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Reggae's role in Ja's economic development

Clyde Mckenzie

Sunday, August 13, 2017

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I was more than happy to hear that, according to Dr David Panton, a Jamaican diasporic bond issue is soon to be a reality. Some cynics will say they have heard this song before, but I have no choice but to be hopeful.

I had actually made the call for floating such an instrument in my presentation at the 2006 staging of the Jamaican Diaspora conference. I stated that the funds generated from this bond issue should have been the basis for a cultural venture capital fund. I argued then that there were a number of features to such a financing modality which would be advantageous to the Jamaican economy.

The fact is that cultural production and preservation are perhaps the easiest routes by which Jamaica can achieve sustainable economic development. Sadly, it has taken our leaders (from the public and private sectors) too long to recognise this reality. One still hears some of them asking: “Where is the data to show the economic viability of Jamaican culture?”

If we need any further evidence of the current viability of our music, we should look no further than the success being enjoyed by Jamaican-infused pop hits internationally. We should point out that the biggest hit for this year has been influenced by Jamaican music. It's called Despacito. It is a reggaeton hit.

I pointed out in my presentation then that what was needed was indigenous foreign direct investment, which sounded slightly oxymoronic. This is simply foreign currency investment made in the Jamaican economy by our nationals living overseas. I explained that this type of funding arrangement does not carry the attendant volatility of conventional modes of foreign direct investment. Some describe this investment from our nationals as patient capital.

We have had periods of massive foreign direct investment in Jamaica which did not see commensurate increases in real economic growth. This was largely due to the high levels of leakages in the Jamaican economy, which can be attributed to the repatriation of profits and the low capacity of our economy to absorb the benefits of the investment due to its inability to provide the goods or services required by investors. These goods and services are often supplied by foreigners, which results in an outflow of funds from our economy. Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding described the scenario as one in which the money enters the economy, spins around, and then departs with hardly a trace.

We have to find a way of holding on to the money when it comes into our economy. Training will obviously be a critical component in this paradigm. More trained Jamaicans will mean fewer outsiders having to provide certain goods and services to satisfy the requirements of the investments.

What is also important is for Jamaican tertiary institutions to become more active in the placement of students in income-generating ventures through the establishment of accelerators and incubators. This will also serve as a source of revenue for these colleges and universities, and might ease the pressure on these institutions to create an oversupply of graduates on the job market since they will be less reliant on tuition fees for their viability in such a circumstance.

It is a well-known fact that Stanford University in California is seen by many as the cradle of Silicon Valley. With the requisite investments and appropriate alliances, our tertiary institutions can become real engines of economic growth.

I have long contended that it will be the cultural industries which will allow Jamaica to continue to grow the tourism product while minimising the damage done to the carrying capacity of the infrastructure and ecosystem. The fact is we cannot indefinitely predicate tourism growth on increased visitor arrivals. We will soon have to look at getting more dollars from fewer visitors.

Festivals are able to achieve this objective. With more festivals we might not have to build as many huge facilities with their attendant damage to our environment to accommodate more visitors. The math is simple: 1,000 visitors spending US$100 each is far better for our economy than 10,000 injecting US$10 per capita into our system. The more entertainment we have, the more revenue we can secure from our visitors.

We should seek to promote major events which showcase not only our artistic and musical talents but our sporting prowess as well. There is no reason we cannot pair major sporting events with music festivals which would draw on the disparate audiences from both disciplines.

It is a fact that touring, which includes festivals, is now the most lucrative profit pool in the music industry. The old business model which saw artistes touring to boost the sales of their recorded products is now history. Touring is no longer a loss leader in the music business. The currently prevailing model sees artistes generating the bulk of their revenue from touring.

Incidentally, Jamaica prefigured this international trend as most of our artistes had long been more reliant on live performances than on recordings for their income. There was a time in Jamaica described as the “silly season” when patrons were bombarded with a flood of stage shows. Those days are now gone.

Ironically, the current trend seems to suggest that we are having fewer festivals in Jamaica and in the diasporic communities than we did a few years ago. In years past, almost every parish in Jamaica had its own major stage show or festival. There was the Morgan Heritage-promoted East Fest in St Thomas and the Worrell King-led Western Consciousness in Westmoreland, with other parishes having such events as Reggae Bash in St Ann, and Sting in St Catherine. Rebel Salute represented Manchester, while the GT Extravaganza was for St Elizabeth. Most of these events are no longer on the calendar.

Happily, Sumfest continues to be the St James music festival and, if we are to base our assumptions on its future from its most recent staging, the prospects seem very good. Josef Bogdanovich has defied the naysayers who suggested that Sumfest could not rely solely on reggae/dancehall acts for its survival. What is more, the attendance at the Friday night staging of Sumfest this year belies the notion that dancehall is dead.

I am very happy that Bogdanovich has seen it fit to exemplify the Jamaicanisation of the festival, as this will mean that more of the money spent on artistes fees will remain here. I always had a difficulty with an event which calls itself a reggae festival relying on overpaid overseas acts from other genres to be headliners. Bogdanovich has shown, and so has Rebel Salute, that we can have truly reggae-focused events in Jamaica which are hugely successful.

Of course, the long-term viability of these events will depend on their being profitable. I am unable to say whether Sumfest made money this year as I am not privy to the fees paid to the artistes, nor am I aware of the gate receipts. The one thing I can say is that even if Jamaican artistes were paid hefty fees for their appearances at Sumfest, this might be more beneficial to our economy than in the past when promoters were shelling out huge amounts of money to secure foreign acts.

cpamckenzie@gmail.com

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