SOJA Reggae Grammy win a wake-up call for the industry – stakeholders
Group reps ‘American reggae’
It was inevitable one day that a foreign, white reggae group would win the Grammy in the reggae category, whether or not Jamaicans know who they are. That’s the sentiment of producer Sean ‘Contractor’ Edwards following last Sunday’s shock revelation that an all-white, American group won the Grammy for Best Reggae Album for the first time ever.
Virginia-based reggae group SOJA walked away with the coveted award for their album Beauty in the Silence. Other nominees in the category were Queen of Dancehall Spice, who received a nod for her debut album 10; Etana for Pamoja; Sean Paul for the album Live N Livin; Gramps Morgan for Positive Vibration, and Jesse Royal for Royal.
Edwards had been betting on Sean Paul, who he said had the greatest name recognition and “had a slight edge with the voters”.
“But there has been a big shift in the reggae music business, and this is the result,” Edwards opined.
Holding on to a Grammy gong, a jubilant SOJA had an interesting post-win interview on the red carpet.
“We’re representing American reggae. We got it. Shout out to the pioneers, Jamaican artistes, and everybody that came before us ... British artistes and African artistes. America is one of the last in the game with this whole reggae thing, so for us it was pretty cool.”
SOJA told the female interviewer that they are from Washington, to which she responded, “DC is known for reggae.”
“Yes, it’s called Little Ehtiopia,” SOJA added.
By Monday morning, SOJA’s album had raced to the top of the iTunes Reggae Albums Chart.
Edwards noted that SOJA has been making good, authentic reggae music, and it is the third time that they have been nominated.
“It was bound to happen. And they did it without a hit song. UB40 had a hit song, Red Red Wine, when they were nominated, and they still didn’t win because they were up against giants in reggae. It is a big wake-up call for us in the reggae music industry,” Edwards said.
He feels that the type of music coming out of Jamaica and the subject matter are “not relatable” to the American audience. “Even the reggae Rasta artistes ... they cannot keep singing about the same Haile Selassie and the same concept. It is so outdated. They are singing about Babylon and the rich man and when they get rich they do the same things and enjoy the fruits of their labour. SOJA ... they deserve it. It is what it is,” Edwards stated with a hint of despondence.
Boswell ‘Stampede’ Lammie, creator of the popular Stampede Street Charts and a man with his musical ears to the ground, agreed with Edwards that a SOJA Reggae Grammy win is a wake-up call for the Jamaican music industry.
Stampede questioned, “Where the reggae producer dem gone? Dem run off the battlefield? Sometimes me can’t even find reggae songs to put on my chart. This is a wake-up call. Too much artiste want ‘chop di line’ and ignore reggae music. What are we going to do to bring back the music?”
Michelle Williams, regional director, Caribbean and Latin America for VP Records, made an appeal for more support for the music from within and also properly chastised the Recording Academy for deliberately ignoring the creators and artiste who “rightfully earn awards”.
“It is time for the industry to stop fighting each other and turn our energies into winning back our music,” she said. “Billboard placed our chart on the backburner. They can say it’s not true all they want. Now is the time for all Caribbean music creators and artistes to register and vote for Caribbean music. You have power. Let’s unite and fight for our well-deserved success.”
VP Records is the label on whose Spice’s Grammy-nominated 10 was released.
Over on social media, a blame game conversation played out among Jamaicans who are hopping mad at the results. Producer Skatta Burrell noted that “Jamaicans are upset that an all-white, American group has just won Best Reggae Album when we ourselves don’t even cherish reggae music enough to ensure that it remains relevant among the youths of our nation. We are doomed as a nation because we don’t value the very things that make us great.”
In response, Kingston Therapist stated, “Much respect but I really don’t see this as about JA not respecting its creatives. It’s more about the age-old issues of where power lies, so even the inventors of a genre can’t even get the awards. Ah feel it.”
Founded in 1997, SOJA has been touring for 25 years.