Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Formal training required for music journalists

Published:Thursday | August 11, 2016 | 8:00 AMMel Cooke
Wayne Chen
Gussie Clarke
Raging Fyah
Dennis Brown
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In Monday's main STAR entertainment story, producer Gussie Clarke did not say anything about payola we have not heard before, but it is not important to keep talking about it. So it is accepted that in some quarters, it is as Clarke said:

"Music these days is not being played based on the quality of the content or the production. It is being played based on who you can pay off. When you go to a DJ, if you have your money, him play any little thing. The man who is producing great music can't get him music played, and then the musical content from the ones who don't know what they're doing is what gets out there."

The Broadcasting Commission has said this before, that payola affects the standards of Jamaican popular music (see the 2013 presentation 'Payola: Why We Need to Stop Paying the Piper' by Karlene Salmon-Johnson at www.broadcastingcommission.org/.../14_63fe1610ba088d26ee1c3119651ceacc). The organisation has also pushed hard for hefty fines against those proven to be involved in payola, but, as far as I know, so far there have been no takers for the suggested $5 million fine for a first offence, much less the $15 million for the third.

There is no short-term solution to an ingrained practice which plays a huge role in Jamaica earning far less than it should from something created here, literally "from nothing to something", to borrow Mavado's phrase. Punishment and production standards apart, in the long term there is the matter of training for media workers - electronic and print - who get deeply involved in Jamaican popular music.

From what I have seen in print, which is all I have experience with, it is normally by accident. Someone gets get placed on a desk, whether or not they have a basic knowledge of the history and importance of Jamaican popular music, and learn as they go along. They have to produce stories at the high pace of a daily publication without the context of the big picture being established - the infrastructure with organisations like the Jamaica Association of Authors, Composers and Publishers; the UNESCO reports on the creative industries' economic importance; training institutions like the Edna Manley College; the roots of Jamaican popular music in the sound system and what developed since then; the academic investigation such as Carolyn Cooper's Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Culture at Large.

Reggae Routes (Kevin Chan and Wayne Chen) should be a basic text that everyone who writes about or plays Jamaican popular music in mainstream media should not only read, but own. Then there is the matter of a formal mentorship, because when someone gets on the job, the early 'links' - who connects them to who - goes a long way to determining how they will turn out.

The objective of this and so much more would be to engender a respect for our music that goes beyond hustling a dollar (OK, in some cases, many dollars) off a tune. The threat of exposure and punishment (which is not happening anyway) is a small part of creating a culture of those in media dealing directly with Jamaican music seeing it as something they are not merely earning a living from, but are custodians of.

And if we are training musicians, videographers, academics production personnel and others associated with Jamaican popular music, how can we not train those who are responsible for reporting on and analysing the end result of all this effort? More next week.

melville.cooke@gleanerjm.com

Tune of the week: I heard Raging Fyah's remake of Dennis Brown's Milk and Honey on KOOL FM one morning, and all I was said, 'Yes, this is rockers'. Since then, a music video has been released and, along with the song, is worthy of a good look. The video addresses a controversial land acquisition and proposed usage at, shall we say, a pinnacle of Rastafari. As expected but still welcome is the inclusion of Dennis Brown performance footage in the video. Take a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DN9j0frIhmo. Let me know what you think.