Joss Stone, racism and reggaeFriday, January 01, 2016
The recent Billboard announcement of Joss Stone as top reggae artiste for 2015 brought out the worst in Jamaicans. We are a black nation; blacks run things yet blacks underachieve, despite 95 per cent enrolled in school, lots of opportunity via HEART, community college and the high school diploma equivalency. Many fail, but still feel entitled.
The local media screams ‘outrage’ at Joss. She is the youngest person to sell more in 2015 than seven top Jamaican artistes combined. If you can’t beat her, cuss her. So, did colour help her? We know "white artistes are routinely outselling black artistes in virtually every genre", yet there are more black people than white globally, so why don’t they buy black music? Is this Joss’s problem? They say, "Billboard only counts sales"; Duuuh, this is business, stupid! You think Sean Paul puts up with a hectic global schedule for his health?
As a Sussex girl, Joss grew with Jamaican music in the mix. We grew with American music and copied them for decades, so why can’t she sing reggae? Last week our media pandered to xenophobia, and racism — "Joss is white, how could she have won the reggae prize?" Writers had opportunity to bruit the cancer of racism, instead they fed the monster. We once had Elvis’s hairlick; aped Dave Brubeck; had jazz clubs and cabaret singers. We sung Matt Munro, Mario Lanza, yodelled like Roy Rogers, and gospel divas weaned on Jim Reeves. At the Glass Bucket we owned Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Bing ‘White Christmas’ Crosby, and Jackie Edwards, Prince Buster, Bob Marley, Derrick Morgan, et al sang foreign. Are entertainers stupid?
We need a pro-active Equalities Commission as racism is excused as culture. Most reggae does not cross over but is stuck in depressing, rag-tag of misogyny, homophobia, prejudice, and ganja stupor — it does not sell. Whites like our music at a dance, but not in apartments, with family or an elegant venue. Why don’t 30 million black Americans or one billion black Africans buy our music? To be world-class is as Usain Bolt does — take on all comers and win. Is reggae a minority acquired taste?
The Grammy award is world-class quality. It’s an American award for over 50 years — long before reggae, yet the reggae genre is always won by us. This is troubling as our music may be racist or unattractive; is this why we do not earn big? Does Shelly-Ann compete against locals or blacks only? The problem is we want segregation when we want it and integration when we want it. White people cannot get reggae awards but they must buy reggae. Imagine the furore if Joss won the reggae Grammy? Chinese win European music prizes but only Jamaicans win reggae Grammys from 1985 — it stinks!
The centuries-old Billboard is the icon of market success. The acid test of popular music is cash. Who loves your music will buy it. What is the global income of Beenie Man, Third World? Forbes lists the top earners in 2015 — rock, pop, R&B, country, gospel, etc; no reggae made it. Katy Perry first, One Direction, Garth Brooks — hundreds of millions; a big gap to Taylor Swift with P Diddy — the only black in the top 10; Beyonce in the top 20 and Bruno Mars in the top 30. The music business is talent, market and money. World-class sells worldwide. Show me your tax returns, reggae star?
Joss Stone is worth $20 million and sold over five million albums last year. Many do not have the intellectual bandwidth to know we should encourage her to sing reggae and grow markets we can’t reach. Our racism kills our income. What are our artistes’ pre-tax earnings? The
Jamaica Observer must create a supplement of singers, sportsmen, artists in wood, canvas, stone, metal; film-makers, couturiers, writers, models, and make awards based on sales and footfall data.
Is reggae a black, racial or local music? Maybe Billboard should exit the reggae category as should the Grammys until we disavow racism and homophobia. Billboard needs no apologists as it helped us — get over yourself! Have you heard white music? I hear they play it in the Appalachians. The day others stop playing reggae it dies as a commercial genre. Billboard has some 50 charts — pop, R&B; rock, hip hop, country, Latin; many niche profiles as Mexican; EDM, classical, gospel, jazz; German reggae, and more. Reggae is controversial, but not in a positive sense. Many do not buy reggae — it is smarmy and insults; it does not spread love; most are abrasive, judgmental, loud, unkempt, ugly. We denigrate Joss Stone but our music scene is feral; just listen to a reggae man try to explain his craft and weep. Imagine Bob’s who he paid good money to send to "good school" have to dumb down their thought and English to excel in this genre. Jamaica is no market for artistic people and many we laud are illiterate and uncreative. We make tunes on American music quite shamelessly yet we cuss them for singing reggae.
Some hard things must be said but "everybody looking fren" so no one will. There is a dark underbelly to reggae. The only viable music sector is gospel as Christians are in a job, work hard and do not suffer the debilitation and ennui of ganja smoke. The future of reggae is the white mainstream as the one billion blacks do not buy but our self-indulgent narcissism, racism and homophobia may create a backlash to regret. All our artistes — mislabeled as creative people — are whiners. We bemoan about why we do not get roles in films; film-makers gripe about why they do not get our taxes to fund their dream; we bitch about Americans using Jamaican accents as in
Cool Runnings. Can we build a film industry on 85,000 Jamaicans who go to the movies? A music industry on a racial premise? An arts community on things we only do for foreigners? Craft we do not use here but only make to sell to tourists? We chat "world-class" but we are prejudiced. Have you ever heard movie bad guy Leroy Brown or diva Grace Jones denied roles or cussed for speaking American? We send our children to spelling bee, our students to debate in the USA; they win and we celebrate. We curse if some American came here and won. We are small in so many things. When "Usain Bolt, the movie" is made it will star some American kid (Jaden Smith?); not a local as Bolt’s managers want to make money.
Joss Stone winning is good for us as it may expose reggae to whites with cash to buy more reggae music. Embrace her! Marcus is a great man but white people could not lead in his UNIA. Yet where he thrived any born American could be president. We must liberate the Grammy reggae category from xenophobia. Let us move out of our own way as for every white person who wins, the market we can tap gets larger. Stay conscious, my friend!
Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advisor to the minister of education. Send comments to the Observer or