Reggae Grammy getting long in the tooth

Out with the new?

Monday, January 07, 2013

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JUST over a month before the Grammy Awards, the Best Reggae Album category is once again under scrutiny. Criticism from music industry players are rife in a feature article in the December 26 edition of Billboard magazine.

Captioned 'Reggae Grammy Nominations Honor Veteran Acts, Snub Emerging Talent', the article by Patricia Meschino focuses on the lack of contemporary acts nominated for the Best Reggae Album category.

Meschino's piece is based around interviews with Jamaican music producer Shane Brown, record company executive Cristy Barber and Bill Freimuth, vice-president of awards at the Grammys.

The 2013 nominees are Rebirth (Jimmy Cliff); Miracle (The Original Wailers); Reggae Got Soul: Unplugged on Strawberry Hill (Toots and The Maytals); Sly and Robbie and the Jam Masters' New Legend Jamaica 50th Edition; and Sean Paul's Tomahawk Technique.

The article notes that Tomahawk Technique is the only dancehall album in the category, even though over 20 albums from the genre were named in the provisional list of 53.

Ultimately, albums by emerging acts like Busy Signal, Konshens and Mr Vegas were ignored.

Brown, Busy Signal's manager, took the reggae Grammy committee to task, claiming, "To those who don't know, the reggae industry appears dead because the same older acts and the Marleys always get the Grammy nominations."

Reggae's 'name' acts, led by the children of reggae legend Bob Marley, have won the Best Reggae Album category most since it was instituted in 1985. It is a disparity that has led some critics to argue for separate categories for dancehall and reggae.

According to Freimuth, that is easier said than done.

"Within a community it seems like we put apples and oranges in the same category, but viewed from a general consumer or fan standpoint it makes sense to call it all reggae," Freimuth told Billboard. "Even mainstream categories like rock contain Coldplay and Iron Maiden and many rock fans would draw a fat line between those two. It's difficult to categorise music, we put things together even though they may not be that much alike, but it's the only sensible way to divvy up the awards."

While several dancehall acts including Shabba Ranks, Shaggy and Sean Paul have won Grammys, Freimuth concedes a bias toward older performers like Burning Spear, Toots and Cliff.

"It's hard to say why in recent years our voters have leaned towards old school reggae," he said, "because we never know how many votes these recordings actually get and while some people don't like this years nominees, others do."

Barber has worked with several record companies including VP Records, the Jamaican-owned, all-reggae company from Queens, New York. In 2008, she started a Recording Academy educational drive to recruit 100 new reggae members. She succeeded in getting 80.

"After campaigning for four years it's difficult to see the genre's biggest albums still ignored. Many people have the credentials to vote and don't bother to; until the industry takes voting seriously the majority of reggae Grammy nominees will continue to be on name recognition, rather than merit," she said.

The Grammy Awards take place February 10 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.


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