In addition to 2010 being a tough year for Jamaica in terms of economics, politics and upheaval, the island also lost some cultural giants. Academics Rex Nettleford and Barry Chevannes, each responsible for researching and promoting Jamaican culture–and music–both passed away this year, both long before many expected to have to say goodbye. The music industry lost Sugar Minott, Gregory Isaacs, Sonia Pottinger, and Voicemail’s O’Neil Edwards, whose tragic death was a shock, as were the 76 who died in May in West Kingston.
In February, the University of the West Indies held the third International Reggae Conference, opening with a speech from Jamaican Minister of Culture, Olivia “Babsy” Grange. She talked quite pointedly about the decline of Jamaican reggae and the popularity and success of reggae produced outside of Jamaica–yes, there’s Diplo playing and producing dancehall, but even more successful is Matisyahu. The American Hasidic Jewish reggae star has had three successful studio albums and two (soon to be three) successful live albums. Is Jamaica losing reggae?
Commentator Annie Paul sees folks like Matisyahu (or Alborosie or Gentleman) as “ambassadors for Reggae, taking a Jamaican product to new brand audiences”. The fact is, reggae is a product that is bought and sold–something the Rickards bros made mighty clear in their televised trials and tribulations of Downsound’s Joe Bogdanovich. Should Jamaica protect its product’s Jamaicanness or see these outernational versions of reggae and dancehall from Paul’s perspective?
Interestingly, in the lead up to (as well as at) the end of the summer’s Rastafari conference, there was also discussion about Rastafari and intellectual property rights, some as part of a dispute over the planning/organizing/execution of the conference. The issue of Jamaican ownership over Jamaican culture is one that continues to draw attention, and this year Sonjah Stanley-Niaah entered the fray, discussing Japanese dancehall (among many other things) in her book Dancehall: From Slaveship to Ghetto, launched in July 2010. Spain’s Rototom Sunsplash continued its international discussions of dancehall and reggae, inviting Stanley-Niaah to their “Reggae University”, which accompanies the festival.
But back in Jamaica, the business of music is exemplified by the increasing levels of sponsorship for dancehall and reggae events. As Mel Cooke explained in a November 2010 Jamaica Gleaner article, whereas but five years ago companies were shying away from sponsoring dancehall, viewing it as crass and immoral, now these very same companies are supporting the dance. From beer to cellphones to furniture to food, dancehall sells. This is a good thing, as Cooke also recounted, given that, beyond the big corporate-sponsored events like Sting and Rebel Salute, the independent shows and dances have fallen in number–a direct result of the world wide recession.
Speaking of independent and local dances, the Tivoli incursion meant that West Kingston (and Jamaica in general) lost the Wednesday night/Thursday morning Passa Passa, a dance that had acheived world wide fame. The dance does still keep, but in a much different incarnation than at this time last year. Dutty Fridaze promoter 2 Gran is convinced that 2011 will bring a rebirth of the infamous party, but perhaps a little earlier than its traditional 4am start time. Mojito Mondays at Suzie’s Bake Shop in Half Way Tree made its mark in 2010. Uptown Mondays, taking place right across the street is still holding, but as always, there’s been pressure on the dance. There’s been increased enforcement of the pesky Noise Abatement act of 1997 which requires volume reduction from 12am on weekdays and 2am on weekends (though permits for later performance can be obtained on certain occasions). Though disruptions in the dance have been part of dancehall forever, it was too much for a group of Finnish “dancehall tourists” who, early this month, complained about the police’s habit of locking off dances early. But given the resilience of the street dance in Jamaica, it will be interesting to learn where the next hot spot will crop up.
To end off this overview of 2010, though there’s been numerous best-of-lists, Soundclash is happy to present Prodigal Entertainment producer Dylan Powe’s best of the year. After all, he was responsible for one of the most interesting connections of 2010–getting UK grime king Wiley into the studio JA:
Bigga tings fi 2011.