Reggae, Canada style

Opposing views on state of the music in that market

Observer senior reporter

Sunday, April 15, 2018

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Over the years, a steady stream of reggae acts have called Canada home and have tried to build the market there, however, the market there has never been as lucrative as that of its North American neighbour, the United States of America.

Artistes such as Sonia Collymore,Tasha T, Tanya Mullings, Exco Levi, Steele, Ammoye and Blessed are staples for followers of this music form in Canada, and over the years a number of reggae festivals have developed to help spread the popularity of the music. However, last week word came that at least one of these festivals, the 14-year-old Calgary ReggaeFest, will not be held this year. The board of directors of the Calgary Reggae Festival Society says it has decided to cancel Calgary ReggaeFest for 2018. The organisers say the festival will return in 2019.

Festival co-founder and producer Leo Cripps said the group plans to take the next year to “assess and re-imagine the event.”

“We did not decide this because of financial issues, but because it takes a lot of work and, after 14 years, we are reaching a burnout point. After lengthy conversations, the festival team decided to take a break and pause it for a year to “reinvigorate, re-imagine and rejuvenate the energy for the event. Yes, we could stage it, but do we really want to force it and do a half [as good] event; or postpone it, take a break, come back, and give it our full energy again?” said Cripps.

He noted that the response from both artistes and patrons has been particularly supportive of the decision taken by his organisation, and stated that many are looking forward to a better event come next year.

The Jamaica Observer reached out to a number of Canada-based reggae acts and their assessment of the implications of the cancellation of this year's event varied.

For reggae singer Ammoye, apart from the loss of an event for artiste to perform and patrons to enjoy, the absence of Calgary ReggaeFest from the calendar this year will not be a major impact on the reggae scene in Canada.

“I do not like to focus on the negatives. What Leo Cripps, the organiser, is saying, is that it isn't about a financial issue why they decided not to do it this year, but more so to refocus and reinvigorate what the Calgary festival could be. That for me is a good thing. The (reggae) community in my opinion is growing, and for them to take the time to make it bigger and better and more successful is a good thing. I'm excited to see what they come back with for 2019 and I'm sure that it's going to be just as great as it was in the past,” she told the Sunday Observer.

For Ammoye, despite the cancellation of this year's show, there is growth in the popularity of the reggae genre in Canada at this time, but there is still a far way to go.

“Reggae is growing. We have a category in the Juno Awards, which is the Canadian version of the American Grammy Awards, and being exposed in that way and on that platform allows people to to see and hear and know that there is a viable reggae scene here. A lot more festivals are being initiated... last year alone I did over 230 shows. In my opinion its growing, it's better than it has ever been. However, I will say we could use a lot more support from mainstream radio for the reggae industry here just so that a lot more people will be exposed to the music on a commercial level. Big up to artistes like Exco Levi who is doing a great job in bringing awareness to the fact that reggae is alive and well here in Canada. There are so many artistes in Canada who are doing their thing, and like I said, it is only getting better. Personally I am currently making plans to take my music worldwide, which can only help to to bring awareness to the fact that Canada does have a reggae scene that is viable, strong and continuously growing.”

However, for fellow Canada-based reggae act Blessed, the outlook for reggae is not as optimistic as presented by Ammoye and the cancellation of Calgary ReggaeFest represents the lack of popularity of the genre.

“I actually did the very first Calgary ReggaeFest and it was beautiful... really a good time. The Calgary ReggaeFest being cancelled will hurt, but not a lot. The truth about Canada is that reggae music is only really big in Toronto and Montreal. The rest of Canada really has to catch up with the reggae thing and even R&B and hip hop... just urban music in general is only big in Toronto and Montreal. So we have a lot of work to do reggae-wise in Canada.”

“ Reggae music in Canada is only at a satisfactory level for artistes who are not based in Canada. If you are an established artiste in Jamaica, Canada is good for you because there is a market here for you. If they put on a show with an established artiste from Jamaica it will be sold out. But if you are a Canada-based artiste we are still in the 70s — we're still growing and trying to get that respect,” he continued.

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