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Time, patience and branding - Strategy required to regain reggae ground

Published:Sunday | January 11, 2015 | 1:00 AM

Shereita Grizzle, Gleaner Writer

Billboard magazine's findings in their 2014 year-end publication, showing how poorly Jamaican reggae acts fared in comparison to non-Jamaican acts for the year, has left a bitter taste in the mouths of some key industry players.

In a recent interview with The Sunday Gleaner, Copeland Forbes, former manager of late singer John Holt, said reggae is, and will always be, uniquely Jamaican. However, while explaining that non-Jamaicans merely make a "replica of the real music", Forbes agreed that these non-Jamaican acts do far better at capitalising on what they have and are more knowledgeable about the impact of proper marketing.

"What the local reggae industry does with the music is up to us. We will always have the authentic thing. No one can take that from us, but we need to do more leading and less following," he said. "As the creators of this music, we had a strong grip on it, but we let that go when we started to follow others, and this left a yearning in the international market for the real thing. That gap was ultimately filled by emerging non-Jamaican acts who realised the long-term benefits of a career in the industry."

Forbes said that if Jamaica is to regain its place at the pinnacle of the reggae industry, local acts must begin to see the bigger picture. "Many of our local acts lack vision," Forbes said. "All they think about is making a quick dollar when they should be focused on making music that will last generations and let the finances sort themselves out."

Music industry veteran Neil Robertson has helped to establish the international careers of several entertainers, including Beenie Man, Luciano, Sizzla, and, more recently Rootz Underground and Jesse Royal. Robertson said that the Billboard finding doesn't necessarily mean that Jamaica has lost, or is losing, its grip on reggae music, but he believes young entertainers should focus on establishing a brand rather than on sales.

Era of streaming

"The reality is that the era of selling music is over. We are in a streaming era. I see many in the media focusing on who's not selling. No one is selling. Today, you need a good publisher, agent, public relations, and good partners. Artistes need to think about developing a brand," Robertson said.

Robertson was not surprised by Billboard's findings. He referred to the non-Jamaican acts that made the list as brands, stating that they had mastered marketing and approached the industry more seriously. "I'm not surprised. Alternative reggae bands are consistently touring in the USA," he said. "I would estimate that more than 30 per cent of SOJA, Rebelution, The Green, Iration, and Tribal Seeds' sales are made from live shows. These bands approach selling merchandise (CDs, T-shirts, lighters) seriously. These bands also invest in buying Facebook ads to promote their dates."

Further, Robertson said touring could be the answer to Jamaica's reggae shortcomings. "Some of our leading young artistes/bands need to go out across America together," he explained. "We can't rebuild the USA touring market without going coast to coast in the USA. We will make less money doing this, but the alternative to not making that sacrifice is losing the next generation of American reggae fans. In the USA, right now, the young fans, when they think of reggae, it's SOJA, Slightly Stoopid, The Green, Rebelution, and so on," Roberston said.

Listing Jesse Royal, Chronixx, No-Maddz, Bambaata Marley, Jah9, Raging Fyah, Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid, Romain Virgo, Busy Signal, and Konshens as a few of the artistes who can help Jamaica regain its place at the top of reggae, Robertson said time would be the master of all things.

"It takes time to build a career. You have to go through the progression," he said. "Going from 400-capacity venues to 1,000, then making that next move to 3,000-capacity venues will take time. When I met SOJA and Rebelution years ago, they were playing for 200 people. So be patient. The momentum for our young artistes is building."

shereita.grizzle@gleanerjm.com