21 August 2018
Most reggae fans have an opinion on the state of the reggae industry. But the final session in the 12th Rototom Reggae University afforded attendees the opportunity to hear it discussed by the experts.
Returning for the second time as a guest was super producer Augustus “Gussie” Clarke – whose success in the reggae and dancehall eras gave him a unique vantage point. Also invited were fellow Jamaican industry insiders: booker and publicist Jerome Hamilton of Headline Entertainment, UWI academic Sonja Stanley Niaah and Billboard journalist Patricia Meschino. The panel was led by Ellen Koehlings and Pete Lilly, editors of Germany’s Riddim magazine, and author David Katz.
Mr Clarke put his international reach as an independent producer down to his intent “to make music different and more cutting edge than the norm.” This meant sourcing the best songwriters, arrangers, vocal coaches and engineers.
The modest, soft-spoken Hamilton, a graduate who learned his business at the original Jamaican Reggae Sunsplash, said that lately the Jamaican brand had not grown. He believed Sean Paul’s success was based on the team of specialists around him. By contrast, most artists from humble backgrounds thought they didn’t need a manager. “The talent is there but the people behind the talent are not”.
Meschino recalled that when she began writing during the 90s there was unprecedented major label interest in Jamaican talent. However, it yielded little financial reward and exposed Jamaican culture to savvier foreign artists who used it to their advantage.
Stanley Niaah felt Jamaica should celebrate its successes: citing reggae artists overcoming prejudice from island society over the decades. She added that Jamaica was one of the top three major music exporters alongside the US and UK – with a 3 million person population.
Hamilton said that although the African, European and American markets were open, the Jamaican product was not as good as it could be. This he blamed on “a lack of appreciation of repeat value”. Artists would get future work based on how they present on and off stage. Gussie agreed and said artists were making albums before they had voiced a hit single. “If Bob Marley is selling more than the rest put together, then something back then is right and something now is wrong”.
Meschino countered that “the Marley estate has teams working full time to sell Bob to you. The average artist doesn’t have that resource”. She said that when reggae labels or PR companies sign so many artists with only a skeleton staff, great records fall through the cracks.
The topic shifted to the positive examples of artists such as Protoje and Chronixx. Hamilton stressed Chronnix’ clear vision and willingness to create partnerships. Gussie added that it was about “Career first not money. Today Chronixx invests in himself so tomorrow can happen”. He said too many artists were asking for quick money upfront.
An audience member asked a question reviving a subject touched on by Meschino: the lack of female representation in reggae. Gussie believed it was about low numbers of Jamaican female artists rather than lack of opportunity. Hamilton said he always aimed for a more balanced male-to-female booking ratio and hoped the situation would improve in future.
Prior to the talk, the University held a well-attended screening of Julie Hamiti’s documentary I&I. It was a holistic look at Rastafari around the French and English-speaking diaspora that drew enthusiastic applause.