Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Family and formality - The business of J'can popular music

Published:Saturday | April 11, 2015 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Mel Cooke King Jammy (left and his son Jam 2.
Mel Cooke Lloyd 'King Jammys' James listens intently as a question is asked at the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre, University of the West Indies (UWI), on Thursday eve
Contributed Owen 'Blakka' Ellis

I attended two events over the past couple of weeks that have stirred thoughts about the structure of this business of Jamaican popular music. One was the State of the Music Symposium at JAMPRO'S New Kingston offices, and the other was Lloyd 'King Jammy' James speaking at the University of the West Indies (UWI) last Thursday.

The last one first; the other next week. Having seen Jammy on stage locked in musical battle with Jack Scorpio (although I have never seen him with the crew that included people like Admiral Bailey, Major Worries and Little Twitch in the 1980s), I was able to make a comparison with the persona at the lectern in N1. It was a mellow Jammy who covered some points along the trajectory of his extensive music involvement, picking out points from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, as well as a current project to remake the Black Uhuru Love Crisis album he produced, this time around in combination format predominantly with deejays.




After speaking, he went to the top row of the lecture theatre, where a mixing console had been set up, and threw down some heavy tunes, seeming to take extra pleasure in songs not automatically associated with his dancehall bent. These included Frankie Paul's remake of Sarah and John Holt's delivery of Carpenter.

It was a good time by all. Then, when it was all over, I saw Jammy disconnecting the numerous cords that ran from the mixer he had been attending to with obvious love for the process of playing recordings and manipulating the sound because at several points, he utilised dub techniques.

His son, Jam 2, had been beside his father during the music part of the Reggae Talk and helped pack up the equipment. So did Tupps, who Jammy had pointed out as the first selector on his sound system, King Jimmy Super Power, with Bunny 'Striker' Lee's son (and Jammy's godson) also involved in the packing-up process.

One of his daughters came to the event wearing a King Jimmy Super Power T-shirt, and when pictures were being taken outside the venue, a smiling Jammy called one of his grandchildren to be part of the moment.

And I thought to myself that this was a family affair. Not that I was previously oblivious to the family connections, which are a striking part of Jamaican popular music, but to see it in action is another matter. Added to that was Jammy saying that his four sons all had their own studios.

During Reggae Month 2015, observed in February, the first of four free concerts staged by the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre was titled Bloodlines. It featured generations of performers in the same family. Among those slated to perform were Freddie McGregor, Judy Mowatt, and their daughter Yashemabeth; Zinc Fence Redemption Band, which includes the sons of trombonist Nambo Robinson, guitarist Cat Coore, drummer Desi Jones, and late singer Barbara Jones; and bass guitarist Lloyd Parkes with deejay Left Side.

But there is more, off the obvious stage platform. For example, distributor VP Records is a family business. So is the annual festival Rebel Salute, as is the gospel outfit Glory Music. Dwayne Pow is part of Stone Love Movements, learning from the ground up under the tutelage of his father, Winston 'Wee Pow' Powell. Yanique Wolford is an integral part of Bass Odyssey, owned by her father. And there are more, from cable businesses to sound reinforcement (and let us not leave Phase 3 out of it, with its multiplicity of services), that are run by families, going to second and third generations.




Let us not forget, on the comedy side of entertainment which mixes very easily with popular music, borrowing personalities and tunes at will, there is Ellis International.

This can be good and it can be bad. The good is that this family enterprise shows the entrepreneurial spirit that we all too often complain is lacking in the country, yet refuse to give a helping hand or even actively discourage when it appears in popular music. These are people who take risks, who create and maintain entertainment products, who bring intellectual property to life and monetise it on an international scale.

On the other hand, there may be inherent inefficiencies in a family business that can affect from hotel chains to coffee farming as they do music. The best person for the job may not necessarily be the person who gets the job. The best way of carrying out a process may not always be the procedure that is followed. The emphasis is on providing jobs for members of the family who need them,

not necessarily maximising efficiency.

Which is not to say that one precludes the other as there will be an accumulated repository of knowledge specific to the business, to which only those who are deeply involved are privy. Still, the application of optimal practices may not be best left to the family, where the primary emphasis is naturally on keeping the business going to provide for the family, not to take hard business decisions, which may be good for the enterprise but not rest well with all the family members involved in it.

These are businesses that generally do not grow large enough to hire expert, experienced management personnel. So, the question is, how do you make a big business out of a collection of small businesses, with a high proportion of them family entities? And this is in a situation where they may be quite satisfied with making the amount of money that they already do. As we look towards making Jamaican popular music more of a business, it is something to think about.