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They are not ‘Govament artiste’

Published:Wednesday | August 12, 2015 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke

THERE IS a very cruel, cynical saying among some of those who bring children into the world with no intention of providing for them financially (which means that these parents have no plans of taking care of their offspring's emotional or any other needs). "Govament wi min' dem," they say.

I wonder at times if there is a similar attitude, unspoken but very much present, among the families of many popular singers and deejays who have passed on. Or if it is a matter that the families are fragmented and cannot unite around even the cause of maintaining the potentially lucrative legacies of their famed member. Or it could be that they are ill-equipped to do the necessary legwork of public relations and event organisation and do no trust other persons sufficiently to seek out or accept their offers of help.

As much as I speculate, I am saddened every time the birth or death day of a popular entertainer comes around and passes with little or no mention of their contribution to Jamaica's popular culture. And with the inevitable increase as time goes by, the situation gets worse, a valuable part of Jamaica's creative treasure trove simply withering away.

There are those instances that give me hope. In mid-July not only was a mural of Gregory Isaacs (died October 25, 2010) unveiled at the corner of Orange and Charles streets in Kingston, but the Cool Water Spring Water was also officially launched. The latter takes its tag line from Night Nurse, "only you alone can quench dis ya thirst." There have also been the consistent efforts to host a memorial dance for Lincoln 'Sugar' Minott (died July 10, 2010) at Youthman Promotion headquarters, a grass-roots movement typical of the man's spirited approach to developing talent.

The Peter Tosh (died September 11, 1987) birthday celebrations in Belmont, Westmoreland, seem to be maintaining a presence, the support of radio station IRIE FM helping immensely to give a national profile through live broadcast. And let us not forget the annual Tribute to Peter Tosh in Westmoreland that was organised by Worrell King of King of Kings Promotions.

But what about the events and efforts that have faded totally or sputtered woefully? I attended one Garnet Silk (died December 9, 1994) tribute concert in St Elizabeth somewhere in the early 2000s and there were others, but those have stopped (or I just have not heard bout them). I attended the Dennis Brown (died July 1, 1999) concerts along Orange Street and then on the Waterfront around his February 1 birthday.

It was a great way to start Reggae Month, but that seems to have gone belly up.

Then there are those for whom I have not seen significant celebration of their lives. And I do not know it all, so my profuse apologies if I err. Also in February are Wayne 'Sleng Teng' Smith (died February 17, 2014), who was an integral part of the digital switchover in Jamaican popular music, no matter which way the story is told. William 'Bunny Rugs' Clarke (died February 2, 2014) was a superb voice. Joseph 'Culture' Hill (died August 19, 2006) was not only a distinctive singer, but also a larger than life personality.

John Holt's first birthday (July 11) since he died has already passed without much fanfare; let us hope that when the death date (October 19) comes around we will have a significant marker.

The list could go on and on, from Skatalites members (the Jah Jerry Foundation must be recognised here) to deejays like Early B and singers such as Tenor Saw, Jacob Miller and Brent Dowe.

I single out the performers because publicity is so important to keeping their work in the public eye and monetising their catalogues. It is not only a matter of respect and an ongoing presentation of their work to successive generations, but also generating money for their families or whatever cause they supported in their lifetimes.

And while their output has doubtless contributed to the national good, helping to carve Brand Jamaica indelibly into the international psyche, they are not 'Govament artiste'. It is not the responsibility of the Jamaican Government, formed by whatever 'P', to ensure that the performers' images and music endure after they pass on.

They engaged in personal pursuits which had a collateral benefit for the country. Sure, a National Honour helps and has been bestowed in a couple cases, but the celebration and promotion of a catalogue is the responsibility of the family.

Ironically, it does not take as much effort now as it used to. A well-organised website can do wonders and, with some Internet marketing savvy, is sure to gain some traction for the performer's beneficiaries.

In July 2010, the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates (JAVAA) placed plaques of the first inductees into its Jamaica Music Hall of Fame in the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre. Included in the batch were Alpha Boys' School, Louise Bennett Coverley, Clement Dodd, Vere Johns, Olive Lewin, Derrick Morgan, Ernest Ranglin, Arthur Reid, The Skatalites, Norman Thomas, The Wailers and Oswald Williams.

During the ceremony, JAVAA Chairman Frankie Campbell thanked in advance "the government, which will be helping us financially", as the organisation moved towards establishing a dedicated space for the Hall of Fame. It is a noble objective, but I would not count on the Government support.

Neither, if I was a relative of one of those inducted into the Hall of Fame or given an award by the Government during October or the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) in February, plan on anything tangible. It is not their responsibility.

A good example is the Marley family. If they had waited on other persons or entities to enshrine Bob's work, he would have gone the way of so many others. At the core of his iconisation worldwide is a dedicated, ongoing family effort to keep his work going. That is why Barack Obama can visit 56 Hope Road in 2015 and say that he has all the albums.

No one is recommending that the families of deceased Jamaican entertainers operate on the level of the Marleys. But, at a scaled-down level, the preservation and monetisation of dead Jamaican entertainers' images and catalogues is possible and profitable.

But they are not 'Govament artiste'.