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Leisure industry holds great potential for Jamaica

Published:Sunday | March 18, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Julian Reynolds, Contributor

A major fault line in the Jamaican psyche is class and racial prejudice. It permeates the Jamaican society, retarding its progress. We know from whence it came. Its ill-effects being experienced today can be traced back to slavery and colo-nialism: Those with lighter skin got more privileges as offspring from 'backra massa'.

Prejudice is not unique to Jamaica, but what makes Jamaica stand out is the clear distinction of wealth concentrated among a relatively small number in a class that is light-skinned, better educated, and in control through ownership and management, of the productive means; factories, businesses, banks, and so on. Meanwhile, labour, small and micro businesses are concentrated among the dark-skinned citizens, with little or no access to capital, land and other tangible assets, and limited access to higher education until quite recently.

However, the creative energies run more abundantly among the large numbers of dark-skinned people who make up some 90 per cent of the population. The music which emerged from the black masses of the Jamaican populace was borne out of the meshing of the rural peasantry migrating in large numbers to the city, and from which evolved an urban culture much influenced by immigrants to and from distant shores. And even within this milieu, there was a further distinction, more generational than race or class.

In my Sunday Gleaner column of February 19, I mentioned the three pillars that should serve as a strategic plan to grow the Jamaican economy: food, fun and sun. In that article, food was the focus. Today, we examine the fun.

Fun is what some economists and business writers refer to as the leisure industry. It covers music, film and television, concerts, amusement parks, tourism, sports, fashion, gambling, and so on.

For Jamaica, tourism is the first segment of the leisure industry to establish as a major revenue generator and employer. Starting around 1950, the Jamaican tourism product became a serious industry for Jamaica. Only those with assets, land and access to financing could participate in its ownership. It employed thousands of workers drawn from the working class and peasantry.

Jamaicans from all classes have accepted tourism as a prized part of the Jamaican experience. The industry has not only survived but strived, bringing in approximately US$2 billion last year from almost two million visitors and one million cruise ship passengers.

Over the past 35 years, and with the emergence of Bob Marley and the Wailers, the music element of the leisure industry has established itself as a significant revenue earner, employer, and tourism booster for the Jamaican economy. It is current practice to lump Jamaican music output in the 'creative industries' and 'intellectual property', the main purpose being to valuate it through copyright earnings.


Dr Vanus James, economist, researcher and author of The Economic Contribution of Copyright-Based Industries in Jamaica, published August 2007, stated: "Copyright-based industries, including press, music and theatrical productions, generated about J$29 billion in producers' value at constant (1996 prices) to the Jamaican economy, or 4.8 per cent of gross domestic product." He estimated that in 2005, income from the manufacture of audio and video records and other recorded or taped music hit J$31 million.

More recent assessments have pointed to the significant and growing contribution Jamaican music is making to the country's GDP and employment. Several studies and data put out by academics such as Dr Michael Witter of the University of the West Indies, in Music and the Jamaica Economy; and Trench Town Rock: The Creation of Jamaica's Music Industry by John McMillan of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, speak to this.

A highlight to the UNDP and UNCTAD Creative Economy Report 2010 states:

"A new development paradigm is emerging that links the economy and culture, embracing economic, cultural, technological and social aspects of development at both the macro and micro levels. Central to the new paradigm is the fact that creativity, knowledge and access to information are increasingly recognised as powerful engines driving economic growth and promoting development in a globalising world.

"The emerging creative economy has become a leading component of economic growth, employment, trade and innovation, and social cohesion in most advanced economies. Unfortunately, how-ever, the large majority of developing countries are not yet able to harness their creative capacity for development. This is a reflection of weaknesses both in domestic policy and in the business environment, and global systemic biases. Nevertheless, the creative economy offers to developing countries a feasible option and new opportunities to leapfrog into emerging high-growth areas of the world economy". Jamaica is one of the countries identified in the report for reggae music.

