Promoters make do with limited options
Davina Henry, Gleaner Writer
In a recent article published in The Gleaner, Johnny Gourzong, executive director for Summerfest Productions, organiser of Reggae Sumfest, expressed a leaning towards having I-Octane close next year's Dancehall Night for the third consecutive year.
However, while this may be an unprecedented honour for I-Octane, who would be the only artiste in the history of the more than 20 year-old festival to complete such a feat, it could also be an indication of the limited talent pool promoters have to work with.
I-Octane has performed at various shows across the island, and he is not alone. Not only has the number of live-performance shows shrunk, some totally fading from existence, but so has the roster of artistes. In fact, with shows such as Island Explosion, Follow The Arrow and Champions In Action no longer being held, promoters are now left in a bind.
According to Dexton Ennis, promoter of Follow The Arrow, promoters are, indeed, running out of options as it relates to choosing artistes for their line-ups.
"It's always the same set of artistes. If you go to an uptown party, it's the same artistes. If you go to a party downtown, it's the same artistes. There's nothing new and that can cause patrons to get bored. That's also one of the reasons I backed out of Follow The Arrow and started keeping Follow The Sound. Some artistes are charging a bag of money and they aren't doing anything new," Ennis told The Gleaner.
He added that even a festival with longevity, such as Reggae Sumfest, has a tendency to get boring.
"I think Sumfest Dancehall Night should be mixed with reggae artistes. If you have a mixture, you have a balance. Even this year, people were saying that some aspects of Sumfest was boring. If we had a mixture of reggae and dancehall acts, then it would be better."
Robert Russell, deputy chairman of Summerfest Productions, admitted that it is indeed getting more difficult to book artistes.
"As it relates to foreign acts, it is getting more difficult because the foreign acts that you really need to book to create excitement that local patronage can enjoy, they are very expensive. The Jamaican dollar is $112 to US$1, and it's climbing, and it's not a guarantee that you will get the returns from the gate receipts," he said.
"Sponsors aren't upping their money, in fact they are looking to cut back. You find that the local artistes perform at every show so there's not a lot of mystique attached to them. Having seen them perform a few months before, patrons are not that excited to see them perform again. It is becoming increasingly difficult for promoters," Russell told The Gleaner.
Negotiation of fees
He believes a solution could be for artistes to be more mindful of the economic times when negotiating a price.
"Artistes need to give promoters a break when it comes to fees. They charge big bucks when they go abroad, but we can't afford what they are charging the overseas promoters. Obviously, we also can't charge the same gate price as foreign promoters, because patrons would not be able to afford it. We have to keep the gate fee at a minimum," Russell said.
Artiste and promoter of Rebel Salute, Tony Rebel, believes the solution to the problem lies with promoters.
"I don't go for who they say is the man or who is popular. I go for artistes that can deliver. Most of the artistes on Rebel Salute do not have a number-one song on the charts, but people come out to see them. Promoters need to realise that even though some artistes don't have a number-one song, they have pull. You can't just be recycling artistes in every show," Tony Rebel said.
He added that there are many artistes who are able to deliver top-class performances, if promoters would give them the chance.
"Tony Roach said this quote and Garnett Silk sang it and now I'm gonna say it - 'No matter if you are the people's choice, people will get tired to hear your voice'. Promoters need to broaden their pool of selections and then they'll have a good package. Some promoters overlook artistes because they don't hear their songs on the radio all day, every day. They are so caught up, that it is only the artistes that you hear on radio that people want to see. They need to select from substance and not hype," Tony Rebel added.
However, promoter of Sting, Isaiah Laing, said this was not the case for his event. In fact, he claims it is quite the opposite.
"When it comes to Sting, we fix artistes to make them more sellable. We ensure that they perform so that patrons are satisfied. I believe that a lot of artistes are on the 'up'. This year, Sting is gonna be massive. I've seen the best options for dancehall this year than I've seen in a long time. I don't even need to look for an overseas artiste for this year's staging, based on the crop of artistes that I'm seeing right now," Laing said.