Wanted: More diversity in entertainment
Let's Talk ReggaeSunday, March 28, 2021
LAST week my good friend Nadine Sutherland published a stimulating article in this newspaper addressing the vexing issue of ageism in entertainment. It was timely and important. She pointed to an age-defying quality characterising a number of mature stars such as Marcia Griffiths, Beresford Hammond and Freddie McGregor and noted that in many instances more experienced artistes are written off based on distorted perceptions of their ability to attract audiences and give stellar performances .
I definitely want to riff on these themes from Nadine's article because I believe that we have missed some tremendous opportunities in show business due to the lack of variety which obtains in our entertainment offerings. I have written elsewhere before that I would want to see more concerts representing the diversity of Jamaican musical talents.
How beautiful it would be to have a night at Reggae Sumfest with performances from Ernie Ranglin, Tanya Stephens, Beresford Hammond, Big Youth, Buju Banton, Nadine Sutherland, Marcia Griffiths, Sean Paul, Koffee, and Sizzla. This is but one of numerous combinations of artistes which could be presented to the public as part of a package of entertainment. In fact, the above-mentioned line-up could be split over two nights..
The emerging artiste reaching out to the more mature act for collaboration and vice versa can be truly invigorating to the music. It has the potential to widen audience bases of the participants in such an exercise. Tarrus Riley, a veteran who still has a fair share of youth to his credit, clearly shows he understands the potential for expanding his audience by engaging a Shenseea, a Govana (who are currently hot) in musical collaborations.
Tarrus is an old hand at intergenerational collaborations. He did a number of songs with his father Jimmy (now deceased) and has had international recording collaborations with the likes of Ellie Golding. True, there will always be purists on both sides who will frown on any such attempt at musical harmony among different generations. Some might deem such efforts as inauthentic, claiming that they adulterate the essence of the artistes involved.
Lady Gaga through her collaborations with the likes of Elton John and Tony Bennet has introduced these acts to the current generation while tapping into the fan base of these older artistes. Miss Rhona, Popcaan's mother and a pastor, is able to stand behind her son's latest musical effort with the legendary Beres Hammond. No doubt members of Miss Rhona's congregation will be in a better position to support a song from the preacher's son, especially one entitled God is Love.
Anyone who witnessed the overwhelming response to the Beenie Man and Bounty Killer Verzuz 'clash' will understand that for these two acts longevity is not a liability. These two lyrical gladiators were able to tap into a deep well of goodwill which has accrued over the years. The same could be said of Buju Banton and his Long Walk to Freedom concert which attracted one of the largest and highest-paying crowds ever into the National Stadium. Industry experts will attest that on the international touring circuit mature acts such as Rolling Stones, Elton John, Madonna and U2 bring in far more money by way of gate receipts and merchandise than their younger counterparts.
We need to move away from the formulaic and apply more diversity to the process of selecting acts to appear at events.
Last year I was at Rebel Salute to witness the performances of Steel Pulse and the legendary Toots Hibbert. In the midst of the Steel Pulse presentation a young man who was obviously enjoying himself sidled over to me and asked “What era are those guys from? They are hot.” Years ago I saw how mesmerised some young patrons at 'Jazz and Blues' were at seeing Ernie Ranglin perform. Many people do not support older acts, not because they would not enjoy their performances but because they are not aware of them.
Stephen Stewart, who served as Toots Hibbert's musical director, told me he was amazed the first time he went on the road with the Jamaican musical legend and saw his fan base which constituted screaming teenagers. This was at a time when Toots could easily have been the grandfather of many in the large audiences shouting his name.
Sean Paul has been able to sustain his remarkable career in part due to his ability to provide his special energy to the recordings of numerous artistes who could be his own children. Sean Paul is one of the most sought after acts for international collaborations. Many younger acts believe, not without evidence, that Sean's presence on their recordings gives their efforts a significant boost in the marketplace.
One of the features of discrimination is that it often shapes policies without the benefit of empirical evidence. Our attitude towards more mature artistes is an example of this mindset. The gatekeepers have taken a position without doing the necessary research to substantiate their claims. This is indeed sad as we have lost so much by way of opportunity through this backward outlook .
Clyde McKenzie is a well known figure in Caribbean media and entertainment. He is the founding general manager of IRIE FM and was a prime mover in the introduction of the now-popular but then controversial reggae 24/7 concept. McKenzie has been involved in artiste management and music production. He is credited as one of the co-producers of the Grammy Award-winning album Art and Life by Beenie Man.
McKenzie has served on a number of public sector boards including JCDC, JIPOand CPTC. He is a former chairman of the Entertainment Advisory Board and has worked with a number of regional agencies in the Caribbean and South American in the drafting of policies and measures to optimise the economic benefits from cultural production and preservation.
He was a judge for six seasons on the televised talent show Digicel Rising Stars. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org