Show goes on June 16-19 but there’s a mash-up among organizers

Egbert Gaye

In the community and across Montreal people are talking. And as many suspect, there is something fishy going on at the once popular Taste of The Caribbean (TOTC).
Gemma Raeburn-Baynes, who founded the annual festival of Caribbean food, music and arts and crafts about 16 years ago, is under orders from her attorney not to talk to the media because of the possibilities of legal action by her former business partners who she says promised to sue her if she tried to sully their names and that of TOTC.
However, with Raeburn-Baynes under an attorney-imposed gag order, what is known is that after taking a financial beating with the festival over the past decade or so she had made it known that she was ready to accommodate investments from interested parties.
Two entrepreneurs, drawn by the glittering potential of the festival, took the plunge following overtures by Raeburn-Baynes, and are now embroiled in a nasty kerfuffle with her over ownership and rights.
The whole thing has gone legal. But both men say the mash-up wasn’t their doing, and that ultimately their goal is to keep alive an event into which they have sunk loads of money.
Maxwell Phillips, who ran what was a thriving garment printing business for many years, said he was approached by the event founder to buy the TOTC but was hesitant to take it before he was convinced that it was what she wanted.
“I also wanted to be absolutely sure that her family was cool with it. So I advised her to go back home and speak to them.”
In a telephone interview with the CONTACT, Phillips says he entered into the agreement with Raeburn-Baynes fully respectful of the efforts that she had invested in building TOTC into one of the most popular events in Quebec, if not all of Canada, and wanted to make sure that she got her due in the sale.
“I was also fully committed to maintaining the dignity of the festival which I saw as a (treasure) of our community.”
Cezar Brumeau, a Lachine resident who has over the years had loose connections to the community as an event organizer and was, at its inception, the front-man for the Montreal International Reggae Festival, says he too was approached by Raeburn-Baynes to come on board as an investor in the TOTC after serving on its organizing committee for many years.
Eventually he agreed to hold a one-third share of the event with Phillips and Raeburn-Baynes sharing the remainder equally.
The three-way partnership birthed by convenience in  the summer of 2014 did not make for a happy family.
Phillips, who continues to express his affinity and respect for Raeburn-Baynes, says he felt trapped in the middle of continuous bickering between her and Brumeau, to the extent that it appeared that the 2015 festival might have been compromised.
It was nearing the eve of the event, he said, when he had to call on a friend to inject about $40,000 to salvage last year’s TOTC.
For the first time, the festival was held outdoors at the Old Port of Montreal in mid- June and drew tens of thousands with a mega Reggae concert that evening, featuring the Grammy winning Morgan Heritage.
But organizers say exorbitant overhead caused them to loose tens of thousands of dollars. And the bickering continued among the three.
Phillips says that at that time much of the negotiation was about how they were going to move forward and the role Raeburn-Baynes was to have played in the partnership and what her compensation should be.
But in that toxic environment, agreements were hard to come by.
Eventually the too-too hit the fan and the stench lingers, even as the summer breeze ushers in new enthusiasm for this year’s edition of the TOTC.
Phillips says things fell apart after Raeburn-Baynes decided she wanted out of the entire deal.
Brumeau says she didn’t deliver fully on her part of the agreement and didn’t bring to the partnership what she agreed to …
“She decided on her own that she wasn’t going to give up basics such as the website, the sponsorship information and media connections; basically, she wanted to sell us a car without a steering wheel.”
Phillips says any talk of them stealing the festival from Raeburn Baynes is crap and summed it up this way:
“Gemma is a wonderful friend and has showed me a lot of love. But I find her to be absolutely the worst person to do business with. She basically turned her back on every agreement we came to. In the end I had a choice to make and I decided to choose going forward with the festival under a new agreement with the current partner, because it’s very important that I get back the money that I borrowed from my friend to put into last year’s Taste of The Caribbean.”
“And I also want to make it clear that as long as I’m involved this festival will remain a product of the Black community and I’ll make sure that Gemma is properly compensated for the work she put into it.”
When pushed for a response Raeburn-Baynes, who is a regular contributor to this newspaper, would only say: “it‘s killing me that I can’t respond to the lies they are telling and tell my side of the story, but my lawyer says it’s the best course of action right now.”
A Taste of The Caribbean will be staged this year over four days June 16-19 at Ile Bonsecour Old Port of Montreal. Organizers say over 20 booths are in place to meet the needs of Montrealers hungry for Caribbean food. Highlights of the weekend will be cooking and mixology presentations by local celebrity Chef Jae Anthony, Chef Vladimir Ferrus from Haiti, and Chef Eric Atine of Martinique & Guadeloupe.
Several evening concerts are lined up from Thursday to Sunday featuring Barbados’ Mighty Gabby, Nicholas Branker, and Rupee, among others. As well as mega reggae stars Inner Circle and a line-up of top local reggae performers. There will also be a full compliment of Kompa musicians from ToTo Laracque of Haiti and other local stars.
Info.: www.totc.ca