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Reggae, dancehall music ... what went wrong?

Published:Sunday | February 1, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Bob Marley still leading the way

Cecelia Campbell-Livingston, Gleaner Writer

Last year, it was disappointing news for Jamaica's reggae/dancehall music industry as the billboard reported weak sales for the local artistes.

That was not always the case. Music coming out of the island was once vibrant, coveted and enjoyed good performance on the market.

In this the second of a three-part series, The Sunday Gleaner explores what has gone wrong.

What has gone wrong?

A lot has been said regarding the lacklustre sales reggae music has been enjoying. Prior to writing this article, we checked out the Billboard Reggae Album chart. In the number one slot is Rebelution's Count Me In, followed by Amid The Noise and Haste by SOJA - two non-Jamaican groups.

A stroll over to the iTunes Top 100 Chart is more telling, as in the Top 10 positions are five songs from Bob Marley recorded in the 1970s.

What exactly has gone wrong with the music being produced of late?

The Sunday Gleaner turns to music consultant Clyde McKenzie for answers.

"Ironically, we have had some serious challenges for our artistes, which is due to the success of our music. I am one who has felt that Jamaican music has become too successful, that it has spawn foreign exponents who have been able to give authentic renditions of what we do," he said.

According to McKenzie, the fact that many of Jamaica's artistes are now facing travel restrictions of one sort or another, added to the fact that they are pricing themselves out of the market, are prime components working against the viability of music originating out of Jamaica.

For the music consultant, all is not lost, however, as there are some Jamaican acts still enjoying immense popularity, "whether it be the new wave exponents like Chronixx, Jah9, Protoje and Jesse Royal, or the incarcerated Vybz Kartel".

Commenting on Bob Marley's success from the grave, McKenzie described it as Marley being "a wonder of nature".


For him, Marley is in a class by himself and he was the right man in the right place at the right time.

"Everything in his life, and some would say his death, is perfect timing. Bob would have been 70 this year, yet the child just born can relate to him. After all, there is no image of an old Bob Marley. No one has a memory of him that is not fresh and vital. This, ironically, is a contributor to his immense appeal."

When all is said and done, the sales figures are just not adding up. McKenzie stayed away from making "intergenerational comparisons", as he says it is counterproductive. "We have been fortunate in that we from a small island nation have been able to create international genres with international appeal. This is truly remarkable when you consider that people like Marley and his contemporaries came from the margins of a society which, internationally, has been on the periphery. The protest music which that generation produced was fitting for the times of social upheaval. The music of Marley, Tosh and Wailer inspired liberation struggles around the globe."


With European artistes enjoying more shows on the reggae festival circuit, McKenzie, says it all boils down to their being more affordable.

"If I am a European promoter and I have to choose between home-grown acts and those from places like Jamaica, I would be inclined to choose the former (all things being equal) simply based on costs. Flying an artiste with an entourage from Jamaica can incur monumental costs," he reasoned.

Among the pitfalls putting a dent in artistes' music sales and work are artistes who are now deemed "homophophic" in places that were accommodating in the past.

"I think many of our artistes have become aware of this challenge and are making fewer pronouncements on the matter."

In conclusion, McKenzie says the artistes are not necessarily crippling themselves, but they will now have to have a better understanding of their markets.

"They will have to understand what is and what isn't acceptable in some markets."

See our look at 'The Way Forward' in next Sunday's edition.