Tyrone Reid, Staff Reporter
WHEN ONE thinks of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission's (JCDC) Gospel Contest, new talent and original songs of considerable calibre spring to mind.
Without a smidgen of a doubt the JCDC's annual gospel competition is one of, if not, the marquee event for virgin gospel talent. As a result, potential ministers blessed with the gift of song flock to the JCDC for a shot at being heard.
However, the same tongues that laud the vitality of the competition to the gospel music industry condemn some of its practices. Several contestants who have been catapulted to stardom via the JCDC competition are peeved at some of the alleged JCDC's dealings.
One that heads the list is found in the contract that has to be signed by every contestant. The specific clause which has come in for criticism blocks the contestant from using the song in its original format on any personal projects without the expressed consent of the JCDC for three years after entering it.
Delroy Gordon, director of Field Services with the JCDC, defended the necessity of the clause. However, he said that contrary to the belief of several individuals, the clause is not aimed at stifling the progress of the artistes.
"The JCDC has reserved the discretion in determining whether or not one is given permission to do so (use the song on their album)," he noted. It is an action that balladeer George Gordon, winner of the competition in 1999 and second runner-up the year before, deems as unfair. "It's not that if you have any grouse with it they will amend the contract to suit you. They just give you the contract out of formality and if you refuse to sign the contract it would be likely that you would be replaced," he said.
Delroy Gordon was of like mind, stating that the clause is non-negotiable since it is numbered among the rules of the competition. Therefore, it is either the JCDC's way or the broad, potholed riddled stretch of asphalt - a choice that is left solely up to the potential contestant.
"The fact of the matter is JCDC is responsible for underwriting the production costs and all the contestants know this. It would be unfair to allow one or two persons to take their songs and use it as singles," reasoned Delroy Gordon.
Standing in the corner of the JCDC was entertainment lawyer Lloyd Stanbury, who has in time past legally represented the JCDC. "It is standard procedure; it's normal in the (music) business and in most cases it is a five-year re-recording contract," he said.
In defense of the even-handedness of the clause in question, Mr. Stanbury argued that since the JCDC has pumped funds into the project they should be given an exclusive period of time during which there is no competition from the same artiste with the same song on a different label.
Nonetheless Gifton Smith, a member of the winning group Humming Birds, which won the inaugural competition in 1987, believes that the three-year long hiatus is too extensive. "It should be one year. That would be the fairest thing, because the crown lasts for one year so I don't see why it should last for two, three years."
In addition, Smith suggested that during that one year the JCDC would not be obligated to pay out royalties to the contestants, so as to offer them a better chance to recoup what they have invested.
STRAIGHT AND NARROW
On the other hand gospel songbird Nichole Robinson disagreed with Gifton Smith and George Gordon. The 2001 champion told The Sunday Gleaner that it is her personal conviction that the clause can cut on the straight and narrow.
"Personally I don't think it is unfair. Others may disagree with me big time, but that's my point of view. You would be surprised how a couple of years go by rather quickly," she said. The youthful Robinson also put forward the perspective that the three-year grace period is an equitable price to pay.
"For the sake of promotion and exposure it is a reasonable price to pay, because if it was not for the JCDC a lot of people wouldn't know Nichole Robinson on such a scale," she said, refusing to be numbered amongst those that are identified by the proverbial saying of 'biting the hand that feeds you'.
Bishop Everton Thomas from the Emmanuel Apostolic Church in Portmore and Nichole Robinson were in one accord, as he too does not see anything crooked about the three-year hiatus. "They go ahead and spend money to produce the songs, so from a business standpoint they will have to try and recoup what they have spent," reasoned the Bishop, who along with the aid of his friends was second to none save Glacia Robinson in 1998 staging of the contest.
All in all, Nichole Robinson probably best summed up the scenario when she pointed out that the end result is what matters the most. "It's a step down that pushes you up. It's one of the negatives that can be turned into a positive," conceded Nichole.