No, not so gentlemen!

Sunday, February 03, 2013

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IT has been several months since my views were last reflected. However, during my hiatus, I continued to survey the state of Jamaican music and contemplated the observations from industry members on what they deem to be the dire state of affairs.

Based on what I have read, Charles Campbell and Donovan Germain believe in order for Jamaican music to get back on track it will have to change its tune.

Campbell states foreigners are reaping rich benefits from reggae and dancehall, while Jamaican artistes have seemingly lost their way trying to navigate the contours of international commerce.

Campbell says Rihanna has scored big with dancehall- and reggae-inspired hits and cites what he considers to be the success of Pon Di Replay and Man Down as exhibits to support his argument.

This is in fact an interesting analysis for a number of reasons. Rihanna was accused of abandoning her Caribbean roots in order to make her mark internationally. In fact, a recent article in the New Yorker points out that she has not been "heavily invested" in those songs which Charles thinks draw on Jamaican music forms.

True, there are more dancehall and reggae-influenced tracks finding their way into Rihanna's catalogue than previously the case, as the artiste now seems more confident in asserting her Caribbean essence. It might be a stretch, however, to suggest that her repertoire is replete with Jamaican influence.

Implicit in Charles' argument is that Jamaican artistes are unable to enjoy the same levels of success which foreigners are experiencing with reggae and dancehall due to the poor quality of our local musical output.

This position is worthy of further examination.

I am sure Charles will agree that Damian Marley's Affair of the Heart is a classic by any measure, yet it was not significantly represented in any of the major international charts.

If Charles agrees Affairs of The Heart is one of the best songs of 2012 in any genre, then the question must be why did this great song not rise to the top of the Billboard Charts?

We should be careful how we conflate notions of quality and success. We need to ensure we are using the appropriate metrics to determine the value of our cultural products.

One of the real challenge facing Jamaican acts as it relates to international media exposure is the currently low levels of commercial relationships with transnational record labels.

This is not a qualitative issue it is a commercial one. Record labels are far more scrupulous in who they sign today than they were in the past which is largely due to radical changes in the business model, prompted mainly by developments in digital distribution. Record companies are not flushed with cash as they were before.

Record labels are signing fewer artistes of every genre not just reggae. Jamaican artistes may be unattractive to mainstream markets and record labels not because of their music's quality (which is a nebulous concept) but due to the nature of their image. It might not be about what our artiste sing but what they say.

We should also consider that many territories are seeking to grow their domestic reggae industries and, as a result, they are not giving too much exposure to Jamaican acts. As I have said repeatedly, the very success of Jamaican music might be hurting our artistes.




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