Europe sounds the alarm and the reggae fraternity had better wake up
This eye-catching sign points people to historic Trench Town, the birthplace of reggae music and the hometown of late reggae star, Bob Marley. (Photos: Joseph Wellington)

The Jamaican reggae fraternity, and indeed all those in any part of the world who benefit directly from the music, should by now have started to huddle to contemplate the stunning weekend report from eight of Europe's biggest reggae festivals.

The story from the unprecedented joint statement issued by the eight festivals and carried in the Monday edition of this newspaper made it abundantly clear that if immediate action is not taken, the very productive relationship between reggae and Europe could be fatally jeopardised.

More than the national pride of seeing a Jamaican product rise from the teeming slums of 1960s West Kingston to the vast corners of the world, reggae is an economic mainstay for most of the big talents born here. Europe and its 15 reggae festivals are at the centre of that.

We take very seriously the festival organisers who have sounded the alarm that reggae's future on the continent is dim, citing a huge 50 per cent drop in audiences combining with skyrocketing artiste fees, up to three times previous rates.

In our view, the real crux of the matter lies in their report that, since the COVID-19 pandemic, new styles like Afrobeat, trap, and urban are conquering the new generation audience with strong marketing campaigns and replacing, in most countries, spots historically belonging to reggae and dancehall.

The news came to us over the signature of Ms Danielle Pater, artistic director of Reggae Geel, who is no stranger to Jamaica, taking the trek annually to the island to recruit for her festival, described as the closest in resemblance to a Jamaican event.

According to Ms Pater, the festivals, which usually drew between 7,000 and 20,000 patrons per day, had seen their numbers plummet by an average of 50 per cent per day, compared to previous editions.

"Without going into details, we can easily say that after COVID, the fees from numerous artistes doubled or, in some cases, even tripled," she told this newspaper.

These people are not naysayers who have nothing better to do with their time. It is also important to note that while the reggae festivals represent business for them, money is not the only issue.

"We're all in this together; we're working hard to promote the music we love dearly, and we are sure addressing these issues is the way forward in the years to come. We're confident that other reggae festivals in Europe will be ready to join in," the joint statement said.

For the record, the eight organisations at the meeting were: Rototom Sunsplash (Spain); Summerjam Festival (Germany); Reggae Geel (Belgium); No Logo BZH (France); Reggae Sundance (The Netherlands); Uppsala Reggae Festival (Sweden); Reggae Lake Festival (The Netherlands); and Uprising Festival (Slovakia).

"We can't ignore the elephant in the room: Outside the festival season, there are fewer venue shows played by reggae artistes. They don't tour as intensively as they used to," the eight said in their joint statement Saturday.

"At the same time, the fees… don't reflect the potential audience attraction artistes generate. As a result, promoters are obligated to pay fees that are not proportionate to ticket sales, resulting in exploding artistic budgets and increased operational costs," they said.

Their foreboding words had better not fall on deaf ears.

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