Music has long been touted as Jamaica's most valuable export, yet grossly undervalued.
Wherever in the world you travel, once you identify yourself as a Jamaican you are almost certain to hear,“Jamaica, Bob Marley.” Entertainment industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry that contributes significantly to the Jamaican economy. It is simply not enough to recognise the contribution; we need the proper organisational and legislative framework to effectively benefit the Jamaican people.
The world came to a standstill in 2020. During this time, the Jamaica Federation of Musicians and Affiliates Union (JFMAU) took an in-depth look at itself to assess and restructure its place and role in the entertainment industry with a view to make it more viable for all persons directly and indirectly involved. We are aware that success comes through proper partnership, planning and execution. It is with this in mind that we are calling on all stakeholders, the private sector and the Jamaican Government to partner with us in this new drive to implement standards, transparency, accountability and professionalism in this sector. We are also making a special appeal to entertainment practitioners to work alongside the JFMAU to command the respect for the sector.
As president of the JFMAU, I am joined in this move to structure our industry by a hard-working executive. The vice-president — Marsha Kennedy; general secretary — Phillip Clarke; treasurer and public relations chair — Cheryl Neufville; and assistant treasurer - Keith Green. This plan is to offer national and international representation and accreditation to the players in the local music profession. Among the plans being put together by this committee will be implementation of life and health insurance, legal representation, vetting of contracts, career and business advice and networking opportunities. We will be making an aggressive push to protect the interests of all our members, improve working conditions, establish and maintain fair performance fees. The JFMAU is the central point of contact for Jamaican musicians, artistes and affiliates (all music industry persons) residing in Jamaica or overseas.
There is strength in numbers. In keeping with this, a membership committee has been established chaired by Bunny Rose. As an incentive, the membership fee has been reduced for the rest of 2021 from $10,000 per annum to $3,500. Our objective is to become a part of the International Federation of Musicians. This body is responsible for international standards and accepted practices. It is critical that members of the industry become members to strengthen our voice and reap the potential benefits.
In order to join the union, you are required to have a Government-issued ID and passport-sized photo. You can then log onto www.JFMAU.com and complete the application form.
The pandemic has taught us the importance of working together to achieve goals. Many persons were unable to benefit from the COVID-19 relief programme implemented by the Government as they are considered private contractors (self-employed), especially those who are employed to the tourism industry. This is an area which we will be exploring to achieve equity and stability as we seek to legitimise this profession. The JFMAU executive will be working assiduously to make the benefits more attractive to the general membership and to take a participative approach by serving on bodies in other sectors.
Lowell Omar Lawson is president of the Jamaica Federation of Musicians and Affiliates Union. An accomplished Jamaican guitarist/vocalist. Lawson also describes himself as an entrepreneur, visionary, lover of music and people, a fighter for social justices. Raised in the church and taught to play guitar by his father, a pastor, he frequently played Gospel at the church but often dreamt of creating his own reggae band and playing on the world stage. Driven by this desire to become a household name in the global music market, Lowell, unlike most teenagers, could often be found after school and on the weekends in the company of musicians, learning, practising, perfecting his skill and playing with a few bands in the local community sometimes even against his father's wishes.
After working at the Labour Board for a short period of time Lowell set out to fulfil his lifelong dream by age 20 when he formed a band called Love Touch in 1996 and SLR- Show Love & Respect' in 1998. It wasn't long before he was offered his first band contract in 2001 by the Riu Hotel in Negril. The band was renamed Hiyah Grade and went on to record and release two singles, Feel the Pressure, Go for your Goals and an album called Heavenly Love by 2007.
In 2003 Lowell left Riu to pursue other business ventures including working with several major hotel chains across the island, namely Sandals, Couples, Beaches and the Ritz Carlton Resorts and created the first set of daytime shows in Negril, a new concept that was deemed impossible.
Lowell has played and performed with some of the best across the island, reggae icon Dennis Brown, Gregory Issacs, John Holt, Third World and Culture are just a few that come to mind. While singing his father praises for teaching him he also lists Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Stanley Jordan, Third World, Sam Cook, Otis Reading, Earth Wind and Fire, for making a huge impact on his musical career.