Last year, it was disappointing news for Jamaica's reggae/dancehall music industry as the billboard reported weak sales for the local artistes. That was not always the case, as music coming out of the island was once vibrant, coveted and enjoyed good performance on the market. In this the first of a three-part series, The Sunday Gleaner explores 'The Foundations', 'What Went Wrong' and 'The Way Forward'.
Thirty-four years after the death of reggae legend Bob Marley, his music is still relevant. In fact, he still maintains a presence on iTunes Reggae chart and on mainstream Billboard. His album made it in the Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in the number 50 position. However, Bob Marley is not the only foundation artiste who is enjoying success. Jimmy Cliff, Toots Hibbert, Yellowman ... the list of foundation stalwarts could go on and on, of artistes who are still enjoying a living from songs recorded so many years ago.
Fast track to today's generation and the startling difference is clear. What did the foundations have that this generation doesn't. What is the missing link? What makes one music live on, while the other fades into oblivion?
Music consultant and author of the book Rantin From Inside The Dancehall, Dr Dennis Howard, sheds some light on reggae/dancehall music of yesteryear.
"The beat is infectious and mesmerising, that has been the secret of its success for so long - it's repetitious beat pattern surprisingly has a remarkably positive effect on listeners and Bob Marley's music are classic examples of the power of the music," is how Howard describes the powerful force of the music from the foundations.
Another plus for the music back then, according to Howard, is the emphasis placed on rehearsals and honing their skills.
"There was a community that shared ideas and passed on skills, and they had a genuine love for the art of music making," he said. Sound was important to the early recorders and if it meant, "borrowing, stealing or copying, they didn't stop until they found the right sound". Another strength that powered the longevity and love of their music, was the communal spirit in making music. "It was the foundation of all great music from Kingston," noted Howard. With the change in technology, he notes that this has changed and affected the level of creativity. While there is no doubting the benefits of Pro Tools being an amazing instrument in music production, there can be no denying the trade-offs that come with it. For Howard, the sound quality, the warm tone of analogue, has fallen prey to it.
"It is sorely missed by many veteran producers, plus the nonlinear nature of the technology encourage laziness which affects creativity. Music is still nice, but the texture has certainly changed for Jamaican genres," he said. Whether foundation or music of today, Howard sums it up, "Reggae music is the most enduring genre from Jamaica. It is powerful and still resonates worldwide. It has become more durable than other genres such as R&B, rock, punk techno and grunge."
See 'What went wrong?' in next Sunday's edition.