MERRITONE sound system's Winston Blake posited that 2012 was the worst for the Jamaican Music Industry in recent memory. And, given the parlous state of America's economy, this dilemma is unlikely to ease anytime soon.
There is sufficient empirical evidence to bear this out. All genres of music have been adversely affected by this prolonged, intractable worldwide recession and the ability to download music free of cost. Plummeting Jamaican music sales seem to indicate it has relatively borne more of the brunt of the compounded impact.
The revelation by VP Records's executive Neil Robertson, of very weak sales, during that week, of Reggae's top 50 songs on the Billboard Reggae Charts, is a continuing trend, but just the tip of the iceberg. While the year commenced positively, as it progressed, except for a few of our premier artistes, the data on performance tours also reflected a downward spiral.
Now is an opportune time for us to review our business model and seek ways of improving our performance in the international market-place.
Native Wayne Jobson of Indie 103.1 Radio in Los Angeles has volunteered some favourable market indicators which may help in designing urgently needed corrective measures.
To paraphrase him: "Jamaica has (seemingly) abandoned reggae and has let others claim its birthright. The sales figures for Rebelution (50,000) and Soja (40,000) are quite strong in today's market, and both these groups play 'roots' style reggae with more traditional song structures.
Meanwhile, Rhianna (from Barbados), with reggae track Man Down and dancehall inspired Pon De Reply and becomes the biggest star in the world.
Rhianna is the most downloaded artiste of all time (more than Michael Jackson and the Beatles) and she also has the most Facebook friends on earth.
Close behind Rhianna in Facebook friends, is the other biggest star on earth, Bob Marley.
Jimmy Cliff, however, recently got a six-page article in Rolling Stone magazine, and his latest album 'Rebirth' got a FOUR STAR-review. Michael Jackson or the Beatles never got six pages. That's how much reggae is respect when it's good.
America and the world have fully embraced reggae as a musical style just as Jamaicans (seem to) have forgotten how to make it. Good songs with good hooks will always win out over fad and bluster.
In an attempt to promote the conversation, my initial thoughts are: Too many of our current releases contain weak tunes and lyrics. While not wishing to discourage experimentation or the infusion of other pop influences, as Marley and Third World successfully did, unlike early dancehall music, which incorporated mento rhythmic patterns with reggae's heavy drum and bass, today's style has less musical distinction from and is too fused with its US progeny — hip hop. With the absence of multinational record companies supporting our acts, Jamaican artistes lack marketing vehicles with a global reach, needed to sustain the penetration of international markets. The reggae genre suffers from lack of adequate airplay in our domestic arena, which traditionally created the initial buzz/hype. We suffer from a negative market perception, caused by the anti-social behaviour of a few high-profile acts, which has damaged the entire Jamaican brand. The solutions are implicit.