Editorial: Long Live Reggae Music And Hopefully In Jamaica

Monday, January 24, 2011

 By Sherman Escoffery 
originally printed in Jamaica Observer/reprinted with permission from author Sherman Escoffery .

So we have ended another year where naysayers of Reggae music are shouting louder, "Reggae music is dead!" I am not one of them. Jamaica has, however, become irrelevant in promoting, breaking, and to a lesser extent, producing hit Reggae music.

The biggest reggae song for 2010, Hold You by Gyptian, was produced by Brooklyn-born multi-hit producer Ricky Blaze. Back in Jamaica, the musical production of our current multi-platinum Reggae act crashed.

It seems that reggae music production in Jamaica has become a business of the blind leading the blind in a dark locker room. No one has the common sense to just turn on the lights, as the electricity is still connected. In the stadium, however, the game that we created is still being played without us, and whenever someone else scores we get angry and spew venom of hatred like what is now being directed at French producer Bob Sinclar.

Here it is that a French House music DJ and producer has the love and respect for Reggae music to come to Jamaica, spend his own money and enlist the services of the best set of Jamaican musicians. He enlisted Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Robbie Lyn, Mikey Chung, Sticky Thompson, Nambo Robinson and Dean Fraser. He recruited artistes such as Shaggy, Queen Ifrica, Gary Pine and Steve Edwards. Bob Sinclar took his project to the world-famous Anchor Recording Studio in Jamaica, and with vision and direction he produced a perfect work of art called Made in Jamaica. His reward has been good sales and a Grammy nomination in the reggae category with the potential to also win. He has taken Reggae music which we have thrown away like old tarnished brass, and polished it up to show us the gold that still exists in Jamaica.

We have to start addressing Jamaican radio and start calling out program directors who allow all the hype noise to make it unto the airwaves. Everyone is trying to be hip and play to the perceived market, but it is really a quick race to the bottom. The question is, who will have the guts and common sense to hit the brakes and then change course? The simple fact is that there is absolutely no hit song being broken in Jamaica because there is no longer any structure in place to set up and chart good music. The artistes and producers think that they are keeping up, but are really killing their own music before it can breathe by just piling releases upon releases. All the artistes are focused on becoming Stulla Stars but want Jay-Z success without a plan, a management team or an international single. How?

In 2010 we saw the American release of Duane Stephenson's sophomore album Black Gold and the singer's compilation Strictly the Best #42, two albums that proved that great music is still being made in Jamaica despite the overwhelming buffoonery and degradation that passes for entertainment down here. We ignored good songs and productions like Queen Ifrica's Times like These and Natel's Miles Away, in favour of minstrel music from the likes of Mr G and Tanto Blacks. We heard artistes who shrieked like their limbs were being amputated without painkillers, accepted as singers; and veteran singers and producers, who should have known better, followed their lead instead of tutoring those off-key voices. Auto Tune became the mistaken standard by which Jamaican singers and even DJs felt they could achieve international success with even the Legendary Third World Band following the deaf and covering their own song 96 Degrees in The Shade using auto tune.

The upside of 2010 is that we saw several artistes and future reggae soldiers, including Protoje, Stevie Face and Keida, force their way unto the local music scene and declare their presence over the hype. Artistes, including Cherine Anderson, Duane Stephenson, Etana and Gyptian, continued to make significant inroads internationally, carrying the Jamaican banner proudly without local media or ground support in Jamaica. We heard the return of several good music producers, including Grammy music-winning producers Jeremy Harding and Tony Kelly back on to the local music scene with several excellent songs. Reggae patrons turned their backs on overpriced, degrading and lewd minstrel stage shows from Jamaica to New York, sending a clear message to promoters, "Give us quality music or suffer the financial loss." The Broadcasting Commission in Jamaica is making positive moves in trying to make payola illegal and finally pushing to clean up public broadcasting airwaves with common sense rules, albeit a bit late, but better late than never.

Beginning this year, I hope that the Jamaican program directors, in partnership with the various local music organizations, can now come together to figure out a way to format the music that is played on various stations. A system has to be developed to select and chart local music so that they can get the proper long-term exposure that is needed so that the music can be recognized. Hopefully, this will help Jamaican music regain its wings to fly out of Jamaica and regain our position as producers and performers of the best Reggae music.

Sherman Escoffery is a music consultant, music producer and host of Jamaican MRI (Musical Reasoning Interactive) on E2onair.com 


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