Stop the griping over the Grammy; do the work!

Tony
Morrison

Monday, January 29, 2018

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Grammy season this year came with the usual nonsense of jealous and ill-informed individuals griping about the Marley name having some unfair hold on the Reggae category. In another article, 'Put the 'bad-mind' Marley Grammy argument to rest (Sunday Observer, January 28, 2018), I discredit this drivel by documenting each time in the history of the Reggae Grammy that a Marley has been nominated and how many awards they've won, fairly or not, and how many times they've been beaten, but there are a few other things to point out.

Firstly, it is one thing to hear this babble from arbitrary nobodys, but when someone as respected and globally beloved as Freddie McGregor stoops to get involved in this unbecoming 'cass-cass' it is truly unfortunate. But, since he has put himself in the argument, let's take a look at who's talking.

Since you're complaining, Freddie, where is your plethora of Grammy-worthy albums? Freddie McGregor has given the world a lot of good singles, but there is, to date, no reggae category for singles, only albums. Like Beres, he produces many great songs, but is obviously no good at effectively compiling quality albums with the best of those songs. Maybe he should ask the Marleys for help.

McGregor has over 30 albums, and probably doesn't even remember some of them. Even if you count the two released after he died, Michael Jackson did not have anywhere near 30 albums. Bob Marley did not have 30 albums. Freddie has never sold gold, let alone platinum, and has only been nominated for a Grammy once — with a mediocre effort that had no chance of winning.

Sean Paul has six albums, has sold gold and platinum on numerous occasions, as well as multi-platinum, and has eight Grammy nominations, including three outside the Reggae category, with one win.

There is a lesson in there somewhere for McGregor and the other complainers, and it has something to do with quality over quantity.

As many seem to have conveniently forgotten, some years ago there was talk of scrapping the Reggae category at the Grammys because we were simply not producing enough quantity or quality to do proper justice to the category. We still aren't.

In 2005, Cristy Barber, VP of Downsound Entertainment and former president of the Marleys' Tuff Gong/Ghetto Youths labels, went on an Academy-sanctioned Reggae Grammy voters education and recruitment campaign encouraging more people to get involved as voting members and educating the fraternity about the Academy and the voting process. She carried this torch for several years and enjoyed some success, but clearly not enough of the stubborn flock paid attention.

The three dominant Marley brothers — Ziggy, Stephen and Damian — are among a small group of Jamaican musicians which up to recently included Shaggy and Sean Paul, who can usually be depended on to, between them, consistently yield a well-produced album or two of high-quality work every two or three years. And so, it is no coincidence that they have all won Grammys in addition to doing well commercially.

Instead of being jealous of the Marleys' success, we should be thanking them for helping to keep the Grammy category alive.

Another thing this handful of artistes has in common is that they all have a global focus, because they are well aware that one cannot sell a million records in Jamaica, and so they don't waste time with local 'cass-cass' trying to be a big fish in a small pond. How much more successful could Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and others have been with a similarly consistent focus?

Note I said a new album every two or three years. It takes at least a full year to properly exploit the sales and exposure you should get out of good album, and ideally you should be taking close to another year to properly produce the next one. This means that if you come out with an album within a year after your last, with few exceptions, it's likely that you're doing mediocre work. Not properly spacing your releases — singles or albums — means you are trying to compete with your own music and, despite that being the unfortunate norm in dancehall culture, it makes no sense, which is why smarter musicians don't do it.

Reggae music does not officially enjoy the global status it truly deserves in platforms like the Grammy Awards. Without reggae and dancehall there would be no hip hop, no rap, no reggaeton (obviously), and some say no EDM, while scores of pop and other musicians everywhere would have nowhere from whence to appropriate their 'hipness'. If we were managing our music properly, by now there should be separate categories for best dancehall and ska albums along with reggae, plus Grammys for best single and best collaboration across all three sections. There are four different categories for rock, and each category consistently has more quality submissions and nominations than all of reggae. We have work to do, but we talk too much.

