What does it mean to live the dream? For entertainers the script seems standard: copious amounts of money in the bank; flash cars; an over-priced liquor brand or maybe a private jet. But then what?
Grenada’s three-time Soca Monarchs, brothers “Luni Spark” (Kellon Ogiste, 28) and “Electrify” (Kelson Ogiste, 27) clearly have some way to go in ticking off many of the entries on the typical super star’s bucket list but doing things in an obvious way doesn’t seem to be their style. Instead they’re driven by a greater sense of purpose, for while the pair are famed as musicians, when asked to name their biggest achievements it not the awards or titles they speak of but the opportunities they’ve had to give back.
Driven by a social mission
“One of the things about Luni Spark and Electrify is that we always like to do things that nobody else has thought about venturing into. We’re the first to do school campaigns in Grenada,” explains Kelson who, along with his brother and Rashid Sylvester, launched an innovative anti-violence initiative that targets youth across the island’s secondary schools.
“We also do food hamper distribution around Christmas time for the elderly at the Hilarion home in St Patricks and St Martin home in Crochu, St Andrews. We’re into helping the community, young people. These are the things that make us happy; I’ll always state these as something we’ve achieved as we were the first to do it,” he adds.
Our interview takes place in the hair and beauty shop on Main Street, Sauteurs where Kelson works. When his brother Kellon arrives, we move into a freshly-painted room towards the back of the building which, in a few weeks, will be a bustling hair salon. As we settle into the barbers chairs it couldn’t be clearer that these two young men have their fingers in many pies.
Taking an entrepreneurial approach
It’s a strategy born out of necessity. As support for soca in Grenada is seasonal, once the carnival season ends most artists are forced to go back to their day jobs. “If you’re lucky you can get gigs performing to the Grenadian community in the US, UK or Canada,” says Kellon. “Being an entertainer is a career but it’s not like being a doctor or a lawyer. We’ve had achievements, won awards and titles but that’s not the same as having a degree. We still have to prove ourselves when we go to Trinidad.”
The young men speak with wisdom beyond their years. Perhaps it’s because despite their youth they’ve already clocked up 13 years in the business. They also had a head start as they are the sons of Grenada’s first female soca monarch, Cynthia Ogiste aka “Lady Cinty”. While their mother’s experiences taught them much about the music industry, the greatest influence she had was on their social awareness.
A legacy of giving
“We use to live in Sauteurs, Main Street and operate a shop,” says Kellon. “People would come without money but our mum would give them groceries anyway. How she would get back her money she didn’t know but the most important thing was that they were hungry and they needed food. We would have Christmas tree lighting and she would make juice and popcorn for the kids.”
“Growing up with her it sent us a direct message, ‘you all have to continue that legacy’. She used to do Saraca and all the people in backstreet would come with their bowl for food. We saw that sharing, loving aspect which was embedded in us directly. We move on with that torch and decided we have to carry on her legacy of giving back.”
Fighting violence in schools
It was a trip to Trinidad that was the catalyst for change. While taking part in the International Soca Monarch competition, they came across the concept of school tours. They were inspired to do something similar in Grenada but it wasn’t until they travelled to Jamaica for a youth symposium hosted by the Bob and Rita Marley Foundation that the concept began to take on a more concrete form.
Their visit was at the height of Jamaica’s Gully vs Gaza conflict that saw youth branding themselves with colours and being influenced negatively by music. When the brothers returned to Grenada and noticed similar issues were flaring up in schools on the island they decided to start a school tour promoting anti-violence messages.
But get images of MTV from your mind; the presentations are less about music and more about inspiring young minds. 98% of presentation is motivational messages and only 2% of it contains songs. The core message of the programme is “ Violence has no fame, only shame. Stand up and let education be your game”. During the five years that the project has been running the focus has expanded to include talks on issues like positive self-image and self-esteem.
More support is needed
The project has not been without its challenges. The initiative had to win the support of the Minister of Education as well as the District Education Officers for each parish on the island. Even then, not all schools have been willing participants.
“No one is doing what we do. When violence breaks out people wring their hands and say something must be done,” says Kellon. “Up to this day the only thing we’ve received from the Ministry is an endorsement. In terms of the general support, it’s not there! They endorsed us and that’s it. They have left it in our hands.”
The project is now in urgent need of support as it is self-funded apart from vital support from a few sponsors. “We’re hoping that some organisation will say, ‘yes, these guys have been doing this thing and they need the support’. We could even go into primary schools but we can’t do it without funding,” Kelson explains.
Why changing mentality can change outcomes
Given these two young men are active in so many areas, it’s intriguing to discover exactly which, of the various issues that they are working to change in Grenada, they would commit to changing. Kelson’s response is pretty inspirational so it’s included here in full: “If I want commit to change one thing here in Grenada, it’s the mind-set of the people. We here as a people don’t support what is good, we rejoice over someone’s failure. We need to develop the mind-set of independence and the mind-set of support and helping someone reach somewhere.
“That’s what we’re doing in the schools, we’re trying to shape the mind-set of the youth so that we can have a better nation in the new future and that’s what the people in authority need to understand – that what we are doing is worthwhile. Because ultimately what moves things, what changes things is the mind-set of the people. If you change your mind you can make anything possible.”