It would be a picturesque shot of sunshine glistening over crystal blue waters as it crashed along a sparkling, golden fairy-dusted shore. Perspectives were from tour guides like Frommer’s or a celebrity, only skimming the surface of our scenic paradises’ food and nightlife.
We didn’t have outlets or shows where we could see facets of Caribbean life from our point of view. Instead of a generic hotel party, we wanted to see culture from the weekend lime, where locals congregate and enjoy regional foods. Whether it’s an island native or a descendant, we know there’s much more to island life than what is constantly portrayed on television under a white gaze.
An idea came to mind
Fast forward to 2003, and the powers that be lit a fire under Alain P. Arthur and his late wife, Royette Baptiste. Fueled by the negative portrayals of Black people in the media at the time, they created Caribbean Vibrations—but not entirely as we know it today. A lot of connecting and building was happening to get things off the ground. Many pieces fell into play.
“I went to school for marketing, but I did other things. I worked for Tonya Williams, owner of The Publicity Group. Then I joined Black Film and Video Network. But Royette and I noticed that anytime a crime happened, and it was a Black person, nine out of 10 times, they described the person with a Jamaican accent. Even though Roy's background was a human resources manager at Home Depot, she was in broadcast, radio and television at Seneca.”
“We started milling around the idea with our friend, Chris Perez, who at the time worked at Rogers. So Roy and I discussed the idea and thought, ‘What about us? What about doing something for us where we can see ourselves?” says Arthur.
They had the right idea, put a demo reel together and started shopping it around. However, the expected warm reception wasn’t waiting in the wings. “Our goal was to pitch it to City TV because, at that time, they had Chin TV and other programming on the weekends. OMNI Television wasn't even around then. So, we put together a trailer. We did something with Ellsworth James and Inspector Lenny at The Docks. We cut it and shopped it around—and everybody said no. CityTV said no. Global said no. CTV said no.” says Arthur.
What’s surprising about this is the Caribbean statistics in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, in 2001, Caribbean people made up one of the largest non-European ethnic origin groupings in Canada. At that time, over half a million people of Caribbean origin lived in Canada. Ontario and Quebec were cities where the largest populations could be found—and still are today. So, you would think a show like Caribbean Vibrations would have been seen as a goldmine for cable television, but it wasn’t. Thankfully, OMNI opened its doors and loved the nature of the show. Alain and Royette made a few tweaks, took a chance on community, contacts, and themselves, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Solidifying Caribbean Vibrations in Canada
Unfortunately, Royette Baptiste passed away and didn't see the show’s full potential and what it has become. However, Arthur and executive producer Toni Anne Thomas have carried the torch forward with spectacular results. Caribbean Vibrations represents a whole lot of island flavour. They’re front and centre at Toronto Carnival (their first show), Trinidad Carnival, Carifiesta, Crop Over (Arthur holds the Barbados Tourism Marketing Initiative in high regard), Spice Mass—name it, they’re there.
And it’s not just a carnival vibe. That may have been its beginnings, but here and now, Caribbean Vibrations has grown to be a trusted television show and source for all things Caribbean (as its tagline promotes). They cover carnivals, health issues, music, and community events, have notable discussions with community leaders, and much more. Caribbean Vibrations still airs on OMNI and CaribVision, all for the Caribbean diaspora. It’s our news outlet, from our perspective, from the ground up. Where previously, advertisers didn’t care for a program stating they didn’t have to target us because they could still get our money elsewhere, things have changed organically over the years.
“Have we seen a change? Yes. And there are a couple of different reasons why. We all know the George Floyd effect. But I also feel it’s because there are more of us in positions to make some changes. Before, I would have friends who were managers. Now, I have friends who are presidents, vice presidents and directors, so they can help with a budget or point me in the right direction. And from this standpoint, too, I want us to realize that they're not just deciding to give me money. They're ensuring there's a good return on investment because they know they're still responsible for that,” says Arthur. As I continue to say, representation matters on all levels.
Toni Anne and Alain charge forward
Arthur met Thomas at the Black Film and Video Network, but it was in 2013 when their partnership solidified.
“Alan contacted me about doing a documentary, and we had to attend Trinidad Carnival, which was my first. I was born and raised in Canada. My parents are from Antigua, so what I've learned from my Caribbean culture has much to do with being Canadian and being around other Caribbean people. So being exposed to Trinidad Carnival was a huge eye-opener for me. When we returned, I reviewed a few episodes of Caribbean Vibrations, and the production value wasn't great. So, I felt we had to change that,” says Thomas.
At the heart of Caribbean Vibrations is community and relationship building. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Arthur and Thomas behind the scenes (or, as they say, I’ve been ‘onboarded,’ and let me tell you, there was nary a dull moment!). They’re devoted to every aspect of the show: the drama, the jokes, and the energy. The behind-the-scenes moments are a whole other facet of Caribbean Vibrations that would have viewers in hysterics. All in all, it’s a mixture of blood, sweat, tears, exhaustion, and a lot of laughter. Whenever the occasion arises, Arthur and Thomas are quick to provide openings, connections, and discourse. Through these avenues, they have propelled Caribbean Vibrations into much more than an on-air show.
Now in its 20th year, the show has added a real estate cruise that sails to different islands with those interested in purchasing land or housing abroad. From realtors to ex-pats, they’re all up for the exciting prospects, the journey and learning about wealth building. But of course, you can also join them for a great time island hopping. “The cruise has been evolving since Alain, and I first sailed, and we still work with Anne, our travel agent,” says Thomas. Arthur says, “We're doing another one in March of 2024. We're leaving Fort Lauderdale this time, heading to Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, St. Martin and Dominican Republic.” If that’s not an invite, I don’t know what is.
Listening to them recount stories of contorting body parts and climbing rigs for a perfect shot or paving the way for the new generation of storytellers is a balance of hilarity and promise. They want up-and-coming talent to have a seat at the table. It’s a lot of hard work, but nothing can be done without community. “We always look for good people, but we try to get our people first. We'll always give someone an opportunity because that's what you're talking about when it comes to community. It's not just Toni and me. I don't look at it as us alone. It’s the community we're trying to build,” says Arthur.
There’s no way you can ask Arthur and Thomas what their favourite place is, but I did ask about their favourite moments. We could have sat there for hours going back and forth as they were triggered by any choice they made. However, Thomas’ first pick was the trip to Africa, visiting Addis Ababa, and Arthur gushed about the accompanying trip to Seychelles, but you know it didn’t stop there.
So far, Arthur and Thomas have been to 23 of the 27 islands and a few more than once. Each trip they’ve taken holds many memories. But there’s still so much more to see and share. They haven’t even touched the Latin Caribbean yet. But the trips ahead will be more content and culture to add to the vault. Who knows? They may need to start churning out some Caribbean Vibrations specials too.
Cheers to 20 more years, Caribbean Vibrations!
You can watch Caribbean Vibrations on OMNI Television and CaribVision.