We had the good fortune of connecting with Charlie Bahama Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Charlie Bahama, what do you attribute your success to?
I think the most important factor behind my success, other than putting 107% into your work and remaining secure, yet humble, is to stay true to your self and your brand. Early in my career when I started as an On-Air host here in the United States on the Caribbean Satellite Network (CSN), I had already hosted my own very successful show (Electric Air) in The Bahamas for many years. I had a following and the reason CSN chose me was because of my ‘Charlie Bahama’ casual, fun and authentic style. But when I taped my first day, I thought I had to become something I was not. I thought I had to follow the ‘American’ style of hosting or act like what I saw on MTV or VH1, and didn’t realize that being different or being ‘Charlie Bahama’ would set me apart, instead of being just another television host. People who are different stand out. Be true to yourself and let your brand be true to you…
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
First of all it was not easy getting here, every day is a struggle whether it be being creative, or finding the money or financial support for making your artistic and creative ideas come to life, or the confidence and mental strength to stand by your artistic creations and brand. I am very proud to have been able to create and host the first regularly scheduled independently produced TV show (Electric Air) in the Bahamas. Not only because it became a household name, but also because it gave a platform for many people to highlight their own talents, art, creations and story. Then being chosen as a host and VJ (Video Jockey) on the international network, the Caribbean Satellite Network (CSN) was another step in now helping artists on an even bigger platform. Playing a part of the creative success of talented entertainers like Joss Stone, Betty Wright, The Baha Men (Who Let The Dogs Out) and creating a world-wide social awareness for the swimming pigs in The Bahamas with my films, ‘When Pigs Swim’ and ‘Pigs Of Paradise’ which has brought millions of visitors to the shores of Exuma in The Bahamas and employment and some economic prosperity to some of the folks on those islands. One of the lessons I have learned along the way, which I learned later (hopefully not too late…) is to stay true to yourself, your brand and what you stand for. Don’t try to imitate anyone else or do what they are doing. If you do, you are just a second hand knock-off. Those who are different, are the ones you remember, so I’ll stay true to Charlie ‘Bahama’…
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
This would depend if we stay only here in Miami or also travel to my second home in The Bahamas. Before covid I would work, film, create and travel back and forth from Miami to The Bahamas and also a bit to NYC, but mainly between Miami and The Bahamas. So we would begin here in Miami where I live most of the time. Miami is so multi-cultural with the original native Indian communities, the African American communities, the Bahamian and Caribbean communities, the Haitian communities and the Latin communities that also have many communities within that. So a drive through many of these communities and areas would be a must and of course food is one of my favorite things to see, do and taste in any country around the World. For me it’s food, nightlife, museums and cultural events. So breakfast in Miami would include, going to Little Havana for a great Cuban breakfast and you must get a Cuban Coffee, called ‘Cafe Cubano’ which could be a Café con leche (Coffee with steamed milk), Colada (strong, black Cuban Coffee, usually shared with others, but some have been known to drink the entire thing themselves) or Cortadito (smaller Cafe con leche), which I like the best. Cuban coffee is a must to try and better from the little joints that serve it fresh, strong and cheap. Cuban food is good also for lunch and dinner and Little Havana or Calle Ocho (8th Street) have many great restaurants with Versailles being the most well known on Calle Ocho, but there are many others to explore. From there you can drive through Coconut Grove and walk around and drive to Overtown for some good restaurants there like the new Red Rooster, but my favorites are Jackson Soul Food and Lil’ Greenhouse Grill for some authentic soul food. Then drive through Little Haiti and the Little Haiti Cultural complex for art and culture, the Wynwood area for art, culture and other cool little restaurants and cafes and for the higher end, you can walk around the Design District. In terms of food, Miami is such a diverse and multi-cultural city that you can find any food from anywhere. Haitian, Bahamian, Jamaican, Trinidad and general Caribbean foods. The ‘Islands’ all have similar foods but all with their little