Sat | May 30, 2020

Tale of Two Music cities – Kingston

Published:Wednesday | October 16, 2019 | 1:57 AM
Kaestner Smith shows the positioning of bass boxes by sound engineers to contain sound.
Kaestner Smith shows the positioning of bass boxes by sound engineers to contain sound.

While Kingston’s counterparts such as Bogota and Amsterdam have been similarly designated as Creative Cities of Music, and have capitalised on the designation, boosting their music tourism, four years on, Jamaica’s capital appears to be suffering from inertia.

This is the opinion of some industry experts.

Kingston was designated a Creative City of Music by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in December 2015.

However, at present, musicians, performers and other players in Kingston’s music industry continue to struggle with ‘access to spaces and places’ for staging musical events, which is one of the five essential elements of Creative Cities of Music, cited by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), and which would boost its global appeal as a music tourism destination.

“Music needs a home; in fact, it needs many homes. From education to rehearsal to recording to performance, music cities require a variety of quality spaces and places to succeed. To meet this need, the first step is to take inventory so that gaps can be identified,” the IFPI researchers said in a recent global study, dubbed The Mastering of a Music City.

“For live performances, a full range of venues is essential to support artistes… everything from small basement venues to stadiums and all points in between,” it noted.

The essential elements of Music Cities as outlined by the IFPI are: artistes and musicians; a thriving music scene; access to spaces and places; a receptive and engaged audience; and record labels and other music-related businesses.

Over the last several weeks, complaints have not only resurfaced, but have heightened over the woeful lack of entertainment zones, an issue which has been a key source of discontent for players in the industry, who have argued that the music and its earning potential including its impact on Kingston as a tourism destination, is not being taken seriously.

“In my humble opinion they are not capitalizing on Kingston being a creative space and the capital of reggae. Kingston itself is significant in the art of music. Bob Marley coming out of Trench Town highlighted the area as the genesis of this Rocksteady, Reggae Street dance type of set up. And Jamaicans have not to date capitalized on that as a creative space,” President of the Entertainers of Jamaica Association (EJA), Kaestner Smith, told Hospitality Jamaica.

“There are a lot of car parks, a big waterfront in downtown Kingston. Downtown Kingston in itself has so many spaces to host dancehall, anything that has to do with music and sound business, and as it gets to 6 p.m., Kingston technically lock down,” he added.

Smith’s sentiments have been echoed by veteran dancehall artiste Rodney ‘Bounty Killer’ Pryce, who argued recently on a local television entertainment programme that night-time entertainment is virtually dead in Kingston, with only three nightclubs considered truly active.

The development of music tourism was highlighted by the IFPI as being among the key strategies for being a successful Creative City of Music. It also identified tourism assets as including a city’s ‘year-round live music scene, music festivals and historical music landmarks’ and noted that ‘music tourism benefits cities to the tune of billions of dollars each year’.

This observation has not been lost on Pryce, who also expressed dissatisfaction with the level of treatment dancehall music in particular has been getting from state entities. He said tourists who go to the traditional resort towns on the north coast are seen as more ‘respectable’, as opposed to the adventurous visitors who visit Kingston to experience its nightlife and musical offerings such as street parties, who, in his estimation, are seen by the Government as ‘careless people’ and not really tourists.

The UNESCO Cities of Music Network cites Kingston as a world-renowned centre of musical excellence, with a unique sound system culture; the largest number of music recording studios per capita in the world; the birthplace of six distinct musical genres: mento, ska, reggae, rocksteady, dub and dancehall and the careers of the legendary Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff.

The network says Jamaica’s objectives proposed for Kingston as a Creative City of Music includes, among other things, using the creativity of Kingstonians as a driver for sustainable urban development and using music and the arts to redevelop and revitalise its inner-city communities, through the “conversion of derelict buildings, for use as creative incubators and performance venues to promote appreciation for creativity and provide outlets for creative expression”.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), in a 2016 article titled ‘Music Cities: Why music is a tool for urban development,’ highlighted the progress of cities such as Amsterdam which was the first to choose a night-time mayor, responsible for coordinating and strengthening the Dutch capital’s nightlife and music scene.

It noted that Bogotá, Columbia’s capital, used its Creative City designation to engender an active and prosperous music scene and promote the creation of policies dedicated to make music the epicentre of city life, including a joint public-private Music Plan, which addresses issues such as training and the protection of spaces dedicated to live music.

“Bogotá has developed and implemented a series of public policies to foster greater intercultural dialogue by using music as a tool for social transformation and to overcome some of the city’s main challenges,” the IDB noted.