Synthesising approaches for Reggae
Title: The Creative Echo
Chamber: Contemporary Music Production in Kingston Jamaica
Author: Dennis Howard
Publisher: Ian Randle, 2016. 190pp
Reviewer: Louis Chude Sokie
Though subtitled Music Production in Kingston, Dennis Howard's second book, The Creative Echo Chamber, is an ambitious attempt to account for and synthesise the various approaches to reggae. Familiar angles such as sociology and musicology are there as is the necessary attention to the country's colonial and post/neo-colonial history. But what distinguishes Howard's work is his commitment to issues affecting the music as it becomes a business the island still struggles to acknowledge and control.
Issues such as "value, chain dynamics," intellectual property, copyright, income streams, and technology are central to Howard's story of a musical culture that has been so wildly influential that it might not have had much time to reflect on the implications of its success. These latter issues matter because so little thinking about reggae pays attention to the business, which, now that Jamaica seems more aware of itself as a cultural "brand", is necessary. Because Howard has spent his life working in almost every single aspect of the music industry, it makes sense that he would be the first to attempt to synthesise history and studio techniques, technology and business structure, culture and economics.
And he manages to render it readable, engaging, and most surprisingly, useful. This is as much a guidebook as it is a history and business manual. Howard is as interested in what makes the music sound as it does as he is in how it works. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the book is its explanatory power: this is truly the runnings, from high to low, uptown and downtown, with some attention to outernational ramifications.
This, however, is where the book's reach exceeds its grasp: too much of a desire to cram in every historical detail, every mode of thought, and every angle. One way of thinking about the music gets lost in the quest to open up another, and with too many contexts, there is the threat of losing each of one's audiences.
Such a dizzying mix of frameworks is, however, a sign of ambition. Howard is claiming the broad world of reggae knowledge just as Jamaica is engaged in a struggle for self-definition, just as the global echo of its music threatens to drown out the original sound. It is that claim that animates this book and makes it essential.
n Review originally published in Riddim magazine, Germany. Reproduced with permission.