Fri | Jul 20, 2018

Scandalous, but not surprising - Freddie revisits Grammys

Published:Sunday | February 19, 2017 | 12:00 AMDave Rodney
Freddie McGregor performing at Negril Reggaefest, held at Wavz Beach on Saturday night.
Ziggy Marley, left, accepts the award for best reggae album for 'Ziggy Marley' at the 59th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, in Los Angeles. Abraham Selassie Robert Nesta Marley, Gideon Robert Nesta Marley, Judah Victoria Marley, and Jimmy Jam look on from right.

"Scandalous but not surprising" is how veteran Jamaican reggae singer Freddie McGregor has described the outcome of the 2017 Reggae Grammy Awards, where Ziggy Marley, Bob Marley's eldest son, was announced winner of the Best Reggae Album.

Ziggy's self-titled winning album, Ziggy Marley, is little known within the reggae community in Jamaica, but it beat out five other nominees to take the coveted and elusive award, an award that has slipped away from the grasp of many global icons in reggae music.

Eleven popular reggae heartthrobs - Beres Hammond, Chronixx, Dennis Brown, Third World, Gregory Isaacs, Yellowman, Barrington Levy, Marcia Griffiths, Etana, Vybz Kartel, and McGregor himself are yet to win a Grammy. This year marks the 11th win for the Marleys in the Best Reggae Album category since the awards started in 1985. A few weeks ago, McGregor was strident in his condemnation of the practices of the selection committee for the reggae Grammy. He lashed out at the awards, calling them "an embarrassment of indescribable magnitude to reggae music".


"There are many talented artistes whose projects may have been more deserving this year, but the only way to effect change is from inside the organisation," Pat Shields, a Jamaica-born ex-Atlantic Records executive and now partner in a Los Angeles-based music company, Black Dot LLC, told The Sunday Gleaner. "Membership is reasonably priced at US$100 per year, and all professional vocalists, musicians, producers, songwriters, and engineers should become members and vote," she said.

Other music industry insiders have echoed similar sentiments, including New York City's celebrity radio jock Dahved Levy, who airs weekend reggae shows on the popular urban station WBLS- FM.

"You can't blame the Marleys for being Marleys, but others who want to win will just have to go register and vote," Levy said, while bemoaning the fact that the reggae Grammy award is still presented behind the scenes and not as part of the prime-time television broadcast. Levy will host a radio forum with Freddie McGregor and other artistes tonight at 10 p.m., on WBLS in New York, to thrash out some of the issues relating to the reggae Grammys.


But despite the exuberance of the informal campaign to urge musicians to register and vote, the track record of the reggae award tells a less celebratory story. Whenever a Marley is nominated in the Best Reggae Album category, statistically, the chances of someone else winning are rather slim. Since 1998, of nine times when the Marleys were nominated, they have won all nine times.

Levy pointed out that the Marleys have won more reggae Grammys since the category's inception than black artistes have won Album of the Year Awards in the Grammys' 59-year history.

"We artistes have heard the call for more of us to become members, but what that will do is to put a Band-Aid over a bigger problem," McGregor said last week. "The Grammy Awards has a catalogue of issues - not just with reggae, but with other genres, too - so this year, international artistes like Drake, Kanye West, and Justin Beiber boycotted the awards, dismissing it as "irrelevant".

And pop icon Adele, in her acceptance speech for Album of the Year, said that BeyoncÈ was more deserving of the award for her Lemonade album, McGregor continued.


"The Grammy Awards lack credibility on many levels, so rather than hoping and dreaming of winning a Grammy, we need to focus on building and strengthening our own Jamaican brand, like the JaRIA (Jamaica Reggae Industry Association) Honour Awards, and turning it into an altar at which reggae lovers from around the world will come each year to pay their respects," McGregor concluded.

A Kingston-based record producer, Donovan Watkis with Cultural Artige, who has blogged extensively on the subject, chimed in.

"The perception of a winner shouldn't be by artiste name only. Culture grows when it is perceived to be inclusive. Injecting new blood in the awards would bring more attention to what's going on in Jamaica for the music," he said.