Kite is one of the most successful bands in Barbados consisting of two friends, JJ & Brian, although their achievement is not fully known or understood.
The band consists of two friends, JJ and Brian, who have been making music together for the last 13 years. During this time they have toured America, performed sold-out concerts, lost everything, and eventually become so fortunate that Puff Daddy’s producer came knocking on the door.
In an interview with Kite, we uncovered the secret to their success and gained powerful insight into how the music industry in Barbados works.
The origins of Kite start from JJ and Brian’s personal music experiences. Before coming together, each friend had worked in music for many years, developing their rhythms and learning from different influences. Brian, for instance, had played in big Bajan bands such as Exodus, Sygnacha, and Splashband as well as backing many famous international reggae artists.
Their past music experience has fused together to shape the music they produce as Kite today – which is best described as Rock with a Bajan twist. Their tunes have reggae influences, steel pans and rock guitars blended expertly to create a unique sound. The lyrics to each song are poetic and racy – all with a serious message or meaning behind them. Their words are inspired by:
“All the people we have met – we have been through many ups and downs to get to where we are, so this is reflected in our music.” (JJ)
There are many sharks in the music industry, and JJ and Brian learned the hard way. They started making music together by forming ‘Desire,’ and did something most Bajan bands only dream of doing – they went on tour in America. Having raised funds, they toured the American college scene playing to hundreds or thousands of screaming fans.
On the back of this success, they used the Desire brand to launch a Barbados music festival called ‘Spring Break,’ which pulled in thousands of tourists from around the world, especially America. However, two seasons later, all their hard work and success was torn away from them as their manager ran off with all the money. Brian and JJ were left with nothing and Desire dissolved immediately afterward.
“I guess in a way the tour was like our university – there were huge highs and lows, and we learned so much.” (Brian)
Fortunately, the tour taught JJ and Brian something invaluable – the fact that they make great music and songs together. So in 2003 they formed Kite and released their first album ‘Up in the Air.’ Their groundbreaking sound made a huge impression on the growing Barbadian music industry and, like the album predicted, launched Kite into the Caribbean music stratosphere. The success of the album led them to work with top Caribbean producer Jeremy Harding, and Kite headlined at Barbados’ premier international pop/rock festival ‘Culture Shock.’
Their performance at ‘Culture Shock’ was electric, and it led to international recognition. Following their success, Kite was invited to play at The Florida Music Festival.
This is an incredible achievement for a Barbadian band, made even more special as they were the only band from outside America to perform.
Their performance was, yet again, spellbinding and it led to their big break – they were spotted by music publishing company – Rip Tide. Rip Tide is a music publishing company based in the USA.
Once signed up with Rip Tide, Kite’s music was published by Rip Tide’s affiliated publishing companies throughout America. This meant Kite’s songs were being published on television, adverts, and films. JJ stressed that:
“When you are a musician in Barbados, and trying to make a living, getting your music published is a great way to go.” (JJ)
He explained that touring is extremely expensive when you have to travel as far as America or Europe from the Caribbean; but publishing your music on TV, radio, adverts or films is something you can do remotely. However, many up and coming musicians do not think of this avenue or realize that it’s available to them, as it isn’t something that the press like to cover.
Some of the shows Kite have had their songs published on are:
» CBS’ show: ‘Ghost Whisperer’;
» Canadian TV show ‘Degrassi’ in 2007: Wake Up’ and ‘Up In The Air’ featured on;
» The trailer for the movie ‘The Stone Angel’ (starring Oscar Winner Ellen Burstyn and Academy Award Nominee Ellen Page)
» CBS Prime Time show ‘Jericho
Another great benefit of having their music published on mainstream television shows is the marketing exposure that they receive. They can reach out and play to audiences that otherwise may never have heard of them and this has added to their record sales. Kite no longer have to play every night to be successful.
Music production for American television shows is the most prominent money earner for Kite. However, they still have to be on their guard in an industry that they have found to be dog eat dog.
JJ and Brian had a great time working with Jeremy Harding, Sean Paul’s Manager/Producer, however, they also worked with Younglord, one of Puff Daddy’s stable of young Producers.
When he came to work with them, they felt that they were being used to play a whole pile of music that would be chopped up and used as samples somewhere down the line in the near or distant future.
Brian and JJ never got the impression that Younglord came along to join forces to help them succeed as a band. They felt that he saw an opportunity, mainly for himself.
Brian and JJ had gone into it with an open mind, but it was clear that it was a partnership potentially fraught with pitfalls, mainly for them. So they parted company early doors before things got out of hand. Younglord was surprised that Kite sacked him. However, Kite was not desperate,
“we were hungry to succeed, but we weren’t idiots either.” (JJ)
Other potential problems they have encountered are people putting their music on their TV shows or websites without telling them.
“People do try and get away with it. However, you usually find out what’s going on from the web of affiliations of your publishing company.” (JJ)
Brian and JJ have also branched out by making jingles for client’s brands under their jingle company name ‘Shoestring Studios.’ However, they have realized that many Barbadians do not understand the nature of music copyright.
In the same way that some people take their music and play it without telling them, some clients expect them to merely take Rhianna’s songs and play them on their adverts for free. So with a little education and a lot of patience, Shoestring Studios are making people realize that you can’t just take an artist’s songs and start using them to promote your brand!
Despite all the work they do with music production and advertising work, Kite still finds time to play concerts, and their next gig will be at SXSW in Texas. This is an international event which launches bands in foreign settings. Around 1,500 bands will be playing over one week, and tout, managers, and producers from all over the world will be sniffing around for new talent.
Kite is looking to do better with its songwriting, so it’s something they can make a long-term career of. So on top of playing their classic Barbadian tracks, Kite will also be handing out business cards, memory sticks, and their web address. There is also a great new app on iPhones which allows you to swap virtual business cards by ‘bumping’ your phones at each other. Brian divulged that no one uses CDs these days – they are expensive to produce and are difficult for recipients to carry. The best way to get heard is to stream your music on your website or give it to someone on a memory stick.
These events are critical for all up-and-coming bands to get heard and promote themselves. However, it’s not enough to just play good music – you have to be prepared too. As Brian advises:
“Don’t go as a poorly prepared sponge – you’ll become saturated quickly and absorb all kinds of stuff – much of it not particularly helpful to your success.” (Brian)
People plan for many months in advance and make sure they know who they see before they go. Brian and JJ find they stand out simply because ‘Barbados’ is on their business cards. They also have:
“learned the power of Mount Gay rum!” (JJ)
and find that giving out mini bottles further helps Kite to stick in people’s minds.
At the moment Kite has seen that the majority of royalties to Barbadian musicians never makes it to Barbados; but if more musicians do what Brian and JJ have done this could all change.
Author: Brett Callaghan