Changing tune: Musicians urged to target Caribbean, African markets more
As local artistes continue to grapple with the low sales of Jamaican music when compared to foreign acts, chairman of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA), Ibo Cooper, believes Caribbean artistes should focus on transforming the Caribbean and Africa into lucrative markets for Caribbean music.
Cooper pointed out that Africa remains one of the world's wealthiest continents and is also the rightful home for the majority of the Caribbean people, yet the market is largely untapped by musicians as it relates to marketing their work.
He also said the lagging dispute between some CARICOM countries is counterproductive since there is potential for financial growth if the Caribbean were to be united.
The United States market has always been the main target for Jamaican acts. Cooper believes other markets have the same potential and that some Jamaican acts are simply 'foreign minded'.
"After slavery, black people have been searching for equal rights and justice from their slave masters. Why him a guh do that? You are asking him to change? How can chicken expect to get justice from the mongoose? No, that will not happen. What we need to do is be about our business of building. The Latin music is ahead of us with that. The Latin market listens to Spanish music and they do well without having to rely on the US," he said.
The seasoned musician thinks that with the present predicament of Jamaican music sales, it is opportune time to direct the focus on branching out into different markets.
"Latin music was selling in South America, Central America and these places without US radio. We are still trying to get through on the Billboard chart and the British charts, so it's clear that it's our mindset. We are fighting against CARICOM, and we need a Caribbean active market for our culture. We don't unite and big up our thing ... . Chicken is still looking for mongoose to give chicken justice," he said.
Speaking specifically in reference to Africa, Cooper said the irony was that Americans and Europeans have realised the potential of the African market and have been marketing their products in the continent, while Jamaicans are yet to wake up.
"The Americans are in Africa and Europeans are there selling music and other products. However, Jamaicans treat Africa like it's a little island or it's a distant place. But that is part of the way we are cultured, because they don't want us to realise what we have. I have been in many discussions about the marketing of our music, and Africa - an entire continent - was never even on the list as an option. The average Jamaican, if he is a refugee, wants to run to the US, where he does not even look like the people. Look at the foolishness in CARICOM between Trinidad and Jamaica? They are not even big enough to be a nation when you look at the world as a whole. So unity would be better," he said.
However, dancehall producer-DJ Foota Hype does not subscribe to Cooper's suggestion. He told The Sunday Gleaner that America is the most important market since it owns popular media. He believes while records can be sold in our markets, success in the US is the key to stardom.
"American society and the UK run the world because they own the mass media. Despite what you want to say about social media, they own that, too. Gangnam Style don't have a word in English and look how much Asian people exist. But at the same time, it never buss until American media pick it up. Yu could a big a Africa suh till, but without the mass media, they won't recognise your work. Who big like Busy Signal in Africa? All platinum him sell, and yet Mavado, who only have a strong base in America, is more popular to us," he explained.
The Sunday Gleaner reached out to reggae artiste I-Octane for comments on Cooper's view. He expressed that he has subscribed to that way of thinking for many years, however, the media has tarnished Africa's reputation and in the process, displace its people. The artiste also said he has been making steps to get more leverage in the African and Caribbean market through performances and other ventures.
BETTER INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDED
"We need a proper infrastructure here because without it, we will crumble. Dancehall and reggae big in Africa, but a man rather go to America because of the stigma that the media put on Africa - always painting it in a negative light. On the other hand, when the same media portrays America, they always show Manhattan," he said.
I-Octane also gave credit to the Latin market for its ability to mobilise internal resources and transform its music industry into a self-reliant powerhouse.
Veteran American-Belizean rapper Shyne, who recently sat with The Sunday Gleaner, shared similar sentiments as I-Octane and Ibo Cooper. He said music is not selling globally as it was during his days atop American hip hop. However, the Caribbean should be doing better to mobilise its over 40 million citizens.
"America has always been painted as a the crËme de la crËme, but the world is big. The world loves reggae music, so the promoters need to understand that all you need now is an account online and to research who are the big websites in these markets like Africa, Asia, Latin America. You take your ads out and you make the effort to reach these people. I am the ambassador for music in Belize and I am trying to teach and navigate my artistes on how to tap into the CARICOM market. At the end of the day, nobody is selling except Adele, Drake and Taylor Swift. Music is more about performances and merchandising, but we do need to focus on the African Union and the European Union and that is what I have been telling my artistes," he said.
The rapper also said that before targeting other territories, CARICOM should be perfected. Notably, dancehall acts like Sean Paul and Shaggy are already working to cement their brands in the Latin market.
Similarly, Charly Black and Kurt Riley recently targeted the Latin market with the single Gyal Yu A Party Animal. Interestingly, the effort has already charted on at least one major Billboard chart, which seems to prove that markets outside of America may benefit Jamaican music.