Driven by his love for the music from the land of his birth, real estate agent-turned-promoter Byron Somers has worked hard to fill the void created by a lack of reggae events in Orlando, Florida, with his Bellevue Music Festival.
Somers, who hails from the sleepy Portland community of Bellevue, was able to secure the likes of Sean Kingston, Shaneil Muir, Iyara, Louie Culture, Badda General, and Rotimi for this year's staging at Festival Park in downtown Orlando on Saturday.
However, he underlines that it is becoming increasingly difficult for himself and other Jamaican promoters based overseas to stage quality reggae and dancehall events in the US as a result of the high fees being charged by artistes, as well as lingering visa issues.
"I really wanted Beenie Man on my stage tonight. I stopped in Jamaica last year during the summer and I did a video, Better Life, with him and Iyara. But, unfortunately, he doesn't have a visa. I called just about all the artistes who have a name, who have a brand in dancehall, to be here tonight. But everybody is at US$100,000 or above," Somers disclosed in an interview with the Jamaica Observer shortly after his event, which is in its second year, came to an end.
"In putting together a stage show with multiple artistes, how can we afford US$100,000 ($15.5 million) for one artiste, US$100,000 for two artistes and then US$50,000 ($7.7 million) for the others? That's not possible, guys, it's all about numbers. Let's fix dancehall. Stop 'chopping' dancehall, please," he urged.
Chopping, in Jamaican parlance, refers to scamming and money laundering.
Somers said most Jamaican promoters are hard-working individuals who invest their money in events and are not able to meet what he described as exorbitant demands.
"People stop sell weed a 'farin'. Jamaicans stop sell coke a farin. Wi a work wi hard-earned money. Most promoters right now are not chopping di line. We are working our hard-earned money and we want to put great events together. Now, if we are only working to pay you guys, it doesn't make sense. We gotta make it make sense. I am here to put on great events, but I also need you guys to work with us," Somers charged.
Another event promoter who requested anonymity was in full agreement as he shared his own challenges with securing dancehall acts.
"Last year mi book an artiste for my event from Jamaica and his fee was US$40,000 ($6.2 million). This year I wanted to bring him back and his fee is now US$80,000 ($12.4 million). I said, 'OK, I'm sorry I am unable to reach that amount of money.' So what I did was book three soca artistes and their fees did not exceed US$30,000 ($4.7 million). And, guess what? The venue was jam-packed. Afrobeats is the rage right now, and those artistes are also cheaper than dancehall artistes, and the venues are pulling big numbers. So, the artistes need to be careful that they don't out-price themselves out of the business," the promoter offered.
Somers feels many dancehall and reggae artistes are not seeing the big picture as far as the industry is concerned.
"We're not even seeing Best of The Best [annual dancehall show in Miami] being held this year. I saw that there was this opportunity to start something. I wouldn't say it's dying, but it's really deteriorating. This is my culture weh mi grow up wid inna Jamaica and I want to help to preserve it. The artistes in dancehall [need to] stop chop dancehall; let's grow it and cherish it. Let's love, unite and come together and make it work," he said.