In recent weeks I have noticed a significant increase in commentaries and discussions on the Internet and in the local media which raise concern for the growing negative global image of Reggae, Dancehall and the Jamaican brand. One friend and associate of mine who is very well connected in international music business circles has suggested that it is time for a major international Reggae and Dancehall summit to explore possible solutions to save the image of our music and our nation from further decline.
Jamaica has been blessed with many very talented and creative recording artists, songwriters and music producers. The list is too long to mention them all, and includes many who have worked tirelessly for decades to present to the world a music form that unites people of all races, colours, religions, and sexual persuasions, through a message of love and peace, while at the same time bringing focus to the social and political injustices faced by many, including our brothers and sisters in Africa. Thanks to the efforts of these “Reggae Ambassadors”, Jamaica and Jamaican lifestyle and culture have been embraced by many non-Jamaicans around the world.
Despite these accomplishments, and the obvious importance of local music to national development, many argue that not enough has been done to nurture and guide new talent, or to provide appropriate infrastructure for sustained and structured development of Jamaica’s music industry. In my view we have allowed the business of music in Jamaica to continue for too long as a “anything goes” and “dog eat dog” hustle of un-professionals trying to “eat a food” as they say. In this scenario almost everyone and anyone is encouraged and/or allowed to become an artist, promoter or producer of music whether or not they are qualified to do so.
The neglect and disrespect for the career development needs of Jamaican music business practitioners have led to a very strong resentment of the “powers that be” by most local music industry participants. This resentment and the “anything goes” approach have contributed to the production and promotion of music with very negative and anti-social lyrical content. Many mis-guided youths have also entered the industry as they view it as an avenue to get rich quick, by any means necessary, including selling messages that promote violence and crime and the degrading of our women.
The recent attempts at labeling Reggae and Dancehall as “Hate Music” and to stereotype all Jamaican recording artists as promoters of hate, is however, not only unwarranted, but should be rebutted. Those of us who know better and are in a position to make a difference now have a responsibility to bring more focus and attention to those artists who dedicate themselves to producing and performing the type of music that has allowed Reggae and Jamaica to enjoy the love, respect, and admiration of music lovers the world over. In this regard I would like to publicly once again commend Ibo Cooper for the sterling job he is doing with young musicians at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. His training initiatives and those of the entire staff and administration of the school deserve much more support if we want to reverse the negative trends in our music and society.