How truly bankable is 'Brand Jamaica' for Jamaicans?

Donovan
Watkis

Thursday, June 21, 2018

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Recently I saw that Tina Pinnock, known professionally as HoodCelebrityy, a Jamaican dancehall singer and songwriter from the Bronx, New York, signed to Epic Records. She released two mixtapes in 2017. After having only one hit song the record label found interest in her career. From all indications, she has been working hard to establish herself in the mainstream. She also has a song on the recent Superfly movie soundtrack.

That's a commendable achievement and she should be congratulated.

However, it made me wonder why more youth from Jamaica who sing with the same accent and work as hard are not afforded the same opportunities. What is it about the information, education, and access given to most Jamaican youth that places them at the back of the line and renders them inferior to their competitors overseas.

More interesting is that the competitors overseas seem to know this to be true and use it to their advantage. Many times the Jamaican culture is appropriated by Americans and Canadians who use it to climb the world charts and claim huge prizes. It is no wonder Jamaican youths believe that they start life with an unfair competitive advantage, and seek to move overseas at the first chance they get.

While the Americans are progressing in huge numbers with their networks, the struggle to make it mainstream remains constant for the Jamaican artistes — paralleled by a sizeable number of Jamaicans who would like to migrate because they believe they cannot become great while living here.

According to an islandwide poll, commissioned by the Jamaica National Building Society and conducted by Bill Johnson Survey Limited some five years ago, 36 per cent of Jamaicans would leave Jamaica if possible. Another 32 per cent see the very culture and country they inherited as a hindrance to their well-being, 43 per cent of the respondents being college graduates.Many people in Jamaica work hard to become the best in their field in spite of these perceptions; their only hindrance is being the wrong countryman. When they work harder, and do get congratulated, the monetary rewards remain inferior to their North American competitors.

I have heard people argue that, had Usain Bolt been from a First-World country, or even lived outside the Caribbean, his brand would command more wealth, being an international superstar with world-class achievements. His place of residence reduced his value.

Dancehall artiste Spice recently said on reality show Love and Hip Hop that she outgrew Jamaica and was in America to break new ground for her career. She didn't say whether she migrated fully or was visiting to make this a reality.

If you are schooled in Jamaica as a doctor, for example, or achieved graduate level education at any local institution and would like to live in the US, you would need to do an updated aptitude test. In some cases, a 'do over' of the degree is necessary to get a job at the commensurate level in that country. If the degree in Jamaica was designed to be used for solving the world's problems and advance its citizens in a competitive environment there would be no further need for a test.

With a United States college degree or a London school degree you can easily get a job on those qualifications in most countries, including Jamaica, without any further testing. That's the reality.

Jamaica has great world-class performers who are on par with performances by Jay-Z and Beyoncé — maybe not Beyoncé, but definitely on par with Jay-Z — and they have big brands that can be further developed. Many of those acts are struggling to get established in the world of music, even though they are the best in their field.

Opportunities follow perception, so the labels stay clear of approaching these Jamaican acts with lucrative deals. They make excuses about their quality of music, or their troubling brand, although many artistes on their roster have done far worse than any Jamaican act.

To a child growing up in Jamaica with only Jamaican citizenship he/she will wonder about the bankable power of “Brand Jamaica” outside the shores of Jamaica. For conscious citizenry the Republic of Jamaica does not mean an alliance with the movers and shakers of the world so that the citizens can enjoy life, liberty and unblocked access in their pursuits then they will feel hopeless — regardless of what the political leaders narrate.

If local citizenship cannot grant access to the world's resources when the Jamaican displays excellence at work, then he will seek different alliances. Many Jamaican superstars have never taken a vacation because they work tirelessly for the benefit of themselves and their country.

So who benefits from holding back the artistes who are at the top of their game and living in Jamaica? Why only let in one or two artistes from the Diaspora's cultural affiliation (who historically has never sustained the hype) every two or three years?

Lastly, and more directly, congratulations are in order for the artistes who have been able to garner support for making and distributing their art. But why would a major record label skip over the top male and female acts in reggae and dancehall like Spice, Shenseea, Tifa, Konshens, Chronixx, Tarrus Riley, among others, to sign only one artiste who has only one hit song in her catalogue as a compliment to an entire genre of music and musicians?

It speaks loudly for the lack of research and respect record label executives have for the culture and people of Jamaica. What are we willing to do about it?

 

Donovan Watkis is the host of the JR Watkis Podcast. Send comments to the Observer or coloringculture@gmail.com.

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