Bati Bleki Weekly Recap, Monday, February 1st, 2016

AN INTERVIEW WITH MIGHTY TALENT, singer, composer, arranger, band leader Claudius Phillips

Every time I think about the tremendous loss of our Calypso and Road March whatever-you-call-it contest, I get mad. It’s truly a cultural blow, because I have many fond memories from past events where at 4am, rained out and tired, Lago Sport Park in San Nicholas bounced back to life with unforgettable performances of Mighty Talent. Having been last year’s crown winner, he was always last to go on stage, but we waited patiently for the magical moment to come, we knew it was bound to happen, when the king would leap on stage, and bury the competition with clever zingers and refrains, loaded with social commentary and clever parody.

So I called Claudius Phillips to tell him how much I love his work, and how sorry I am there will be no Calypso Contest this year.

PISSED. Mighty Talent is pissed too. “I live to see the people’s facial expression when my punch lines are launched, when they are all giddy, guessing what I will be saying next,” he said, “and I am sad that there will be no contest this year.” Apparently MT was working on three compositions, one for his son, now in his mid 20s, one for a band members and one for himself as special guest, because having won 21 crowns since 1983, he just took himself out of competition. And by the way, that first crown was won when he was singing with Musical Times, a Calypso called Surprise, do you remember? I am not sure I do, but if you sing it, I might recognize the tune.

THE LAST TWO YEARS. I learned that MT has endured some health challenges and medical treatments these last two years, but he kept that information to himself. “I didn’t want people to pity me or look at me differently,” he explained. So he kept under the radar. But his 2 year old daughter gave him a new appetite for life, and he is now recovered and preparing for Carnival with his OPC group. No kids, just adults. Most importantly, he is recording a special compilation, a brand new production, that will make Carnivalistas happy.

INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCES. He did travel with the band, went all over the Caribbean recently, and in St. Barts, the ritzy French island he looked at his audience, and saw their lips moving. They were singing his songs which most of them knew the lyrics for. That hit him hard, and he decided to place more emphasis on international markets, Spanish, English, a gospel CD dedicated to his mom and in general recognize his appeal to wide, multi-national audiences.

MY DAUGHTER. She was born on my birthday, he bubbled, she’s my anchor, my heart and soul and she domesticated me. She sings, and she is a Justin Bieber fan. She is the reason I want to make music, new, fresh every day.

MY TIME. Rona, this is My Time. I am working on an international production by that name, a big concert, my friend Lane L. from Las Vegas is pitching in. Enough with those international names, who get booked for Aruba, collect huge amounts and deliver lip-synching. It’s MY TIME will be a spectacular  concert which he hopes ATA and the Ministry of Tourism will help support, in June, at the Marlboro Sport Park. It has been difficult to break through, he says, because he has no Godfather, no friends in high places to help push him onto the world stage. “It’s not what you know but WHO you know,” he said, and after 30 years in the business this concert will showcase his work in its totality.

OREO AND HIS MUSIC. The band OREO counts about ten members and Lady Eyes, lawyer Diane Emerencia, is still performing, going strong; one of the trumpet players has been there for 19 years, but most others are brand new, young faces. Growing up here, MT reports visiting the island’s high rise hotels and listening to the music of the Platters and other distinctive vocal groups regularly appearing at the Americana showroom, and at the Sheraton. He learned how to be an entertainer there.

EDITOR’S NOTE. I hope ATA and the Ministry of Tourism feel the same way I do about MT’s work, it’s our patrimonia national, it must be cherished and documented. On his part, MT promised to upload it all, including vintage video footage on a new You Tube Channel.

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WHO ARE YOU KIDDIN’

There’s this joke I don’t like that goes the following: How do you know that a lawyer is lying? And the answer is: You see his lips moving. This means, every time a lawyer opens his mouth, you can bet your life he is lying. This terrible, tasteless stereotype came to me yesterday and the day before yesterday when I heard some of the declarations sounding out of the MinPres and the MinTour. Really? Who are you kiddin,’ I do not believe a word of this charade.

