The recently published newspaper articles that disclosed the dramatic decline in sales of Reggae and Dancehall music CDs in North America have sent some shock waves through the Jamaican music fraternity. Comments and responses following these publications have reflected a range of emotions – from serious cause for concern, to no surprise. I do think there is definitely need for deeper and more critical analysis of the situation.
I think the articles failed to point out that all music genres suffered from dramatic reductions in CD sales in 2009, which is a mere reflection of the trend in recent years, as the music industry transforms itself from one based on the sale of physical products to one based on digital delivery of music via downloads, ringtones and online streaming. One of the questions we should ask is whether the local and international Reggae music communities are doing enough to make the necessary adjustment to the new delivery mechanisms to offset the inevitable demise of the CD format.
The second issue we should confront is whether or not the Reggae and Dancehall music genres are losing their global market appeal. Reggae music has built a massive level of global respect over many decades due primarily to the work of artists who project images and messages of unity, peace, justice and “ONE LOVE”. While Bob Marley spoke about “Bombing a Church” and Peter Tosh said “I am coming in hot firing shot shot shot” there is no doubt with regard to the intent and purpose of their messages advocating love and unity, and their stance against injustice and discrimination.
In recent years the Jamaican media and many younger Reggae and Dancehall fans have propelled a slew of artists and recordings into so called “star” status, with musical works based on lyrics advocating violence, murder, tribalism and the pursuit of material gain by any means necessary. In a world where the majority of people still wants peace and unity, and reject violence and murder, where gays now advocate for rights, and where urban gangs and black-on-black crime has grown to epidemic proportions, is there the possibility that there is a rejection of the current perception of Jamaica and Jamaican music?
I think a serious study needs to be done sooner than later to ascertain the views of global music fans regarding the quality of Reggae and Dancehall music today. My own personal experience from conversations with persons in many countries around the world is that a lot of Reggae and Dancehall fans are disappointed and turned off. We can’t afford to continue to listen only to the self-serving views of the artists and media persons who benefit financially from the promotion of war, tribalism, murder, violence and the pursuit of material gain through music.