Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Entrepreneurial Legacy of the Marcus Garvey Movement

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor October 17, 2021) 

As we reflect on our heroes, I wish to reflect on some of the ideas of The Right Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey. I feel that we have betrayed much of Garvey’s legacy to this nation and the African diaspora for which he so tirelessly advocated. Nevertheless, his work will live on, if only because it speaks truth to so many people outside of the island of Jamaica, and that he inspired so many leaders on the African continent itself, to the point of these ideas being foundational to nations and by extension the African Union. But, beyond this, Marcus Garvey shared with us some timeless thoughts on the philosophy of wealth and the role of enterprise within the modern nation state. It is those ideas to which I draw your attention. 

Garvey’s ideas on entrepreneurship and cultural enterprise have relevance as tools of economic empowerment in the present, given the socio-cultural and economic history of Africa and its Diaspora. His approach was one that emphasized the importance of us participating at the highest levels in our own integration into a globally integrated capitalist economic structure on our own terms. Unfortunately, we have failed to direct the terms of our participation in this global structure. The price of this is high, and we see the laments daily, from as far back as 2010 The Jamaica Observer carried an article titled, “Jamaica losing its grip on Reggae – Culture Minister”. Talk about losing an industry. Garvey, alongside his program for social and political empowerment for the disenfranchised African people for whom he advocated was very clear that to address these needs, we, African people, would also need a consistent program of capital accumulation, because we exist in a capitalist economic structure. 

Source: National Library of Jamaica Collection

Ken Jones, in his book Marcus Garvey Said..., shared with us some gems from several writings and speeches of Marcus Garvey. These are helpful to give greater insight into the thinking behind the business achievements of the movement. 

In one 1919 speech to the African American community, Garvey said [I have changed Negro to African throughout], “If we are to rise as a great ... national force we must start business enterprises of our own; we must build ships and start trading with ourselves between America, the West Indies and Africa. We must put up factories in all great manufacturing centers of this country, to give employment to the thousands of men and women ... we must manufacture boots, clothing and those things that people need, not only our people in America, the West Indies and Africa, but the people of China ... India ... South and Central America, and even the white man. He has for hundreds of years made a market for his goods among Africans ... therefore, Africans have the same right to make a market among white people for his manufactured goods.” 

These are visions of big business. I contend that small business and a hustle are good, it's often where you start, but growing to a big business is the power to make the world you want to see. This is Garvey’s legacy of how to achieve agency and power for ourselves. So, forgive my disappointment that a knackered Garvey bust sits on the premises of the Small Business Association of Jamaica, while I wonder if his ideas guide the associations for Jamaican big business. 

Source: Sandra Crawford Photo, Google Maps

Garvey set his sights on addressing our lack of agency and power. At the peak of his movement, Garvey could boast the establishment of some economic institutions that served its membership and the wider community, namely: clothing factories, doll making factories, a hotel, a chain of grocery stores, their own trucking company, schools, restaurants, their own printing press, newspapers published in English, Spanish and French, a commercial shipping line, and office buildings and other real estate. These businesses employed thousands of people. Individual members were also among the business owing community or were inspired to start their own businesses because of this movement. From the perspective of the operation and encouragement of business enterprises therefore, there remains quite a bit of evidence to substantiate the economic emphasis of Garvey’s people-led development program. 

Garvey was never opposed to wealth itself, but rather he was opposed to the injustices that some wealth was used to uphold. On the subject, he wrote, “All wealth is good. God created all wealth and never created poverty… The African must become wealthy; he must become a master of finance, a captain of industry, a director of science and art, an exponent of literature; he must develop a concrete philosophy, and with combination of all these he must impress himself... upon the civilization of the world.” And, I think the following quote still rings true, “Be assured of this, that in the African’s rise to wealth will come the adjustment of most of the wrongs inflicted upon him.” I think that some of these Asian economies could teach us some lessons on this. 

Source: National Library of Jamaica Collection

I could be accused of reductionism here because it is true that Garvey was far more complicated than I have been able to detail, but I hope that I have communicated that it is undeniable that as a nation we must revisit some of the lessons of Garvey’s work and how we approach business and commerce. They are not just ends in themselves, but also a means to the end of establishing the nation’s global agency and power among nations and peoples. 

Admittedly, I question if there is need to highlight this aspect of Garvey’s work for a newer generation, packaged as “neo-Garveyite” ideas on business, education, technology, and development. At the core, I do not anticipate a change in the objectives, but I do see where there is need for a body of work that speaks specifically to this approach to development for our people in this age. Marcus Garvey was about human advancement, and it is my observation that so, too, are many of us. 