Allow me to rewind:

As soon as I heard that MinTour refused to sign the budget, I was pleased. Not just because I am a rebel, but because you cannot always make it easy on the ruling mighty. You have to make it difficult, you have to argue, and question, so they try harder, and invest more energy and resources in planning and thinking. In my book, opposition is a good thing, because it keeps the ruling mighty on their toes. Ban serio, you cannot always automatically agree with government, just because it said so. Then all of a sudden, I read he signed the budget, but that doesn’t mean anything, he explained, because he just wanted to get out of parliament’s way, so deliberations may continue.  And that situation is so typical of Aruba’s opaque politics. While it is not really clear why he didn’t sign the budget – I can speculate, it is still unclear why at the end he did, and the nine famous points, well, the MinTour keeps them to himself, as if we have no right to know, it’s just between him and the MinPres, who just reported positiviso, trankilidad and union, and we should all be left in the dark. Can somebody tell me what happened to transparency in government?

Anyway, I don’t believe a word they are saying, and I polled some of my friends.

Friend #9: The MinPres is spinning fairy tales. If the MinTour goes back to work as if nothing happened he will have 8 colleagues ready to cut his throat in the next two years.  I think it is temporary, and he is working on his new party, on our dime.

Friend #10: Even if nothing happens that was a ballsy move, MinTour lifted the veil, he sent out a clear message that he is not happy and that we have some serious problems in the party, equals government.

Friend #11: Rona you are naïve. The MinTour has kids and a family, he will not be unemployed, he can’t afford it, how will he feed his entourage if he leaves, he ain’t going nowhere!

Friends #12: Rona, don’t you know, the MinTour has a number of businesses that can sustain him and his family for a long period of time, while he is campaigning. He is getting ready to fly solo. None of the businesses are on his name, naturally, but they are fully operational, and can take him through a long campaign.

Friends #13: He should be very pissed, and the anger is still bubbling under the smooth surface. Watch what’s gonna happen, he will resign. None of the projects he worked on so hard got any attention from his cronies, no beach policy, no hotel in Seroe Colorado, no timeshare law. He’s out of here. MOREOVER, at the Monday meeting, none of his projects were mentioned by the MinPres who listed all his “triumphs” including the Watty Vos Boulevard, the reopening of the Refinery and the Green Corridor. Nothing, not a word about MinTour’s agenda. Like his did not exist.

Friends #14: All eyes are on MinTour now. He is a showman and a superstar, the MinTour will go on with himself as the producer, director and main actor, he is a one-man-spectacle, not a team player, he will resign, they let him down, all this dushi music is just cover-up, makeup, smoke up our you-know-what.

Friend  #15: MinTour had no choice but make peace. He is not leaving. Imagine, he will be powerless once he kisses the ministry goodbye, he cannot go, because he will be insignificant without the leverage and power of the ministry.

Friend #16: I’d rather he stay for the sake of stability in tourism, and I wish he would continue to kick butt, even if 8 pissed ministers want to destroy him and make him miserable. At least he made a statement and made it public that something is rotten in the kingdom of Aruba. He has balls. He showed us how divided they are.

So opinions are divided, 4 say MinTour made peace, 4 believe it’s smoke and mirrors.

I drove through town Moday, at about 3pm, on my way from lunch to the house, and saw MinPres, sauntering, leaving parliament, destination unknown, suit jacket flung over his shoulder, he waved at me, pointed his trigger finger, then shook hands in the car window before me, it was quaint to see the MinPres on foot, alone, nodding, pressing the flesh and getting some exercise by walking. He is a great PR man, blinded by his own convictions.

