Thursday 24 September, 2020

A view from the outside: Jamaica needs more reggae festivals

Rebel Salute patrons react approvingly to one of the performances on the opening night of the 26th staging of the concert . (PHOTO: Marlon Reid)

Rebel Salute patrons react approvingly to one of the performances on the opening night of the 26th staging of the concert . (PHOTO: Marlon Reid)

                                                                  With Karyl Walker

About 15 years ago, former government minister, Delano Franklyn, speaking at the launch of Rebel Salute at the Terra Nova Hotel in St Andrew, revealed that reggae music earns a total of US$4 billion annually and, of that amount, only 0.4 per cent flows back into Jamaica.

It would be interesting to find out how much money reggae music earns on a global level today and exactly how much filters back into the Jamaican economy. The music genre has taken the world by storm and is by far the most popular export product out of Jamaica. It is a real tragedy that, at the moment, we have only two major events that feature our music and attract visitors to the island. Rebel Salute, which is currently underway, and Reggae Sumfest. It is heartening to hear that the owners of the Reggae Sunsplash brand plans to bring that pioneering festival back on track next year.

That fact is, Jamaica has too little reggae festivals, we have consistently dealt ourselves a bad hand and have for decades been failing to collect the pot of the musical profits to be gained from our own creation. Japan, Europe, the United States, among other regions, have outclassed us in that area, and are raking in grip loads of profits while we sit twiddling our thumbs.

It is time that our government, through the Ministries of Culture and Tourism, put in some serious work in this area. Apart from the Grizzly's Plantation Cove in St Ann, there is hardly any other venue of mention to host a major festival in the birthplace of reggae.

It is disheartening to know that Kingston – a city which is arguably the entertainment capital of the world – is bereft of a state of the art indoor entertainment facility which could host large crowds and confine sound so as to keep in line with the Noise Abatement Act. Such a facility would allow visitors and locals alike to jam until the break of dawn and beyond without offending those who must sleep.

The mega hit 'Jammin' by Stevie Wonder was conceptualised after the American superstar visited Jamaica and performed with the Third World band at Reggae Sunsplash. Wonder was amazed that the show went on until way after the break of dawn. That is a feature of most stage shows and the two festivals that are held in Jamaica to this day.

There are too many acres of idle government land for there not to be more facilities that can host reggae festivals and earn valuable foreign exchange for the country, which is deeply in debt and could do well with any effort geared at funneling funds into the economy.

For years, successive governments have paid lip service to the reggae industry and promised to ramp up their support but, to date, little has been done.

Reggae artistes and musicians earn most of their money abroad and return with their foreign exchange to pump into the economy. That money in turn boosts the formal and informal economies on the island. Apart from the token national awards, more can be done to boost the industry which has produced arguably our most famous son, the Honourable Robert Nesta Marley.

Those of us who live abroad know the power and value of reggae, and witness its hypnotic power over those who have not been fed a steady diet of our beloved music.

In fact, Jamaica does not own reggae anymore. The highest paid reggae acts are not Jamaican and those who enjoy the highest record sales are also not Jamaican. It is a sad state of affairs if we cannot even maximise the profits of our own creation.

Jamaica is at a cross roads and must now step up to the plate and claim what is rightfully theirs. It can, and must be done. Our greatest resource is our people and what better way to get them to produce than to make it easier for them to earn from what they enjoy doing?

As the old Jamaican proverb says: Cow never know the use a him tail till him lose it.

That is my view from the outside.

Karyl Walker is a multi-award-winning journalist who has worked for Loop Jamaica, the Jamaica Observer, the RJR Communications Group and Nationwide Radio among other media entities. He now resides in South Florida.

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