Kam-Au Amen has several years of combined industry experience across the areas of business management, brand licensing, media production, and eCommerce. He is a researcher of African and Caribbean entertainment and cultural enterprise management, and is a former Deputy Director of Culture in the Ministry of Culture, Jamaica. He has also served as a member of the Entertainment Advisory Board. He is the conceptualizer and first coordinator of the pioneering BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Merchants of Hope: A Theory of Capital Accumulation

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor September 19, 2021).

I want to posit that at this conjuncture, as the world-renowned Jamaican-born cultural theorist, Stuart Hall, might have said, that music, sports, and entertainment are a means to an end, the end being political, economic, and social development. Really. What if our leaders were to decide that in this dispensation one of the primary roles our music, sports, and entertainment output will play in service to our development objectives was to be a key vehicle of capital accumulation? This would be awesome, but I can see this notion being dismissed as being vulgar, and perhaps exploitative. I can understand those positions, and I disagree. 

Photo credit: Magda Ehlers, Jamaica Monitor

In my commentary titled, “Entertaining Business Champions”, which was published on this platform I spoke to the development of music entertainer Rihanna being officially recognized as a billionaire. I also deliberately referred to sporting legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson and his book 32 Ways to Be a Champion in Business. In some other writings, including my last, I have also referred to the financial accomplishments of Jamaica’s preeminent music entertainer, Bob Marley. While in other fora I have commented on the financial accomplishment of the American entertainer Jay Z. These references, each a case study in their own right, all serve to illustrate a further point that a beginning in music, sports or elsewhere along the entertainment spectrum does not need to be an end in and of itself, but rather a stepping stone to greater financial success. This should in no way negate the desires of those who choose these pursuits as ends in themselves, but what is evident in these fields of endeavor is that financial success, when it comes, may be fleeting and it requires more than the bare minimum preparation and acumen to sustain a talent at a multi-millionaire status as the years go by. 

The common thread in the stories of these music artists and sports personalities that I have mentioned above is that they have taken whatever success and cache, not necessarily cash, that they have gained in their field of entertainment endeavor and parlayed/managed that success into other business endeavors that may, or may not, include entertainment or sports, that then generates for them wealth on a sustained basis. These entertainers turned entrepreneurs have built for themselves systems of capital accumulation that in many ways have utilized principles that give deference to their own cultures in ways that other systems of capital accumulation historically have not. It is this process, the practice of a cultural deference, that makes this interesting to me, and makes the thinking about this phenomenon and the pursuit of a theory of capital accumulation for our context that I think has some hope for our collective redemption, and ultimately political, economic, and social development. In a sense then I view these persons as merchants of hope for some of the marginalized. 

In Jamaica, I find we are easily mesmerized by the shiny object of influence. And there is no shortage of commentary on the evidence that Jamaica’s music output remains influential in many international markets. Patricia Meschino does this brilliantly in her article “Check out the real situation: Charting reggae's vast influence” published in The Jamaica Observer on Sunday, April 18, 2021, where she traces the influence of Jamaican music in the popular music forms of rap/hip hop, reggaeton, EDM, afrobeats, and even some of what is classified as mainstream pop – as does Michael Veal’s 2007 classic book, titled Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae. Interestingly, Meschino asks why despite this influence Jamaica and Jamaica’s music does not get the recognition it rightly deserves. This is a fair question. What much of the writings demonstrate is not that Jamaica’s entertainment output is of an inferior quality, but that there are other structural issues, that include a lack, or perhaps more accurately, the misallocation of capital - because brand recognition and influence too represent capital - that surrounds Jamaica’s entertainment business, which precludes Jamaicans from gaining a greater share of the larger economic pie. 

If my theory of capital accumulation is to be proven then it means that Jamaica’s participation must extend beyond elementary business activity in music, sports, and entertainment into wider realms and up the value chain of the entertainment, culture, and creative industries (events and festivals; radio; film, video and photography; television and cable; telecommunications; internet and online media; electronic gaming; publishing and printing; sport and recreation; fashion; cultural and heritage tourism; amusement and theme parks; gaming and wagering; toys and games; commercial art; cuisine and food culture), and any other industry a talent may choose for that matter, by using the recognition or income gained at one level and through better management and deal-making leverage those resources to get to the next level. This means recognizing your value as a culturally determined brand. But, secondly, giving deference to your culture of origin in ways that others cannot. This is important because the deference/respect for your own culture is a critical part of your long-term business success at this conjuncture. 