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Yappy Hour, Paws for a Cause

Barney’s restaurant hosted a fun raiser on Friday for ARF-Aruba, a not for profit foundation, helping street dogs and cats find forever homes. The foundation exports almost 200 dogs each year, taking them off the island and placing them with Canadian and American animal loving families. Relying on volunteers and donations, the party at Barney’s was well attended by two legged and four legged friends. Apparently, there are quite a few organization on the island now, doing a great job on helping solve our stray dog challenges. And if you go to Cunucu Friends on FB you will realize that our best ambassadors are the adopted street dogs, spreading love across continents.  Thank you Cheryl Talcof for organizing the happening, it was a great success, mixing locals and visitors, united behind the idea that animals and people should be treated equally.

I recently checked with Contrera Veterinary clinic for an update regarding the recently rolled our Stima Mi Steriliza Mi Campaign. http://stimamisterilisami.com/.  It’s going  very well at that clinic which performs about 10 operations a day, and is booked for the next 30 days, that’s 300 spayed and neutered dogs/cats, which is great news. Migueal Garcia who administers the program reports that almost 800 responsible stray-owners signed up for the discounted procedure available at all veterinary clinics on the island. Ewald Biemans, Bucuti Beach Resort & Tara Suites, the motor behind the initiative is also very pleased with the public’s response. However, Ann Angela, who provides loving foster care for found animals at her home, reports the St Nicholas is the missing link. Perhaps because there is no vet clinic there, the nearest is in Savaneta, and the oil town’s strays are in dire need of help, but then I think, the people in SN are in need of help themselves. How can they care for their animals if they are having difficulties helping themselves? Brisket, the dog who lived at the Hollywood Diner, and was adopted when the restaurant moved to the Alhambra Casino & Shops is doing great in the US says Kathy Andreottola, the founder of ARF-Aruba, a tireless lady who has been living here for fifteen year, and  whose place in heaven is guaranteed, thanks to her tireless community work.  http://arf-aruba.com.

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The trouble with Casino Ownership

I worked for many years at the Alhambra Casino & later at the Royal Cabana Casino as Director of Marketing and I know that the job is not as glamorous as it seems. Record burnout, stress, assorted addictions including gaming, alcoholism and depression, are every day companions of casino employees. There is something inherently stressful about the environment and following the spectacular bankruptcy of the Royal Cabana Casino operator around the Millennium, I was happy to switch gears and do something different. Not everyone is that lucky, and many of the old-timers feel trapped in an ungrateful industry that delivers personal hardship as well as corporate indecency.

And talking about corporate indecency:  The Aura Casino is still closed, and resort ownership announced its plans to grant a future casino operator, yet unnamed, the long and narrow left-hand-side portion of the space previously occupied by Aura, while retaining the main area as a lobby bar with nightly entertainment, practically shrinking the gaming floor to a corridor, and thereby reducing the number of people required to run it.

Some of my friends who work for the gaming industry on Aruba report to me that the Central Bank of Aruba (CBA) has been asked by some of the braded resorts to check up on their in-house Venezuelan casino operators and approve their level of compliance, resulting in fines, as much as Awg 100,000 following rising concerns regarding irregular transactions and other procedural violations.

So what was the CBA so annoyed about: Failing to submit anti money laundering reports, and the overly creative practice of allowing certain members of the local Chinese community, playing at the casino, to exchange inflated sums of florins for casino chips which were later cashed out for US dollars.

It’s all OK on the surface, you come, you play, you cash out, but the emphasis was on inflated sums, and here’s the point: This totally explains where the Chinese merchants, the owners of our multiplying mini markets got their dollars to pay for beer, Venezuelan visitors purchased on credit.

Remembers that story, the ongoing saga of the cash crunch suffered by dollar-starved Venezuelan visitors, who creatively charge their cards for supermarket products at the official rate and turn around to sell it at a reduced price for greenbacks, then brought into Venezuela, and sold on the black market for a fortune?

At  62.20% inflation in Venezuela, this is a lucrative business, but I guess the black market doesn’t publish any press releases thus I did not find the exact rate of black market exchange but it can be TEN times over the official rate. Motivated to spend zero here visitors take their dollars and head home.

Then the Chinese merchants, the owners of our multiplying mini markets, head back into the casinos, and wait for the next wave of mercantile hustlers.

