SharLisa Peterson aka STARLISA began her journey as a Caribbean Media Extraordinaire at the tender age of 15. It was at this young age that she served as guest host to GEE MONEY from Laser 101 FM in her hometown of Saint Maarten, Dutch West Indies. She was the youngest in a room of professional men from the island who were 35 and older. In In that forum she was able to bring a fresh insight to the issues discussed. She is fluent in Dutch, Spanish, Papiamento. While going into college she applied for an internship with TEMPO NETWORKS LLC. The position would have her working as a programming/music video acquisition and production assistant to famed producer Ron Elliot. She worked on shows such as; PULL UP SELECTA with Hot 97 and Massive B’s own JABBA. She was later chosen to handle the intern project called “CONNECT”. The show took viewers to the best places to eat, and hang out. Viewers also got a look behind the scene with artists. She then cleverly changed the name to THE C.A.B an acronym for Caribbean American Buzz. It that serves as your ‘online "TAXI CAB" for the best that the Caribbean entertainment scene has to offer in NYC. Because of her unique skill set she was eventually nominated by her fellow co-workers to serve not only as production manager but network personality. She is now poised to make greater strides in media while representing her culture and the Caribbean as a region. She is another example of dynamic Caribbean women on the the rise, we are proud to present our conversation with StarLisa.
S : My name is SharLisa Peterson, my personality name is StarLisa. I am from the Dutch Island of St.Maarten. My father is American so I've been back and forth all my life. I've been here permanently without going back and forth since my sophomore year of high school. That was after my grandmother died, I had been raised by her. I came back here to finish school, and I knew that I didn't want to go to school in Europe yet. I wanted to see what is would be like to live in the states so I chose to come here.
P : When did you develop an interest in radio and media?
S : I started as early as three, and doing event production at 8 for school and church and I just kept on going on and on. I stopped when my grandmother got sick and I went back home. When she past away I was so depressed, and I needed something to bring me back to life and I started doing radio in St. Maarten when I was 15.
P : What was the shows format, and who did you have on as guests?
S : It would do it once a week and my panel was Bill Bellamy. He frequently visits St. Maarten, he loves St. Maarten. One of the Prime Ministers who is actually my guardian because he's one of my older cousins. He's the Minister of Health, and now he's the Prime Minister. He wasn't at the time though. We had a couple of radio personalities but it was all grown ass men in their 30's. I'm this little 15 year old. I was keeping up with them, voicing my opinion, and saying really valid things. It really gave me a thick skin because of the people I was around. It was great I had an excellent time.
P : Why did you decide to focus on working in media?
S : I knew that whatever I wanted to do had to do with home. Whether I was going to be in Europe or hear it had to be Caribbean so the media was perfect for me. I had a back up plan of Hospitality but I didn't want to sell myself short. the island you have two real career choices it's either you're going into hospitality, or you're going into teaching that's pretty much it. I was like um that's not going to be my life. I started working at the Sheraton, and I was like I hate this. I can't do this the rest of my life .My parents said well if you want to be an artsy person have a back up plan because it's hard etc. That was my back up plan but as I got further into this I knew that I didn't want t backup plan cause I was going to make this happen.
P :So when did you actually start working in Caribbean media?
S : It really started when I finally switched schools I went to metropolitan college on canal street, and I also started interning at TEMPO. I was living in Jamaica Queens at the time and TEMPO is in New Jersey. I would leave my house at six in the morning, it would take me three hours to get to Jersey, and I would work for free. as an intern at TEMPO, I was so passionate I just wanted to do it. So I did it for about two weeks, and I realized I can't be working for free. The building manager for where TEMPO was also owned a bar, the Key Club in Newark. Wendy Williams used to have after work parties there. I would bar tend, and I'd have an hour break from three to four. I would bar-tend from 4-1 I'd leave New Jersey at one, get back to Queens at about three or three thirty to do it all over again.
P : What was your initial perception of the Caribbean media scene?
