Jamaican music suffers a dearth of journalistic coverage

A music studio
A music studio (Photo credit: Pixabay)

Jamaica has been producing recorded music for more than seven decades and over the period (especially since the mid-1960s) much of that music has made its way into the international space, thanks to the likes of Prince Buster, Chris Blackwell, and Desmond Dekker who opened the doors to the British and European markets. Then in the 1970s, the efforts of Marley, Toots, Burning Spear et al, Jamaica’s reggae music snaked its way around the globe, becoming the voice of not just victimized and exploited Jamaicans, but also people in other geographic spheres who had the same shared experiences. At the same time the music has produced successful artistes at different levels, chief among them is of course the great and peerless Robert Nesta Marley. Artistes like Shaggy, Sean Paul, and Junior Gong’s personal success speaks to the economic pool available, except that there is no real structure in place to enable more of our talent to drink from that well.

A few weeks ago, I was involved in a discussion on the yaawdmedia.com Sunday Scoops programme with Mikey Bennett of Grafton Studios who alluded to some of the deficiencies inherent within the structures that surround Jamaican music. According to Bennett, the average Jamaican knows very little about the island’s music, a fact which contributes to the country’s overall tepid response to developing Jamaican music as a serious economic activity. It is little wonder that the owners of capital at the investment level of the economy have maintained a negative association, if any at all, with the music. A large part of the responsibility for assisting with building that knowledge base falls at the feet of the level of journalism that is associated with the music. An excellent example of this information deficit was the discourse that followed the announcement of SOJA’s Reggae Grammy win. Most of those expressing their opinions had very little knowledge (if at all) of how the Academy arrived at its decision. Most had very little idea of who the other entrants were, the music they offered or even worse, who SOJA was as a group other than that they were largely a group of white Americans.

Just to underline how impacting this paucity of journalism is on our music, much of what is written about Jamaica’s music comes from the pens of international writers while Jamaica’s media contributes to the historical stifling of the island’s music by not providing the kind of coverage that redounds to educating its audience. As Bennett pointed out, no Jamaican media house has ever sent a journalist on tour with a Reggae act while the act is performing abroad. Instead, Jamaican media houses depend on overseas journalists for their coverage, or on someone on the tour who is capturing material, for their perspective on the tour. The effect is that there is a serious lack of any kind of critical analysis of an artiste’s or musician’s output and to a large extent, whatever coverage is extended to these artistes at home never provides any critique of the artiste’s output but serves them up as local stars.

Understanding our industry does, indeed, come from having a better knowledge of what the music industry entails, understanding its different parts, as well as the drivers that can develop the capabilities of its participants. Great journalism provides a portal into helping the audience understand and appreciate the message of the artistes and or musicians.

An excellent example of how media helps in developing individuals can come from the way in which Jamaica covers track and field. We recently competed in both the ISSA/Grace Boys and Girls Championships and the Carifta Games at the National Stadium and even if you were just arriving from Mars, the incisiveness of the coverage, the analysis of the athletes, the provision of historical background information on athletes, cross-comparison with classes makes watching the sport an edifying experience. Regardless of anyone’s bias, coverage of track and field in Jamaica, consistent with the sport itself, is a demonstration of cultivated excellence and this translates into the depth of knowledge of the audience for Jamaica’s track and field coverage. The result is that Jamaicans have a much broader understanding of the sport and because of the level of coverage, the captains of industry have not (in the last two decades) been hesitant to put their money into the sport. This kind of analysis of our music is woefully lacking. A major consequence of this is our inability as a country to capitalize on the economic opportunities that reside in the history of our music.

It is a sad situation that despite Jamaica’s rich music history, the majority of Jamaicans remain in the dark about its development. Compounding that is the fact that our stalwarts are now falling away and at an alarming rate. This became one of the objectives of the weekly Sunday Scoops programme that we currently host at www.yaawdmedia.com.

  Richard Hugh Blackford B.Sc., M.S (Ed)

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *