Below is the second of a two part report/ commentary on the state of the local Reggae and Dancehall music industries vis-a-vis what I regard as the ‘take over’ of these two Janmaican brands by others within the Reggae/ Dancehall Diaspora. The first post received interesting feedback.
In this entry, I hope to generate a discussion around likely solutions for addressing what I perceive as a serious decline, from Jamaica’s standpoint. Neither articles are intended to be either anti-American/ European or anti-gay.
On the contrary, they are aimed at building bridges and increasing awareness about this issue across the spectrum of the Reggae/ Dancehall universe. Your feedback is always welcomed.
Red, Green and Gold/ Green, Yellow and Red
Summer Jam 2010 utilized various aspects of Jamaican culture to promote itself. These included anything from the colours, foods and music. From the inverted ‘red, green and gold’ of traditional Rastafari – SummerJam used green, yellow and red, in that order, to the bamboo styled ‘Press Area’, in which all refreshments were sold, to the sale of pieces of coconut, kept fresh in a permanent supply of coconut water, ‘Jamaican culture’ was well represented in Germany.
The food was somewhat reminiscent of local cuisine. Supplied by a Jamaican who has lived in Germany for thirty years, Koala Mini Catering had an abundant supply of jerk sauces, curries and even elements of the national dish – Ackee, but without the requisite Salt Fish. George Llewelyn whipped up several ‘Jamaican’ specialties. Minus the lamb from the very popular curry stew, or even that there was meat available in a major food spot in a Rastafarian themed event and you could have imagined you were slumming it ‘island style’ in Germany.
Asked about the representation of Jamaican culture at the event, one patron, a university educated, second generation Jamaican living in Britain felt the issue was merely a question of entertainment. In his view, whether Jamaicans see a need to be at an event like SummerJam was entirely up to them. He soon disappeared into the packed auditorium, after a passionate defense of his point, refusing to engage further in the discussion.
Jamaican Diaspora in Europe
However, Jamaica-German transplant and soon-to-be minted Ph. D. Marlene Calvin, a Diasporic Studies expert, feels that festivals like SummerJam afford some measure of connection to Jamaican culture, albeit small. Calvin admits that she is conflicted about how SummerJam and other European festivals appropriate Jamaican culture. However, she says it is the only means of connection which she has in this section of the Diaspora.
In Calvin’s view, the state needs to do more outreach to Jamaicans in Europe, in particular those as far north as Germany. She is sympathetic towards those Jamaicans who feel no conflict over the trade and consumption of their culture, out of context, especially in foreign spaces like Europe.
Calvin maintains that is part of the experience of being a migrant in a foreign land. Children grow up without the same sense of bonding their parents feel towards their homeland. According to her, sometimes they see it as a shackle, holding them back from being part of the mainstream home society.
Calvin believes they are effectively, ‘Black Europeans’ who also aid in the appropriation of Caribbean culture in their new home spaces. For some, this is their (only) connection, however limited to their parents’ cultures and societies.
The three day Reggae festival also had a mix of Dancehall thrown in for good measure. Even the performance of Trinidadian Soca star and Road March King Machel Montano proved just how closely SummerJam patterned itself off indigenous Jamaican Dancehall with its penchant for fusing various forms of popular music.
Montano, who performed on the smaller of the two stages – the ‘Green Stage’ on Sunday, rocked the house. The first Soca artistes and, possibly, first Trinidadian performer to set foot on a German Reggae stage, Montano had patrons flying the red, black and white of his country’s national flag.
Asked what explained the flag waving and continuous cheering and dancing, even to the slower Reggae ballads included in Montano’s repertoire, Pete Lilly of Riddim Magazine said, ‘well, they do not really understand what he is saying.’
Still, the sight of Germans attempting to ‘take a wine’ and ‘tip behind the truck’, while funny in some respects, resurrected the old concerns about Caribbean languages and how those are understood by Europeans and the rest of the western world. This is especially regarding the continued insistence of the hatred said to be associated with Dancehall music.
Patois/ Dancehall Translation
According to Lilly, Volker Beck, a member of the Green Party in Germany and an openly gay politician and a chief proponent behind the ban against Jamaican Dancehall and Reggae music in Germany, recently, translated at least one Jamaican Dancehall tune. In Lilly’s estimation this was completely inaccurate, particularly when read by Jamaican linguist and local university lecturer, Dr. Hubert Devonish.
While, the details of the actual translation were not expounded on, what was clear was the obvious double-standard in terms of how charges about a lack of understanding were applied to foreign music. While not a Jamaican language expert, Beck and others claiming to understand Jamaican Patois and its various meanings seem to know enough to institute bans against Dancehall and Reggae artistes, without hesitation.
Ironically, however, the German audience felt not to know much of what Montano said danced continuously to his lyrics just the same. Machel’s reference to national pride was also greeted with thunderous applause when he asked for people from the various Caribbean islands, including Jamaica and Germany to cheer to represent nationalist sentiments.
Hitler/ Xenophobia/ Homophobia
Germans are historically, conflicted over the theme of nationalism, given the intense xenophobia and racism which informed Hitler’s Nazi movement just over two generations before. According to Lilly, Jamaicans artistes have become some of the main victims to this new form of political correctness in Germany, which is ostensibly, aimed at stamping out all forms of hatred in artistic content. This is especially given the country’s history of persecuting homosexuals under Nazism.
Certain groups of musicians are barred from performing and earning in the German and other European Reggae markets, as a result. In the process, hijacking several sections of the local Dancehall and Reggae music industries; creating more than adequate space for foreigners to enter and take over.
According to Austrian academic and member of the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna, Werner Zips, who is a self-described, ‘white, bald head Rasta man’, ‘the offerings of German Reggae artistes are really good. They actually sound like [real] Reggae from about a decade or so, ago.’
The unvoiced portion of Zips’ remarks are, before the blockades, boycotts and bans preoccupied Jamaican artistes, whose attentions have been reoriented towards defending themselves against these attacks. Left with an obvious void, others have stepped in to fill the deficit.
But, if the take over of the Reggae and Dancehall music industries is cause for concern, it appears to have escaped the notice of many on the inside of SummerJam’s organizing team, possibly many inside Europe’s Reggae scene. Journalists were, largely, unable to talk with artistes or even the promoters of the event, given the many boundaries and barriers created in the backstage area.
Personnel in the ‘Press Area’ could not readily enter certain sections of the event, and were actively prevented from doing so by the various numbers of security guards and green suited Polizei on patrol of the grounds, guns clearly displayed. There was no room for misunderstanding; ‘no entry’ meant just that. Otherwise, the consequence could be deadly.
Still, it is important to add that magazines like Riddim have featured Jamaican artistes who have been banned in Germany, as well as have suffered their fair share of homophobic smear because of it. What is doubtful, however, is whether that by itself is sufficient to build consensus across the range of the Reggae continuum in Europe, in terms of critiquing the bans against Jamaican artistes in the industry.
According to Lilly, Gentleman, himself, has also acknowledged the power of race and nationality in affording him passage through the turbulent international waters in which Jamaican Reggae and Dancehall music have found themselves. While, not fixating on race as the only cause for concern, Gentleman’s remarks are instructive in focusing attention on some of the critical issues and needed solutions facing the industry, albeit in Jamaica.
Wheel an Come Again! Pull-up!
Jamaican artistes will have to repackage and reposition themselves, or as we say in the local parlance ‘wheel and come again!’ The ‘pull up’ must as an act of necessity involve the merging of the popular and the historical as well as the academic. The classic class tensions which structure much of Jamaica’s internal politics need to be replaced by a greater sense of trust, partnership and communication between the various arms of the society engaged in the production and circulation of local popular music.
Shows like Sumfest, Rebel Salute and East Fest and have a great role to play by using the backdrop of these festivals as a meeting place for ideas. Regular folk should be invited to sit and reason alongside those engaged in academic and social research on popular music. Artistes should be centrally involved in these exchanges of ideas which are necessary for stimulating conversations about appropriate themes for production in their works.
Artistes also need to educate themselves fully beyond just the mere scope of the classroom or even the even the narrow interests of ‘the streets’, notwithstanding that this is a dynamic part of their music. Questions about the law and what it says in terms of the use of provocative language, expletives as well as choice need to be learned and attitudes adjusted to reflect these positions.
The rehabilitation of Jamaica’s public international image as a site of hate and fear, as regards questions of sexual choices need to be corrected urgently. The Government’s role in promoting a distilled position about Jamaican identity is central to this process. They need to say what it means to be Jamaican in clear and simple language. This should be broadcast to visitors and locals and alike and agreements signed by those entering the country to uphold the values of ‘Jamaican-ness’ expounded in such documents.
