I have long argued that despite the exalted status of the Brand Jamaican in modern popular culture we, as a nation, have not managed to exploit the enormous possibilities which this has presented. Many arguments have been advanced for this failure, but I will not attempt to enumerate them.
I am indeed heartened, however, by a number of developments which point to the possibility that we might be finally grasping the implications of the vast economic opportunities provided by cultural production. The proposed Secure Transactions Act tabled in the Lower House by Investment and Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton could have a significant impact on wealth creation in the Jamaican economy.
Minister Hylton seems clear in his understanding of the role that access to capital plays in the funding of creative and cultural ventures, and appears firm in his commitment to use legislative levers to ensure that intellectual property assets can be collateralised. This means that if I own a publishing catalogue of musical works or a patent for some drug, gadget or business process I could literally take it to the bank. Those of us who have laboured in the business of cultural production know how difficult it is for related ventures to secure financing through the existing and traditional channels. I have long argued that venture capital is an appropriate modality for supporting cultural production and have been stating this for well over a decade, including in my presentation at the Diasporic Conference in 2006 in which I called for the establishment of a fund which would have been financed by equity from our nationals abroad and which the proposed piece of legislation should now accommodate.
This use of legislative instruments to secure favourable economic outcomes on the part of Minister Hylton is a demonstration of what is possible when the law is seen not as a shackle but as a source of liberation.
Anyone who doubts that the law can be used to create enormous wealth only need to look at the fortunes which have been generated with the granting of licences in media, gaming and telecommunications in Jamaica over the years.
Yet, I am also aware of the dangers inherent in regulation and legislation. I was in the junior grades of primary school when the Rodney Riots erupted and recall the related ban on certain types of literature which was thought to be subversive to the public weal. Yes, children, we did have a list of books in Jamaica which were deemed to be morally and socially corrosive if they contained references to black empowerment. I should point out for the purpose of historical context that this took place during the administration of Mr Hugh Lawson Shearer.
In the subsequent administration of Michael Manley, I cannot forget the extreme, and some would say ridiculous, measures Government took in an effort to protect the society from violent cinematic images. Who can recall that Cindy Breakspeare's winning of the Miss World crown was not then supported by the Jamaican Government? We should remember that beauty contests were considered "cattle shows" and were deemed inconsistent with progressive values. Had such a notion been allowed to take root we would perhaps not have had another Miss World in the person of Lisa Hanna our current Minister of Youth and Culture and the considerable value it has brought to Brand Jamaica.
This is why I get nervous whenever I hear persons crying for legislative solutions to the decadence in our popular culture. This should in no way suggest that I am opposed to measures being taken to arrest the rot in our society. It is a question of how and when we regulate and legislate. In many instances, we don't need more laws and rules, but greater adherence to those we have. Having laws without proper enforcement is a recipe for cynicism.
We also need to be more consensual in our decision-making, which is why Damian Crawford should be applauded for the consultations he has been having with stakeholders on his proposed regulations for the entertainment sector. People must have a say on how they are governed. We should always strive for dialogue and understanding.
Sadly, when we listen to the debate about Jamaican music it is all about factions. It is the young versus the old, reggae versus dancehall, and consciousness versus slackness. Yes, of course, there is the usual uptown/downtown dichotomy. Then we ask ourselves why more of our Jamaican icons are not more widely appreciated, especially among our youth. How many Jamaicans under forty are able to identify an image of Ernie Ranglin, Marjorie Whylie, or Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd? This is a direct result of our tribalist tendencies. We don't have the collaborations between the old and the new.There is too much division. We have Kabaka Pyramid, Jesse Royal and Chronixx on one side, and then there are the dancehall denizens on the other, and never the twain shall meet. True, this has worked well for the marketing of some of our events, but has it been redounding to the benefit of the Jamaican music industry?
One very keen observer of the music scene has pointed out that one of the best contributions Sumfest could make to the entertainment industry is to dispense with the current categories and just have a nice hodgepodge each night of the festival. This would be a fabulous offering, but it would be a bold and risky move. Would that the organisers countenance this approach.