What has held back Jamaica, however, for the 50 years since its Independence from Great Britain is its failure to suppress classism and racism for nation building: a closer working together of the 'brown man' with the money with the 'black man' with the creative output, for building a common Jamaica. Jamaica failed to back creativity with finance. Hence efforts like Synergy-Ronnie Burke, Don Green, Tony Johnson, and John Wakeling, producing Reggae Sunsplash for 19 years, taking it to the USA and Japan without any financial participation by corporate Jamaica, or government willingness to facilitate growth in the entertainment industry.

In the United States, also plagued with race and class prejudices, you have major corporate white-owned entities like Atlantic Records, Columbia Records, Universal Records, MCA Records, Warner Brothers Records making distribution and co-production deals with black-owned companies such as Philadelphia International, Stax, Motown, Uptown Entertainment, Bad Boy Records, Def Jam, and Roc-A-Fella Records, and black-owned entertainment entities receiving corporate sponsorships from companies such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Anheuser-Busch, because more money could be earned from such relationships. This was unheard of in Jamaica until very recently, and is still very minimal and selective.

Jamaica's music industry was given birth to by black men: Arthur 'Duke' Reid, Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd, Vincent 'King' Edwards, Cecil 'Prince Buster' Campbell, Headley Jones, Jack Taylor, Leroy Riley, Roy White, and of Indian extract like 'Dada' Tewari, Leslie Kong and Byron Lee of Chinese ethnicity, Stanley Motta, Ken Khouri, Edward Seaga, Graeme Goodall, and Chris Blackwell of white, and Arab ancestry. However, the overwhelming majority of the creative input came from those of full African ancestry, poor and with limited education.

And it wasn't an easy or very accepting path for music's evolution. In the mid-1960s, it was a small number of us, namely urban youths, who were 'bigging up local music'. When the Wailers broke on to the scene in 1964, it was youths led by David 'Jah D' McGrath from Wolmer's Boys' School, Mickey Mowatt, Garth White, and Jerry Small from Jamaica College, Earl Belcher from Excelsior High, and Danny Morrison and Mickey Shaw from Kingston College who heralded the Wailers as exceptional talent.


My friend, Orville 'Villus' Tyson, was fanatical about 'the Wailing Wailers', and would often visit the dance sessions at the leading discos of the day, challenging them to play Wailers music, because it wasn't fashionable for them to do so. The Wailers fans were labelled rebels, Rastas, and rude boys. And even among them it took several listenings to capture the lyrical nuances and melodic and harmonic brilliance of Wailers music.

In 1968 when I decided to dedicate much of my writings to Jamaican music and entertainers, there was very little journalism focusing on what was commonly described as 'local music'. Initially the editors gave me free rein writing in THE STAR, tagged the 'People's Paper', read largely by the urban masses. In 1969, I was given the Merry-Go-Round column in The Gleaner to write on the Jamaican entertainment scene. Prior to that, the column featured cultural happenings geared to the Jamaican middle class.

Recently, I came across an article I wrote in THE WEEKEND STAR on May 25, 1973 from New York titled 'A waste of youthful talent' in which I compared Bob Marley and the Wailers music to that of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, and lamented the treatment by the decision makers to the talent of young people like Bob Marley, Allan 'Skill' Cole, a football prodigy, Howard 'Juicy' Bell, a footballer, and Douglas Guthrie, a saxophonist. I wrote: "... Jamaica, from its colonial past, has lingered on the belief that sports and entertainment are part-time occupations, and not real work, requiring little or no skill or training."

Not much has changed in the approach to the revenue-growing potential of aspects of the leisure industry that emerges from the working class. To have positive change, decision makers in and out of government must show more regard to the ideas, suggestions and plans coming from the inner-city and rural poor. Accept that projects to advance the economy do not necessarily have to be articulated by someone brown, with a college degree, or with a 'bag of money'.

Julian 'Jingles' Reynolds has operated in the US and Jamaica as a writer, filmmaker and entrepreneur for over four decades. Email feedback to and