Internet independence - Poet, deejay use web to organise overseas dates
Poet Ras Takura released his debut album, Food War, in New York last month during his trek of the United States (US) East Coast. In January, deejay Gavinchi Brown got the news that his EP, The Gavinchi Code, was on the Billboard Reggae Chart while on tour in Maui, Hawaii.
Both have organised their movements outside Jamaica through links made over the Internet, often meeting the people with whom they made arrangements for the first time upon arriving at their destination, after extensive contact in cyberspace. Without a support system of managers, booking agents and public relations personnel, they have utilised the access afforded of the worldwide web to break out of Jamaica by themselves, without necessarily breaking big in the country.
Ras Takura started his most recent journey with a performance in Virginia at the Bridgewater College's International Poetry Festival, after making contact on the Internet.
"Me is a yute whe google poetry festivals and that name came up. They were looking for submissions. I submit four poems and they say yes, they want me to be a part of it," Takura said. His contact there was Stan Galloway.
SERIES OF EVENTS
Takura used that event as the start of a series of events which took him through Boston and New York, making contact in each city with persons who he only knew via the Internet. He describes Ras Atiba as someone "dealing with the underground poetry movement in Brooklyn". Among his shows in New York was a performance at the Nuyorican Poets CafÈ.
His contact in Boston was someone he had met face-to-face previously in Jamaica, but this was after initial contact via Facebook. Through her, two performances were arranged in Boston.
Brown said The Gavinchi Code, moved from 14 to six, then two, and eventually topped the Billboard Reggae chart, as well as reaching number three on the respected ranking's Pacific Heatseekers chart.
"It felt really good," Gavinchi said.
"It is like an external confirmation that you are doing something which makes sense."
He noted that even without the chart action, he would still be pursuing his musical path, still "it is good to get the outside confirmation, but it is not like I base myself around it".
He was in Maui as part of a 27-date tour of the US West Coast and Hawaii to promote the EP, but at the same time, using the Internet was at the forefront of his mind.
"The aim of the thing is also building up my e-mail list," Gavinchi said.
It is a database he has been working on for some time.
"From 2007, that is how I have based my thing, updating files and making connections. That is how I get to grow my thing," he said. Having arranged the initial date, he said it is a matter of building on small audiences which grow on successive trips.
However, he emphasised that the interaction does not stop when the music does. He has made friends along the way.
"You go to them house, sing for them kids' birthday party, you build links. I don't just sell music, I sell a lifestyle. They like me and what I am doing and that is what I promote," Gavinchi said. He added that it is not just a transaction, as even if he was not performing, he would be hanging out with his contact persons.
"Is my friends them," he said.
It has been a decade of doing music the independent Internet way for Gavinchi and how he started is critical to the path he has taken. After seeing an advertisement in a Performing Rights Society (PRS) handbook, he went to the US West Coast to learn more.
"The first time I left Jamaica, I went to a music conference in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. It was geared around independents, how to monetise the music," Gavinchi said.
"They were giving people a lot of heads up. A senior vice-president of A&R at Sony was there. He told me, the reggae thing, you don't have to sit down and wait on a label. He said you can create a lane for yourself."
Choosing the right tools to create that personal path is critical and, very early, Gavinchi decided that social media platforms were not the way to go. After he put a lot of effort into MySpace, the platform lost steam and "I was determined to not only depend on the Facebook and so on. I decided to have an email list".
However, with all the Internet exchange, the personal contact is irreplaceable. "Nothing can beat a handshake and look into people face," Gavinchi said.
Before his most recent trip, Ras Takura used his Internet contacts to go to Anguilla and Tortola for readings. He pointed out that although he uses social media extensively, he also follows up with numerous phone calls. Part of the advantage of using Facebook to make contact with event organisers is that often key people's contact details are listed. So, when a submission is sent in, there is a much lower chance of it ending up in someone's office gathering dust.
He knows what it is like to be receiving submissions, having organised the Dis Poem Wordz, and Agrofest in Portland annually. This year's staging takes place in Port Antonio on Sunday, April 26.
Gavinchi's first show outside Jamaica at Laguna Beach in 2007 was done through a MySpace connection, as was his first time in Germany in 2009. He has been through Poland, France, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, among other countries. For those who would take a similar route, he advises, "I think the most important thing is that you enjoy the journey - physically and literally - and the music. If you don't, you going to quit. Or, if it work, you going to end up unhappy."
And while he has made significant progress through social media, Ras Takura believes he has a far way to go. "Me no know if me start push it hard yet," Takura said.