different twists or names. There are a lot of Latin restaurants also with similar foods, but with their own touches. There are so many from every Latin and Central American countries that I would not have enough space to get them all in. Of course there are many amazing other styles of food and restaurants in Miami from Italian, to Asian to French and just about every country in The World. Miami is truly a diverse city, even though it has known as the gateway to Latin America. One of my favorite Italian restaurants is Cafe Prima Pasta over on Miami Beach, and if you like BBQ, there is Tom Jenkins up near the Fort Lauderdale Airport (that might not fit in our Miami story, but it is so good, you might have to venture out of Miami, if only for lunch.) Another must do, is to visit the Indian reservations and of course go into the Everglades. There are many ways to see the Everglades, but my favorite is on an airboat. You can get airboat rides from some of the Indian reservations and nations, but also from a place I filmed many times, Coopertown. When there, try the frog legs and Alligator meat. In terms of culture, you have the Bass Museum on Miami Beach as well as the New World Symphony or Arsht Center if they have anything on that you want to see. I saw these amazing kids from the Miami Music Project perform a few years back and was so impressed, I signed my daughter up to join the orchestra. Finally back on South Beach you have to take a drive along Ocean Drive, but get out and walk around Lincoln Road Mall. It used to have the smaller mom and pop and unique stores, but now the big chain stores are coming in, so see it before all the charm is gone. It is still a good walking mall and have a lot of great restaurants. I don’t get to the clubs as much anymore, but the nightlife on South Beach and now also downtown Miami is legendary around the World, so this you will have to research before you come, as clubs come and go by the minute. This could take you a few weeks to get through, but if you did do it and had the chance to fly to my other home in The Bahamas, I would say take the chance and visit the Out Islands of The Bahamas for a more unique glimpse at island life. Try Exuma for the swimming Pigs and the best waters and boating you will ever find anywhere in the World or Cat Island, Andros or Bimini for some cool rustic living. Also there is Eleuthera and Harbour Island with the same amazing beaches and colonial feel. Abaco has that cool colonial feel on Green Turtle Cay and Hope Town and still getting back on their feet after the hurricane, but up and ready to give you that island hospitality. All the Out Islands are cool with their own vibe, so just pick one and go over for a weekend. Either home you choose to visit, you will bound to have an amazing time.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are a few folks that deserve credit for my success. First there were my parents who gave me the foundation, support and security to try, fail, create and ultimately start making a living at what I wanted to do in life. Then in The Bahamas it was Joan Albury and the Counsellors, one of the top marketing and advertising agencies in The Bahamas who gave me my first chance and the resources to create my own TV show, ‘Electric Air’, when no other independent show like this existed in The Bahamas at the time. From there it would be Philip Michael Thomas of ‘Miami Vice’ fame, who after being interviewed by me on my TV show, fast became a mentor and suggested me to the folks at the Caribbean Satellite Network (CSN) as one of their first hosts. From there it has been a few people throughout the Entertainment field, like Steve Greenberg of ‘S-Curve Records’ that trusted me to write and co-direct the first ‘Baha Men’ music video and from there direct a few more. The Baha Men are best known for their song, ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’, but his strongest support came when he trusted me to photograph one of his most important artists at that time for him and the label, Joss Stone. Since then we have worked together on many different artists and hopefully together on the new Charlie Bahama shows. Other people like Rosie Gordon-Wallace of Diaspora Vibe Gallery, supporting my artistic photography work and one of my closest friends and artistic mentors, Jonathan Green, a world famous and critically acclaimed painter in his own right. He has inspired me with how he stays true to his art and belief in the arts, but how he demands respect and support for the arts and artists. Finally, I have to thank all the cameramen and women and crews that I have worked with who have made this path fun, inspirational and possible. The ride ain’t over yet…
All images by Charlie Bahama Smith/Earthbeat Films except Headshot of Charlie Bahama Smith by Howie Sonnenschein and Photograph of Charlie Bahama on the set of The Charlie Bahama Show by Amada Egan