In addition to actually doing the work of consistently producing good music in sufficient quantities, none of this will happen unless more Jamaicans across the industry become a part of the establishment and start using their influence to properly place and protect the legacy of our music.

The Grammy Academy, like almost every other American establishment, is overloaded with old, white men, and Jamaicans need to be a part of the shake-up it needs. This starts with basic membership, which is open to all in the fraternity.

How many of those complaining are members of the Academy and have a vote? How many members bother to pay their dues? They complain that Ziggy Marley's wife recently became an influential member of the Academy. Why weren't there several Jamaicans in similar positions long before her? And exactly what prevents them from doing so?

Ten or less individuals on a committee screen the reggae nominees each year to determine if they belong in the category at all before the Academy votes on the winner. How many Jamaicans are in that room? Members are only supposed to vote in areas of their expertise, but nothing prevents a member who knows nothing about reggae from voting in the category, and a lot of voting takes place from people who have no clue.

There have been instances in which the best product on the market wasn't even submitted. A glaring example is Shaggy's Hot Shot, the most commercially successful Jamaican album of all time, which sold over 10 million copies in a single year. Hot Shot should have been submitted in its year of release, 2000, when it would have easily trounced Burning Spear, but never really took off until early 2001, when it was no longer eligible. We need to avoid such tragedies by being a part of the system.

Where was Etana's Strong One in 2008? Where was Tanya Stephens' Gangsta Blues in 2004 and Rebelution in 2006? Where was Tarrus Riley's Parables in 2006? Gangsta Blues wouldn't have beaten Dutty Rock, neither Parables nor Rebelution would beat Welcome to Jamrock, and Etana wouldn't have beaten Mind Control, but all deserved nominee status and would have added better competition to the field. But Tarrus Riley's Contagious might have beaten Burning Spear in 2009, so where was it? Why is such rich talent so badly managed? Chris Martin and Romain Virgo are excellent talents, both in studio and on stage. When will we see them properly showcased internationally?

Annual sales of reggae music are a joke compared to other genres, and this speaks to the management of and willingness to support our own music. A good reggae or dancehall album should easily sell gold across the diaspora. Despite the powerful Marley name and international network, and despite all the Grammy success, not even the Marleys are regularly selling gold, and only Damian has ever sold platinum. Damian Marley is one of only five Jamaicans who have sold platinum in the US in modern music history. The others are Ini Kamoze, Omi, Cherine Anderson, plus Shaggy and Sean Paul, who have done it several times between them.

Shaggy's Hot Shot is our best-selling album, but it is which is the best-managed Jamaican album of all time. It is a template for critical and commercial success that much of the industry seems completely oblivious to, and some prefer to say he succeeds because he's uptown and brown, which is the popular excuse when the Marley influence argument won't work. So I guess Shabba's gold-selling, back-to-back Grammy success was a fluke. Right?

There is also grumbling about non-Jamaicans being nominated for the category, but reggae music doesn't belong to us exclusively; that's not how music works. If Tessanne Chin gets nominated in the rock or R&B category, are we going to say it's not our music? Should Billy Ocean return his 1985 Best R&B Vocal Grammy because he's a Trini? Stop the nonsense. Yes, something is wrong if the category becomes dominated by foreigners over time (but whose fault would that be?), but nothing is wrong with a foreign act winning sometimes, if they're truly good enough. Music belongs to the world, and we should be the last to behave otherwise.

The message to the reggae fraternity is simple: Do quality work, get good management, and learn how to work the system to protect and promote our music. Otherwise, shut the hell up!

My pick for the 2018 reggae Grammy? Chronixx. Damian Marley's entry is a very good effort which is selling well, but the Chronixx album is equally good and also brings something fresh to the table. Chronixx is a genuine and smart talent and, unlike the complainers, he gets involved, and he does the work — for the love and not the likes.

 

Tony Morrison is a music lover who has won several awards for journalism, but has never won a Grammy. Send comments to the Observer or montana9@hotmail.com

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