S: In this industry here, it's a lot of Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Haitians, basically everything that I'm not. I'm one of the most Caribbean people you'll ever meet but I'm from the two regions that don't get acknowledged much for being Caribbean. That's the Dutch Caribbean, and the Spanish Caribbean.
P : Was it difficult to fit in?
S : It was kind of draining to me because I felt very out of place I guess. I always thought I was at a disadvantage because I wasn't in the Jamaican or Trinidadian clique. I also didn't want to conform. I'm in Caribbean entertainment but I didn't want to be like; "yea mon". I speak five languages, .Dutch, Papiamento which is a dutch Spanish Portuguese creole that we speak in the Dutch Caribbean. I speak Spanish, English, American sign language, and I'm conversational in French, and Portuguese. With my culture we're just naturally very linguistic so I didn't want to come off as trying to be Jamaican. I wanted to keep my culture and my heritage. It was very hard because nobody got that.
P :Tell me more about what it was like fitting in to the culture of the Caribbean music industry?
S : I think look wise I fit in right, however culture wise I wasn't as educated on certain aspects of history of reggae. I'm very much a Soca and calypso girl. I was brought up on Spanish music. Merengue, Salsa, Bachata. In the Dutch Caribbean we have music called Tumba which is like a Soca Calypso kind of sound. So a lot of the known reggae hits, and people I really didn't know. It was very hard because I had to do a lot of research, and it was very difficult at first. They would come and talk to me, and say something that was very heavy in patois, and I would be like " ok, right". They would think that I was making fun or being sarcastic. So there would be a little friction at first. Then my number one mentor of life in the industry, Dub Master Chris from Irie Jams Radio. He said the reason why it's working out negatively for you is because you are going into it thinking negative. He said you need to make that work for you. Just think of it as; people are tired of that. Then I started saying man Jamaica's overrated, we need something new now. As soon as I adopted that attitude I really embraced who I was, I had Shaggy speaking Papiamento. I really found a way to integrate my thing into their culture.
P : While working as an intern, you started an initiative to help other interns, can you tell me a little more about that?
S : During the week I was living off two hours of sleep, after about eight months I said I can't keep doing this.That's when I decided to start the CAB initiative. I really wanted to create the initiative for the interns that's when I came up with the CAB. The cab in New York is one of our main forms of transportation, and also an acronym for Caribbean American Buzz. So our hashtag was; jump in the cab. We would go around to different restaurants at fist. Then it would be a congressman, I got my first celebrity interview it was a congressman. He was like wow this is great Christopher Martin is doing something with me, and we'd love for you to tape it and do an episode. When we did an episode it was so that the students could be well rounded and be in the field. I would be the host but everybody else would take care of the other parts.
P : What were your plans for the CAB at that point?
S : I actually had a vision of just keeping it Caribbean restaurants , businesses or politics. I ended up even more inside the entertainment, We got invited to this big show with people like I-Octane and Gyptian. That's when I started interviewing these stars. The managers of these stars would recommend me, and word really got around about me. I was using my uniqueness, even the name of it is very catchy. The initiative behind it is important too, the point of it is to really help the students. I don't make a whole bunch of money from it that's why I have a lot of things going on. This is something I love to do because I really believe in people. I believe in people who are willing to work hard. Sometimes you have the will, but then you have people who don't know how to make a way for themselves. I'm one of the people who knows how to make a way. I know how to make a way, I'm not going to mind doing it for others.
P : You eventually moved on from TEMPO , what did you do after that?
S : I left TEMPO, and then they saw what I did on my own with the cab, I also write very well. I started in 09 and left in TEMPO at the end of 2010. I got an offer to become the co editor in chief, because I also contribute to Caribbean Life newspaper. Also Latina magazine, and Billionaire Entertainment Magazine. I was writing for Caribbean Entertainment Magazine as well. That's the number one digital Caribbean entertainment magazine, it was a great experience.
P :At some point you decided to work with TEMPO again was it a surprise to you?