Government needs to say specifically why Jamaicans feel the way we do about questions of sexual choices, particularly homosexuality. Does this really matter in the overall construction of citizenship here and how does that prevent or promotes one’s access to the state and its resources? That needs to be clearly explained, given Prime Minister Golding’s 2007 announcement on British Broadcasting Corporation’s Television show Hard Talk that gay people are not allowed in his Cabinet.
Addressing the fall-outs from those destructive remarks means that Jamaica needs to show what the Government has done to advance human rights, within the context of sexual freedoms, by passing legislation empowering the protection of such minority groups. The Dancehall and Reggae music industries need to get onboard this bus. By advocating peace and tolerance, regardless of creed religion and politics, they allow their audiences and supporters see that Jamaica is a place of tolerance and brotherhood.
These sentiments, however, need to become more than just words on a paper but must also be incorporated in to attitudes of those engaged in this kind of work. Public partnerships between the music industry and the Ministries of Education and Culture need to be explored as an urgent matter of course in this regard. These should include field trips into studio sites, as well as the dedication of land space and resources to set up of a Reggae/ Dancehall museum exploring the history of the music as well as that of the society and the link between the two.
Jamaica’s history must be foregrounded in the telling of the nation’s history and the construction of the national public identity by which they country should become known. Stories outside of the National Heroes need to be explored and told in relevant and easily understood formats for all to understand Jamaica’s commitment to the goals of democracy and human rights; that is, through the long struggle of African slaves and Indian Indentured labourers for freedom.
These should not be removed from the current context in which the obstacles towards the holistic development of the society are also acknowledged. While not aimed at highlighting crime and violence, these stories should nonetheless inform how the narrative of ‘Jamaican-ness’ is constructed as a means of informing visitors who Jamaicans are and how they seem themselves in relation to others.
Documenting Jamaica’s Role/ Funding
Documentaries outlining and documenting the history of Jamaican music industry should be made available readily digested formats and easily understood portions for a range of audiences. As part of that thrust, the Government needs to make grant funding available for such projects through state and community agencies like Jamaica Trade and Invest (JTI), the Ministry of Culture, as well as the Jamaica Social and Development Fund (JSIF) and the Social Development Commission (SDC).
They should also incorporate programmes at the University of the West Indies (UWI), and the Edna Manley College School of Music into this process. The exploration of the idea of attachments to other schools and media and music training programmes in other parts of the Jamaican musical Diasporas need to also be part of this process. The Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS), as well as the Reggae Studies Unit at the UWI and the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) have a key role to play in this regard.
Dedicated music programmes should be incorporated into public libraries and information made available via the Internet to facilitate students conducting research, as well as those interested in leisure reading. Graduate funding for ongoing research projects should also be explored and be made available for those with such interests.
Students should also be encouraged to see the Reggae and Dancehall music industries as legitimate places in which to gain employment by encouraging their participation. They should be advised, through the provision of scholarships, bursaries and endowment funds attached to the music, more highly skilled and formal training to the sector. Professionals trained in music marketing and promotions, branding as well as research and development should be encouraged to work in the sector.
Media managers and publicity and promotions people involved in the industry also need to conduct more face to face workshops and seminars aimed at facilitating understanding on matters of entertainment and the question of the public’s interest. The Broadcasting Commission should be incorporated into this process, as well as Disc Jockeys.
Issues of ‘Payola’ would, therefore, need to be fully ventilated and updates given as to the state of the legislation aimed at addressing this; in the process, regularizing the industry. Media training for artistes as well as producers is also necessary and vital.
The curtains came down on SummerJam 2010 with a barrage of fireworks in the still bright night. The sun sets in Cologne near eleven o’clock in the night give or take fifteen or so minutes.
However, the unsettling feeling that the work of the international gay lobby, while certainly noble in getting local artistes to change some of their tunes, has also had a devastating impact on Jamaica’s ownership of the music unless the recommendations noted above are addressed. Before long, local artistes will be completely removed from the picture, only able to perform in local circles.
The massive transference of Jamaican culture to foreigners is happening with rapid speed and in a format equivalent to the rise of a new form of imperialism, in which cultural resources are colonized and controlled for the benefit of more powerful elites, resident within the developed west.
The time has clearly come for a game-change. All within the Dancehall and Reggae universes, specifically those in Jamaica are called to immediate action.