Kam-Au Amen has several years of combined industry experience across the areas of business management, brand licensing, media production, and eCommerce. He is a researcher of African and Caribbean entertainment and cultural enterprise management, and is a former Deputy Director of Culture in the Ministry of Culture, Jamaica. He has also served as a member of the Entertainment Advisory Board. He is the conceptualizer and first coordinator of the pioneering BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Ajax, Bob Marley, Rastafari and Jamaica’s Apparel Business

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor August 29, 2021)

On August 20, 2021 BBC Sport carried a story headlined “Bob Marley and the Tailors – Ajax release Three Little Birds inspired kit”. The story is about one of the Dutch football club’s 2021-22 season jerseys. To quote the story, it says, “The shirt incorporates the colours of the Jamaican flag and features three little birds stitched onto the back - an obvious nod to the Marley track of the same name.” 

Source: Ajax Football Club

If you have seen an image of this stitch we will not dwell on the fact that the colours used are actually red, gold and green, and not the black, green and gold that are the colours of the Jamaican flag. Notwithanding, I want to direct your attention to the association in the international mind. It is this association, and perception, that is the real space in which our outward looking businesses must function, and we can either use it to our advantage or lose such opportunities. 

Source: Ajax Football Club

Jamaica’s popular Rastafari cultural expression has opened and shaped a world for us that we can either step into, or as we have seen in so many other instances, allow it to be taken over by devotees elsewhere who have advanced the message of one love, the faith in Jah, the ital food, the dress, the community, the commerce and the liviti in ways that marvel Jamaicans when they travel and encounter their own culture in these foreign lands.

A question then is why can’t this same effect be realized at home, in Jamaica? Who are the people engaging with the elements of Jamaican culture abroad, and why can’t we have them engage in this way on the island where more Jamaicans could benefit? What are the mechanisms that are at play? How can we recreate them? In one sense, I know that there is not a shortage of people who are willing and able to help, but that a significant part of the challenge is figuring out how to get out of our own way. On the surface of it I can say that we are burdened with old racist and classist ideas that simply cannot serve us in this dispensation. More specifically, when considering this sporting example, I am asking with our sporting tradition, when will we have our own sporting brand? 

Source: Adidas

We have served Nike, Adidas and Puma well, and they have helped us too, but it is time for our own, because there is a global market there that wants the apparel that we can organize to deliver. And, if we can organize the investors and a team to do it and the brand is not willing to embrace our Rastafari heritage, then I am willing to go out on a limb and say it will be dead on arrival, or soon thereafter. 

The lukewarm embrace of our Jamaican identity has been the approach of corporate and monied Jamaica, because we have been schooled for decades to learn that everything about that identity, us and our person is wrong, beginning with our language and speech, our hair, our aesthetic, and our values. Nevertheless, it has been slowly changing because more and more Jamaican businesses are discovering that a measured embrace of Jamaicaness is a way to unlock value – money. I am optimistic, and I feel it will continue to shift along that trajectory as we begin to discover more and more where the real gold in our economy lays. If you ever wondered what the late Professor Rex Nettleford meant when he said that every Jamaican is a Rasta, mine is a new interpretation for you. It is in fact who we are, and it is the way the world sees us. The group Morgan Heritage sang for us, “yu doan affi dred to bi Rasta” so if you find that you don’t have locks then there is no need to worry, just learn to embrace it, because it is not going away.

One thing this whole episode says to me is we need to reimagine our athletic and sporting apparel and think differently about its role in our global involvement. In the same manner that we represent at the sporting table we should think differently about an involvement in the apparel businesses over the long-term. After all, the plan I expect is to be in this sporting spotlight for generations. Having established this then, Jamaica’s apparel must have life in the market before, during and after sporting events. The question that preoccupies me is not if this can be achieved, but how can this be achieved? Additionally, this Ajax football club development has raised in my mind questions about how we in Jamaica engage fans, both local and international. Are we actively cultivating them? Are we producing merchandise and content to satisfy their needs, both those they have and those they do not yet know that they have? 

This brings me to the point that triggered me to write this commentary in the first place. BBC Sport’s Facebook account shared the link to their story saying, “It caused their website to crash [exploding head emoji] 🤯.” Do we appreciate what it means when demand for what you offer brings about a website crash? Jamaica’s Bob Marley, the Rastafarian, dead since 1981, and who still grosses an average income of USD$20m each year brought about a website crash of this “Dutch super-power” football team. Maybe we should think twice about what we have been doing since 1981. Let that sink in.