While the local Casino Association members have agreed to comply with the CBA exchange rate of Awg 1.80 to 1US dollar, casino chips are regularly offered to preferred, lucrative players at a rate of Awg 1.75 to 1US dollar, and then promotional chips are added to the pot at no charge, bringing the effective rate of exchange down to Awg 1.70 for 1US dollar.

Certain members of that preferred local Chinese community members were reportedly rewarded for bringing in players by being permitted to make inflated transactions of florins at discounted rates in exchange for chips. It is further rumored that some of these unusual transactions have gone unrecorded and with the casino avoiding a 4% government tax, imagine?!

These desperate marketing methods probably reflect desperate times for some casinos. With vendors remaining unpaid, employees often receiving their salaries late and many of the slot machines switched off, there is an air of concern on the faces of many employees, in casinos that are starting to look neglected, and I am referring to the Excelsior Casino, The Orchid Casino, I am still asking myself why didn’t any official government representative show up for the opening, and Cool Casino, who have all been reporting difficulties.

This of course doesn’t apply across the board. The Alhambra Casino & the Stellaris Casino at the Marriott Aruba Resort are doing very well; they are popular, clean and well run, at the hand of their responsible corporations, which also applies to the Casino at the Ritz Carlton. Same goes for the Renaissance Casinos, who have always been preferred employers and fun establishments. The Hilton Casino has just made a substantial investment and continues to offer the latest gaming technology, fair gaming practices and an inviting environment to locals and visitors. The Trop Casino & Club, related to Tropicana Entertainment with a network of casinos in Nevada, New Jersey, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Indiana, is responsibly run. Did I forget anyone?

So, what does it tell me? It tells me that there are too many casinos on the island. It also implies that the free-standing casinos within walking distance to a great number of rooms do well. Casinos with a great number of rooms above the heads do well. Timeshare Resorts and All Inclusive Resorts are not perfectly matched with gaming. Their clients are more blissfully interested in the beach than anything else….

I was just told I forgot the Glitz, count them among well managed with lots of rooms above their heads…One of the better casinos at the Hyatt Regency slipped off the list, it’s a compliment when you are not among the notorious ….

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SEO and why it matters to you!

Partners and colleagues of the Aruba Tourism Association were invited to a SEO presentation, on Thursday. Don’t feel bad, I also didn’t immediately associate SEO with Search Engine Optimization, though I heard about it, I am aware of it, and I also marvel at the fact that when I ask Uncle Google the craziest question, the all-mighty search engine gets it every time.  Example: I Googled “Uncle Google,” and was directed to the Urban Dictionary which informed the following: Uncle Google is like that scary older relative that your mum warns you about hanging around with, but you do anyway because he knows almost everything; and he can always be relied upon to show you some puppies. Unfortunately he also makes you look at dirty pictures too, whether you want to or not.

Back to the presentation: It was held at the Renaissance Convention center who served delicious pastechi and breakfast pastries and it was attended by the island’s marketing gurus, a small but potent group of people who wanted to learn more about the subject and why it should matter. “We invited anyone directly involved with content writing and websites,” said Sherry Bidgood, Project Manager Digital unit, on the invitation.

Why it matters to you???

Tim Lavelle, Director of SEO and Social Media, at the SEO Agency of the Aruba Tourism Authority held an almost 3 hour presentation on the subject and its best practices. The goal he said, was to teach us how to improve our website’s visibility within Google’s organic search results, which is no small feat. You realize today, that opening your door for business is not enough, well, creating a website and just hanging it out there on the internet, is not enough either. You gotta update and optimize it, by determining how people search for products and services, and then you gotta figure out how well your site currently ranks, and then the job of picking the right target keywords begins and never ends.

These target keywords must be sprinkled all over your website, so that Uncle Google can find then, when prompted by a browser. And by sprinkling I mean in your tags, your content, the headers, the URL, and the links, think about Wikipedia, and what the page looks like, and how Google always finds it, and refers you to that website.

Having done the thinking, you must make sure your website is well constructed and fast, so that pages reveal their content at the click of the mouse, then ask Uncle Google how you are doing, and correct all defects Google analytics found, and do the same for all images, that must be titled and tagged and all videos, that only matter for the first couple of seconds, then do some more thinking about relevant links and identify some more target keywords, and start the process all over, for any digital content.

Did I scare you? Are you sorry you fired your marketing director after launching your website believing the monster will do all the work on its own?

Anyway, at the wake of optimizing the website continuously you may expect to see improved organic keyword rankings, more organic website traffic, and accordingly, more revenue. If you are not doing any of the above, you are wasting your time, and you’d better close shop.

“We all have a role to play in promoting the One happy island,” writes Sherry, “and one of the best ways to generate more demand for Aruba visitation is to apply SEO strategies to our digital content so that our marketing messages can be delivered to a wider audience than ever before.”

Our presenter Tim Lavelle was very knowledgeable, as the ultimate expert on SEO and Social media. I liked when he explained: “I only hire writers at our office, because you can teach a writer search engine optimization, but you cannot teach a search engine optimizer to write… “

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THERE IS NO BETTER PLACE THAN INSIDE.

I found in my archive glowing reports on Jouvert Morning from 2014 and 2009, so it’s either I didn’t participate in the years in between or I didn’t write! I think I also remember one very disappointing Jouvert Morning with just one band and one disco truck, as the event almost died…but I have to report it is well and alive!

Some friends said let’s go, it’s full of music, 12 bands, and I was immediately sold, sipping my coffee in the back of a pickup truck all the way to San Nicholas.

Traffic was light, though one frontal accident slowed it down towards Savaneta, and parking was easy, check.

By the time we got to the YMCA the parade was well underway, it left at 4am, sharp, and rolled briskly down the street, with just a handful of people shuffling behind each band.

Our stop at the Winter Garden for a beer was identical to the one in 2009 and 2014, with the same regulars glued to the bar. Cutting through the main street to the head of the parade we missed, we noticed that the street was in dire need of a good clean up from an earlier happening. What’s the matter? You are usually so good about cleaning.

By the time we got to the entrance of our defunct refinery the parade was thick and lively with the largest group of dancers shuffling behind the inside, with N’Fusion, and a disappointing few for Oreo, Youth Xtreme and D’Licious. I remember how popular these bands were in past years, now only their diehards remain.

At the end of the parade on our way back to Lago Sport Park Tsunami did not disappoint, their music was great, no crazy bass pounding, just the sound that we craved to wrap up an excellent party shortly before 9am.

Thank you Mrs. De Couteau for the Johnny Cakes and Salt Fish, which we enjoyed while parking on her sidewalk.

Jouvert morning was totally amazing, the pajamas, the hair rollers, chamber pots, bedroom slippers, fancy negligees, baby-dolls, orange body paint, baby powder, blue body paint, pampers, pacifiers, bathrobes, plastic shower caps, the men in drags, the chollers, the Police commissioner his eyes closed in devotion to the music, his legs dancing, it was a true tribute to Aruba’s joy of life and its insatiable appetite for parties, from which you depart wasted, wet, sweaty, tired, in broken shoes, swollen feet, with an aching back!

We missed Le Grove, where were you? We missed Upgrade music, where were you? The refinery’s aroma of butane gas was thankfully missing. The Flashback band looked depressed.

The Failures and lead singer Mingo dished out their traditional charming mélange recruiting Teolinda and Lulu Bang Bang to entertain the crowd with ear-pleasing steel pan music and a vuvuzela.

San Nicholas was very appealing last night, congratulations Aruba for a well organize, totally safe, extremely enjoyable night, thanks to the Police force, thanks to SMAC, my friends tell me it would not have been possible anywhere else in the world, because everything we do out on the street on Jouvert Morning would be considered illegal elsewhere in the world, Viva Aruba, Viva Jouvert!

  1. Leave more trash containers next year. Thanks for clean public rest rooms!

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January 31, 2016
Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster