Blues festival brings blessings for Caribbean island
A major music festival has taken place every spring on Marie-Galante since 2000. ‘Terre de Blues’ today helps to promote the small island as both a tourist and cultural destination. It also attracts thousands of visitors, injecting vital new funds into the local economy.
“Today it would be hard to imagine Marie-Galante without its Terre de Blues Festival and musical magic, both of which draw thousands of visitors to our island for several days.”
Harry Selbonne, Festival President
The four-day festival features top local and world-famous artists, with a focus on blues music. It is held on one of the five islands in the archipelago of Guadeloupe, a French overseas region.
Marie-Galante is part of the Leeward Islands. For several centuries its economy was dominated by sugar cane production, but today it relies on tourism revenue.
With the decline of its sugar cane industry, the island has suffered depopulation in recent decades and is now home to around 12 400 people. Organisers of the Terre de Blues Music Festival, first held in 2000, hoped in part to reverse this trend.
A major goal was to build on the strong local tradition of live music and launch an event to raise the island’s profile internationally and bring in more tourists. The festival also aimed to be a new platform for social, economic and cultural development on Marie-Galante, and has received EU financial support since 2002.
The event is a huge success. It celebrated its 11th edition in May 2010 with music from R&B to reggae, and gospel to jazz. Most of the 10 main artists came from Guadeloupe, Martinique and other regional islands such as Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti. They also included a renowned US pop group and a Senegalese singer, ensuring the festival's status as a cultural bridge to Africa, the Creole-speaking Americas and Europe.
Island’s biggest annual event
Visitors are treated to free concerts by day and can buy tickets for concerts at night, while an ‘off-festival’ showcases island crafts and tradition. Leading festival artists also organise workshops for local musicians and dancers.
The blues festival has become a powerful promotion tool for the island, bringing in some 12 000 to 14 000 spectators; over 10% come from abroad. This visitor influx benefits the local economy by filling hotels and creating business for shops, restaurants, ferry companies and car-hire firms. Many local people previously tempted to move abroad for a better life can now therefore remain on their home island.
Around half of the festival’s profits stay on the island. Best of all, the event ensures the continuity and transmission of local cultural traditions, while providing hope and financial security to an island with few natural resources or local job opportunities.