S : About three weeks after that I got a phone call from a girl who got hired when I was interning at TEMPO. She called and said we need a host for cross Caribbean countdown. She said "we want to do one for New York would you be interested?." So I started doing that, I was the one who had all the connections. When they hired me to be the host of Cross Caribbean Countdown it turned into producing. I handled the venue, and got the artists. I was the only personality on the network who was bringing in these artists, like Movado, and Shaggy. I was bringing heavy hitters, it was great for everybody. When I started with them I was in the programming, and scheduling department. They had no idea that I had this kind of hosting talent. So then they offered me the producer position as well
P : How long have you been producing and what are your plans going forward?
S : That happened October of last year. I'm very excited to cross over now. I'm co editor of the digital magazine Caribbean Entertainment magazine. I'm a host, and producer. I'n the only host that is a producer of the number one Caribbean show on the number one, and probably the only Caribbean network. I feel like I've hit the complete pinnacle of my Caribbean entertainment for right now. My ultimate goal is to be a Caribbean entertainment mogul. I want to start a small boutique company and branch out from there that's my ultimate goal
P : What was your early experience like as a woman in this male dominated industry
S : You're competing against old school, very opinionated and very loud strong Jamaican men. I just make sure I demand respect in a very polite way.
A lot of women in this industry, especially while I was doing production mess around. So as soon as they see you they think; if this one did it then she's going to do it. At first there was a lot of checking people, and I rode solo. I don't need a ride anywhere, I don't need a drink, and that's how it was at first. Then it was like that too much, and that was a turn off. I was too harsh, and it took me a little while to find a balance. It was important to me that they didn't take me for a joke. Unfortunately they do take a lot of women as a joke,
P : What were your feelings about how some women are treated in the industry?
S : You don't know who to be mad at. You don't know if you should be mad at the men for treating women that way, or mad at the women who let themselves be treated that way. So you had the men coming at you which was expected. Then there were women who were messing around to get where they're at. Once they see you coming up without having to do that, you get heat from them too.
P : Are there any negative experiences that stand out for you while working in media?
S : I had a tough time with my boss at Irie Jam. I'm from the Dutch Caribbean, we're like the friendly island, the happy island. Every island has a little catch phrase to describe who they are. I would come in with my little happy attitude, and the woman was terrible to me. I think that was the worst situation, she would try to sabotage me working with other outlets, it was crazy. I was just very shocked because I thought there would have been more support from her.
P : What would you say is a negative aspect of working in Caribbean media production ?
S : The biggest negative about it is the disorganization of it all. People don't realize that once you skip over five small details, those five small details turn into one big issue. So if you do that a good four times the whole production is crap.
P : What is your perception of the world wide influence of Caribbean music and culture
S : Reggae music, especially Caribbean culture and sound is being integrated a lot more into main stream songs. Everybody now has some type of Caribbean beat or flair in their songs. I think that's something that is an advantage to me. As someone who is a Caribbean personality/producer trying to cross over into the main stream. I'm trying to put together the perfect plan to execute to make it happen because I think this is a wonderful time to make that cross over to main stream
P : is crossing over into main stream media something you would like to do?
S : I have to cross over to the main stream because this is what I love to do and I'm passionate. I remember shaggy had a little pep talk with me and said "You're not going to progress until you realize your worth" he said "that's gonna be the first step right there once you know your worth. No matter if you have a quarter in your pocket, you can walk out on someone feeding you bullshit, and just keep it moving." "You might not be rich because you walked in there and walked out with that same quarter in your pocket, but at least you know your worth". That was my "ah ha" moment, so that's why this whole crossing over to the main stream is big for me. Once he said it, it all made sense.
P : What are your feelings about Caribbean music being given the recognition it deserves on the world music scene?
S : It's frustrating to me because regionally we have the best culture. We have Spanish, White, Black,African, Asian, and Indian influences in our culture. Our music, our entertainment reaches the world. The Caribbean as a regional whole, we are world music.
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