Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been a little caught up with providing a bit of a musical round up for Haiti and the francophone Caribbean, so svp excusez moi for the lateness of my third annual roundup. Hey, Gilles Peterson isn’t revealing his Worldwide Winners until near the end of the month, so I think I’m safe, no?
At the end of last year, there was all sorts of questioning about the state of the music industry in JA. Though the Mavado/Kartel beef was squashed (with the visa-less Kartel concentrating on the local and Mavado taking it international), there was more than enough to chew on in terms of frustration with not just the music industry, but politricks as usual in Jamaica (check the cables for evidence).
Buju is out of jail for now, voicing dubs (reportedly at a discount, if you’ve got some cash lying around), and performing this weekend in Miami. Sting was even more underwhelming than last year (if that was even possible). With collaboration instead of clash as theme, Sizzla, back from his repatriative stint in Zimbabwe, was the highlight of the show. So where are we now?
First, let’s go back to last year at this time. On twitter, there was discussion amongst folks including Johnny Wonder, Julian Jones-Griffiths, Jeremy Harding, Dylan Powe and others about the best way to market/develop/profit from Jamaican music. An interesting conversation to watch from the outside, it was also interesting to observe the developments that seemed to either stem from or reflect this discussion.
Johnny Wonder, king of the email blast, was tweeting and mailing out tunes until late January. Then, the tweets stopped linking to downloads and, instead, linked straight to iTunes. The Deseca produced (and aptly titled) Genesis riddim underlined a new approach. Fader’s Eddie Stats described the promotion strategy as “working some reverse psychology shit on the over-saturated dancehall market by being hyper-selective about who they leak the tracks to“. Seemingly running opposite to other facets of the music industry (check this NPR report where it’s said that “the power of internet leaks to create buzz for a topic in the media has proven itself in 2010 and the music industry is jumping on board”–thanks to 45 Shootout for the link), in Jamaica there was an attempt to promote a less-than-free-ride for reggae and dancehall fans, instead incentivizing support for the music through actual purchases.
Digital distributor 21st/Hapilos (the aforementioned Mr. Wonder is executive vice-president), reportedly had a successful year. Time will tell if this approach will pay off, but pointing fans to iTunes, Amazon and others, definitely does underline the fact that Jamaica, the last bastion of vinyl pre-eminence, is now a fully digital industry.
The shake-up in the the way reggae music was marketed and sold was near forgotten in the wake of the deadly incursions into Tivoli Gardens at the end of May. Some songs were penned about the siege, but, as Tarrus Riley put it, “Jamaica nuh need no song right yah now, we need some solutions. We have nuff songs long time from Marley dem days. We need a collective effort from everybody – the singers, the taxi man, the Government, everybody.”
An important statement, but interesting pointing to Marley as a source of music that might be a fitting response to the tragedy of Tivoli and the wider social and governmental issues of Jamaica. Word, sound and power, after all. Music and song have been a part of Jamaica’s history and the dance (as well as the clash) can often provide not only commentary but also a space for the discussion and development of ideas. Sure, not everyone enjoys the academic perspective, but folks like Obika Grey, Carolyn Cooper, Sonjah Stanley Niaah, Donna Hope, and even Kingsley Stewart (when he’s not busy with all that mixup) have been arguing about the power of Jamaican musical culture to both comment on and build Jamaica and Jamaican identity.
This being said, it’s interesting in that Riley reached back over three decades to Marley. Is there not anything between “Marley and dem days” and now that stands out as a proper as the type of song that speaks out against the shitstem? Or is it just the fact that there hasn’t been many in the recent past?
A twitter conversation between the now sadly defunct @bigblackbarry and @zjsparks about the lack of rebelution in the music told the tale. Yes, Sparks argued, there are good cultural artists out there, but, as Barry responded, there just aren’t voices of protest. David Rodigan tendered his top tune list of the year with a statement “to the reggae industry of Jamaica”:
The rest of the world looks to Jamaica as the ‘head of the stream’ for reggae and dancehall music, but compared to some of the glorious recordings that Jamaica has given us over the decades, the output for 2010 left much to be desired. We love reggae and we love dancehall, but we don’t need imitation hip-hop, R&B, and banging house beats from Kingston featuring Jamaican patois vocals. “Rise up ye mighty race”—when one considers the roots reggae anthems that have inspired people all over the world, we have to ask ourselves: why is it that we are no longer hearing that type of music again, with just a few obvious exceptions?
Giving weight to Rodigan’s complaint was the rise of music that I called Jamaican bubblegum or raggapop in this space last year. In 2010, however, it was given the monicker “Island pop”. As Erin Hansen explained in her thorough dancehall roundup of the last 365, “2010 seemed to be name-tagged the year Jamaican music ventured into “pop” to create a new style (that’s to say the lines weren’t blurred already). The marking of its coming was due in part to the release of the Razz and Biggy mixtape titled ‘Island Pop‘ and newcomer Richie Loop’s catchy ‘My Cupp‘ tune. However, the new genre title began, and shortly ended, when the ‘cupp’ ran dry.”
But with the reported crazy forwards being received for Kartel’s response to Rhianna’s question in the form of Federation Sound’s remix of “What’s my name?”, perhaps there’s still an appetite for a little island/raggapop…
As for other memorable international combinations, Diplo’s fascination with JA continued (one can only guess if that’s what drew the Vice folks to provide their “Guide to Everything”-approach to dancehall, which aint available for viewing up in Canada), but it’s hard to tell what a sequel to Major Lazer might look like. Hopefully not like the video for Robyn’s “Dancehall Queen”, which, as catchy as it is, seems to take dancehall out of Jamaica and all the Jamaica out of dancehall.
But dancehall is outernational–and what better to demonstrate its world-spanning popularity than Red Bull’s late 2010 announcement that it would be building a studio in Kingston to be opened in February 2011. The idea is to “not sell studio time but offer it on an invitation basis for free…in some cases they will set up collaborations with international artistes.” What impact will this have on the music? On the studio culture in Jamaica? On producers or artistes?
However, beyond a Blackberry spokesmodel and a brilliantly marketed energy drink, with the grime/electro/dancehall “Showa Eski” riddim, featuring a terrific voicing courtesy of UK MC Wiley, and the upcoming elements of the Showa riddim series, as well as the announcement of New York producer Dre Skull producing Vybz Kartel’s next album–to be released Spring 2011–there’s still nuff international link ups to look forward to.
Coming up: Rastafari, big business, pressure on the dance, saying goodbye and more…