Bling bling slows roots reggae artistes?
Curtis Campbell, Gleaner Writer
Over the last few years, dancehall has seen several new faces who have joined the industry to play their role in maintaining the musical culture.
However, on the reggae side of things, up-and-coming reggae artistes appear to have a much tougher go at becoming household names.
While dancehall has seen the rise of artistes like Tommy Lee Sparta, Black Ryno, Popcaan, Jahvinci, Konshens, Iyara, Pattex, Shawn Storm, I Octane, and Flexx, and despite the re-emergence of reggae bands, roots reggae has only managed to showcase a few new artistes.
Artistes like Protoje, Rootz Underground, and Iba Mahr come to mind readily.
A popular argument used by some music players is that a song is not truly a hit unless it can be sung by the children. If that is the case, some of reggae's young artistes mentioned above would have to be erased from the list.
Unlike Popcaan, Tommy Lee Sparta and Konshens, how many young reggae artistes can boast that their songs are popular on the lips of Jamaican children? And why does it appear to be so difficult for roots reggae artistes to develop as fast as dancehall acts?
Beats and rhythms sell
According to radio disc jock DJ Amber, the attraction of youth to dancehall more than roots reggae is due to the imbalance in airplay and the tempo of the beats.
"I think the tempo has something to do with it. The younger people love music that makes them move. It's a pity that some of the artistes on the fast rhythms don't do some more positive songs that they can listen to," Amber opined.
"It's not that they don't want to listen to the artistes that are doing reggae music, which is the one that will really last, but it's the beat and, unfortunately, most of the time, the most callous messages that are more promoted," she said.
"I think that reggae should be more restored on the radio stations, even if I listen to gospel, I hear dancehall in it. We need a 50/50 balance because we love both of them. Everybody wants airplay but if it's not level, then the youth won't catch on," she said.
DJ Amber also believes that the large volume of music that is produced locally makes it hard for artistes to receive enough attention to make an immediate impact.
Following the hype
According to Paul and Patrick 'Twin of Twins' Gaynor, who recently formed Leadership For Empowerment of Artistes and Dancehall (LEAD), a dancehall body, the modern Jamaican music arena is more about hype than heights.
"There are a number of factors. People were conditioned to believe in hype, and reggae music is more about heights, which is why reggae will last longer and dancehall songs will last five weeks. Reggae is like ghetto gospel and dancehall is like the rebellious child of reggae," said Patrick Gaynor.
"People who consume reggae are those who understand life on a spiritual level and will not put up with certain things, so they are not put on the forefront. Dancehall is more secular and the youth want this hype sold to them more than the heights, because that's how the system set it."
Gaynor believes the 'bling bling' culture is damaging to the popularity of reggae artistes who stay away from the more showy nature of dancehall.
"The bling bling culture is the problem and people perpetuate this to the youth. But reggae music is alive and well and people who understand its purpose appreciate it," he said.
But can this already embedded bling bling culture be curtailed? Gaynor believes musical unity is the answer.
"We need to be one unit with one objective. Too much man a seh dem nuh business 'bout di next man, and we need to have a standard for music. Bob Marley is a great example. He was not liked. In fact, he was shot because of his work and what he stood for, but he still continued in his belief," he said.
Patrick Gaynor also revealed that some reggae artistes have resorted to joining the dancehall hype in an effort to remain in the spotlight.
"Right now, reggae artistes are doing gyal tune and gun tunes and a pour Hennessy a dance, because dem a run down the hype. Bob Marley was not about the hype, so you don't need to do that. Make music that counts and don't run down the glamour and glitter, because nobody can hype forever," he said.
Twin of Twins recently released Stir It Up: Volume 9, while DJ Amber is gearing up to host her birthday party on November 25 in St Ann.