Kam-Au Amen has several years of combined industry experience across the areas of business management, brand licensing, media production, and eCommerce. He is a researcher of African and Caribbean entertainment and cultural enterprise management, and is a former Deputy Director of Culture in the Ministry of Culture, Jamaica. He has also served as a member of the Entertainment Advisory Board. He is the conceptualizer and first coordinator of the pioneering BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Entertaining Business Champions

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor August 22, 2021) 

On August 4, 2021, Forbes magazine published that the Caribbean-born entertainer Rihanna is now officially a billionaire. How did that happen? Is there a management formula that is available to others to recreate that success? There is little doubt that advances in this direction by more of our citizens would be welcome, but I am mindful that progress along this path is constrained by the fact that such advances need the right skill sets, and substantial institutional and economic support. These are often dictated by politics, economics, and history, and the lingering institutions and agencies that continue to weigh on the arrangements of the present. Worse, this is perhaps not even the conversation to have during this COVID-19 pandemic, since when we layer the challenges of leadership on top of these constraints, we find ourselves in a dire state. But our history as formerly enslaved African people in the Caribbean has been one of hope, one of slow steady progress, even if many times we find that that progress is too slow, but it leaves us with the assurance that this, too, will pass; we are the survivors. So, we cannot afford to end necessary conversations, or not make plans for where we wish to be even amid tragedy. 

Image: Illustration by Viktor Miller-Gausa for Forbes 

The story on Rihanna by Madeline Berg in Forbes magazine intrigued me for the questions it raises for our engagement with the global entertainment business. The story used the subheading, “How the singer became the richest female musician on the planet. Hint: It wasn’t from performing.” And, perhaps, because it affirmed a model, I have written about since, at least, 2009, as a path that some of our more established figures, in both music and sports, should consider as a way to build their businesses. These writings are still accessible throughout this personal blog, where I wrote on figures like Bob Marley, Levi Roots, Usain Bolt, and a few other Jamaican brands. Not understanding that acquiring stardom leads in parallel to the creation of a brand is a cardinal oversight and, further, not assembling the right team to help the talent figure out how to extract value from the brand is almost criminal. The case of Rihanna speaks for itself. 

One question that comes immediately to mind is, what are the implications of this news on business practice in the Caribbean? Depending on how you look at it, entertainment and sports can open up the world of business opportunities for those who are given to pursuing these paths. That much should at least be clear. It is not just a place for the ne’er-do-wells or school dropouts, but equally a place for some of our brightest formally educated minds. My hope is that more of us will move to take advantage of these opportunities when they arise. The article tells us that Rihanna has not “released a new album since 2016’s Anti.” And, that approximately only two percent (2%) of her estimated wealth is directly attributed to her music practice. In other words, ninety-eight percent (98%) of her now USD $1.7 billion wealth comes from the other businesses she has parlayed her fame and fortune into – Fenty Beauty (an estimated $1.4b) and Savage x Fenty ($270m). CR Fashion Book's writer Lauryn Jiles dives more into Rihanna's portfolio in her feature titled "Rihanna is Officially a Billionaire".

Photo: Caroline McCredie, Getty Images

This should be sobering and should give our entertainment and culture stars and entrepreneurs something to think about. It may mean that the emphasis should not only be on art, artist, and talent development (what mercifully little we currently support formally), but that we also need to look at the capacity to build out businesses from our art, artists, and talents as well. Scholar Christiaan De Balker reminds us that “culture is the core of the entertainment trades” and so if we are going to get serious about doing better in the global entertainment business, we are going to have to give more formal support to preparation and training to attain these levels of success for more of our own icons, which also means the financial training and exposure as well. These are entertainment business deals engineered by finance professionals. There is no doubt in my mind that this has business practice implications, but also government policy implications. 

Rihanna is but the latest I hope can serve us. Earvin “Magic” Johnson in the book 32 Ways to Be a Champion in Business writes, “you have to know what is attainable before you can decide what it is you want”. He made the statement in the context of him attending a party on one of the boats of Micky Arison the then chairman and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines. This was his way of pointing out the lack of sufficient examples of huge economic success within Black communities in the United States, but the example can also serve the wider African diaspora, and more specifically for the small audience for whom I write. It remains a challenge for many of us to envision alternative realities because many of us simply do not get close enough to huge wealth and opulence. Of course, there are those among us who would perhaps dismiss these levels of wealth as obscene, and not worthy of our aspirations, but that approach is tantamount to us looking away and doing nothing in the face of a fast-approaching relegation to irrelevance, squalor, and mediocrity if we fail to respond appropriately. It is either a welcoming of defeat or a surrender to individual comfort, which by any metric is a loss. 

Kam-Au Amen has several years of combined industry experience across the areas of business management, brand licensing, media production, and eCommerce. He is a researcher of African and Caribbean entertainment and cultural enterprise management, and is a former Deputy Director of Culture in the Ministry of Culture, Jamaica. He has also served as a member of the Entertainment Advisory Board. He is the conceptualizer and first coordinator of the pioneering BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.