Wed | Jan 16, 2019

There are no charts in Jamaica!

Published:Saturday | December 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM
General Trees

Many, many years ago, I read, and read again, and again, a book of short stories by Frederick Forsyth, No Comebacks. The stories were great and the title of this edition of 'Music and More' is a rip-off of one of them.

That story was, There Are No Snakes in Ireland and, as much as I can recall, the basis of the story was a man (I think he was from India) who lived in Ireland getting rid of a foe by importing a venomous snake and sending him the serpent in a package. The man was duly bitten and died. There was a suspicion of a snake bite, but it was dismissed with the simple observation that there were no snakes in Ireland.

Well, there are no literal snakes in the tale of music charts in Jamaica, but there are sure as hell some figurative ones. And the venom is very, very real.

You see, despite the many Jamaican countdowns and rankings of music, with or without accompanying videos, separated into reggae, dancehall or combined, there are no charts in Jamaica. Not one. Zero. Nada. Blank.

I mean, of course, there are none which can legitimately purport to be a legitimate reflection of what is popular with the music-loving population. There are street charts and there are cyber charts, radio-play charts and charts with no obvious basis. There are some charts made with the best of intentions and others put together with malice aforethought, but the result is the same. There is no quantifiable basis for the various rankings. And, truth be told, often no foundation of quality either.

When the scourge of payola is thrown into the mix, it all boils down to a deliberate, persistent misrepresentation of what is popular in Jamaican popular music - and we fool ourselves by complaining about the nominees for the reggae category, Grammy Award, each year.

I have a long history with music charts, though certainly not as long as Fab 5's Frankie Campbell who, I understand, actually has a record of quite a few. I remember clearly when RJR and JBC had their weekly countdowns in the 1980s (including when a decision was taken not to rank songs that were banned, as many times the top 10 was filled with songs which could not be played).

But it was the annual top 100, very early in the new year, that took the cake. I would sit with a radio and a kerosene lamp (no electricity) and faithfully write down the tracks from 100 to 1, the excitement building as the six hours or so it took went by, and songs expected to be placed higher up were named and played earlier than expected.

I remember, especially, General Trees' Minivan being named the top song one year, something I interviewed him and producer Jack Scorpio about more than 20 years later.

I can also claim somewhat close contact with what I consider the last credible music chart in Jamaica, which was run by The STAR in the early 2000s. A number of record shops across the island were asked to send in a ranking of their singles sales - not the figures - and the data was input into a specialised computer programme which generated a top 10.

Then a disturbing trend began - many songs on the same rhythm, not all of them popular, ranked one behind the other on some record stores' rankings. Then there were the reports of a particular store in Half-Way Tree where the rankings were up for the highest bidder and their submissions reflected this.

last legitimate number-one

So the chart was discontinued, with Bounty Killer's Sufferer being what I still consider the last legitimate, verifiable number-one song in Jamaica. After that, it has been a free-for-all, well, in many cases not free, because the top slots were up for sale. And if airplay is a part of the ranking, then the payola is in full effect there, not to mention the affiliations of producer disc jocks who play theirs and their pal's songs again and again and again.

While the record store is pretty much a thing of the relatively recent past and music has become something that is given away, save for those who actually pay for downloads, the damage of a flawed chart is still a clear and present danger to Jamaican popular music. For one (and I have seen this one over and over again), when an artiste purportedly has a 'hit tune', based on the charts, and runs out on stage with the song and the crowd looks at him as if he (or she) is a stranger, then it is funny, but not funny.

It is humorous in the sense that it is a stupendous flop and provides for a very good laugh. It is not funny in the sense that an audience is disappointed again and there is that less faith in what we produce of and for ourselves.

Another serious damage is the discouragement for those artistes who are putting out good music, genuinely resonating with audiences, only to see an out-of-tune barker with shoddy lyrics and production being named as having a number-one tune and being so proud of it. It must be so disheartening.

One more damage is the encouragement of the substandard artistes who buy the charts and actually believe that they are good. If madness is to tell oneself a lie and believe it, then many a Jamaican 'hartist' is mad, mad, totally mad. There is no one as full of bombast as those who have the illusion of achievement without having actually accomplished anything. You know, like how people who get wealthy by illegal means can't just keep themselves quiet and almost invariably end up in trouble with the law.

I know a couple of the people who run music charts in Jamaica. Most of them I do not know and do not care to know. Know them or know them not, the conclusion is the same.

There are no charts in Jamaica.