Trinidad’s best-kept secrets.


"The marketing of Trinidad and Tobago, in my view, has not been what it should be and we have not been on the radar screen," Mr Nicholas admits.


He says he plans to use the month-long Independence celebrations to "build a better profile."


His budget is a mix of government, private sector and sponsorship funding which is being used to showcase Trinidad’s culture, as well as its tourism and investment opportunities.


Trinidad is already an economic powerhouse within the English-speaking Caribbean.


According to UK Trade and Investment, it is the UK’s largest export market in the Caribbean, taking £100m worth of goods and £116m in services. Britain also plays a large part in Trinidad’s oil and natural gas industry, as well as its communications, education, health and construction sectors.


The High Commission estimates that there are 30,000 Trinidadian nationals living in the UK.


So another important element of the 50th anniversary events is education for nationals – and the third and fourth-generation Trinidadians living in the UK.


The Cultural Village will provide daytime classes for age groups 7-to-12 and 12-to-15 in Trinidadian costume making, cookery, dance and drumming.


Mr Nicholas says that it is aimed at diaspora and "non-diaspora for tourism".


"The education element is important," he adds.


"By getting the young people to appreciate the culture, you open up the market and you expose others in the diaspora to an in-depth understanding of the culture."


Cultural Village


The High Commission team hope that the month-long showcasing of events, under the theme "Pride in our liberty", will help focus attention on all things Trinidadian, even as the momentum grows around and after the ongoing Olympic Games in east London.


The west London venue will already have a natural following, given its proximity to Notting Hill Carnival and will have its own PR timing in the staging of Notting Hill Carnival as Trinidad and Tobago celebrates its fiftieth independence.


On the cultural side, soca star Machel Montano performed. As the performer of Pump Your Flag, the most-played tune during Trinidad’s two-day Carnival this year, he is also the country’s reigning Road March King.


Other appearances will showcase the country’s literary, artistic and other musical talents.


Although known for its oil and natural gas supplies, Trinidad’s formidable business community is known within the Caribbean for the dominance of its manufacturing products in supermarkets around the region.


Some of these manufacturers are also on a promotional thrust during the summer at the UK’s many trade fairs.


Best known are the makers of the company which put the pink in the pink gin – Angostura.


Run by the Trinidadian family of the same name, the House of Angostura has put out a limited special Jubilee brand of its rum as a holder of the royal warrant.


Seeking a buzz


The High Commission events peak with an inter-faith service on 8 September at St Pauls, Kensington, followed by a gala dinner.


Mr Nicholas smiles wryly in response to questions about the Jamaican PR coup during the Olympic Games.


He describes a strategy which involves creating "the buzz" for Trinidad and Tobago which the country’s tourism and trade ministries can then build on in the UK and Europe.


He also hopes that events similar to the ones organised this summer will then take place on a smaller scale and on an annual basis.


He describes the 50th anniversary celebrations as "one of the biggest tourism, cultural, investment promotions ever taking place in a single space, at a cost that is unbelievably low".


"The audience that we’re reaching, we expect to be huge," he adds.