Sunday, July 18, 2021

Jamaica the Cultural Superstate: In Search of Business Leaders

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor July 11, 2021) 

The philosophical framework I take to my writing and my work is Garveyite philosophy, the teachings and philosophy espoused by Marcus Garvey. I have challenged myself to demonstrate the relevance of this philosophical perspective to the contemporary business context. The breadth of Garvey’s own writings and the manifest achievements of his movement make his ideas a rich source upon which I can draw. 

On May 14, 2021 Smithsonian professor, Kenneth Bilby, delivered the sixth annual Faculty of Humanities and Education, University of the West Indies, Mona Distinguished Lecture titled “Jamaican Music at Home and Abroad: Keeping the Circuits Grounded.” 

Source: Faculty of Humanities and Education, UWI, Mona, Jamaica

Professor Bilby underscored the global impact and reach of Jamaica’s music and culture. To hear him say that reggae was sung in over 200 languages was a shocking metric. Further, he shared that there are over 4,000 performers, excluding Jamaicans, for whom reggae is their primary genre or a major part of their repertoire. 

Attending Rototom Reggae Festival in Spain in 2018 was a major eye-opener as in the near 250,000 crowd there were hardly any Black folks and scarcely any Jamaicans apart from the performers. Rototom’s media kit statistics touts this number, in addition to pointing out that for the eight days there were attendees from over 80 countries. So, in all this it was a disappointment to me that no Jamaican government entity was represented. We should target these spaces to market Jamaica. My hope is that in short order our strategies will change in our approach to these avenues. 

Source: Personal Collection, Rototom Sunsplash 2018

While the historical reality may be that our tourism did not begin with the objective of showcasing and integrating our people and our culture into the vacation experience, there is no reason for that ideological approach to be continued. Just visit one of these reggae festivals outside of Jamaica and you quickly realize where the real money earner lies in our tourism offering. I am among the first to admit to the beauty of the land, but the land is immaterial to the reggae festival goer in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia or Oceania. The Jamaican culture and the experience are all they are paying for, and Jamaica is benefitting next to nothing from those funds. Do we know those 200 languages in which reggae is sung? Do we care? How many of those 4,000 performers and their fans make it to Jamaica for a reggae experience? Do we even want them here? These are the questions to be answered. 

The 2003 culture policy titled “Towards Jamaica the Cultural Superstate” might be described as hubris, bombastic, and perhaps even unrealistic, but it was attempting to communicate something to an establishment that desperately needed to hear of the opportunities that lay outside for Jamaica in the wider world. I am disappointed that the objectives of the policy failed to energize the Jamaican business and entrepreneurial community in a way that would encourage them to get involved in the production of events that would attract the kind of global reggae consumers willing to pay for the kinds of watered-down (“mimicked”) Jamaican experiences they get outside of Jamaica that they so desperately want from inside Jamaica. 

My lament, and perhaps my mission, given that I see that those who have the resources and the power to enable that transformation at home just do not understand the wealth at their feet, is to share this perspective that what we have is enough, who we are is enough, to earn us what we need, if only we fully believed in ourselves. If it sounds familiar it is because you already know it, if you are Jamaican, you have heard words to this effect, “if you have no confidence in self you are twice defeated in the race of life, with confidence you have won before you have even begun”. These are the words of Marcus Garvey, whose ideas I maintain are seminal for contemporary globally impacting Jamaican businesses to follow in the footsteps of our music, food and Rastafari cultural sensibilities. Garvey is also noted as saying, “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.” We have begun an enterprise building process that new business and culture leaders, a new conscious capital understanding leadership, must emerge to complete. 

Source: Personal Collection, Rototom Sunsplash 2018

I think Jamaica’s business and economic opportunities lay within Jamaica’s entertainment, culture and creative sectors. My particular interest is to get conscious, preferably Garveyite entrepreneurs, engaged in the process of economic expansion and institution building within our polity that can facilitate this kind of economic expansion. It is possible that it will take less of a focus on government policy in the initial stages, and to, instead, focus on direct business building and matters of sustainability within the businesses themselves. It is the kind of expansion the studios never really did or managed to achieve. 

VP Records stands as an exception. The company moved from Kingston to New York and remains a player in the distribution of our music. But even VP is a small player in relative terms. The truth is we should have had several more VPs, based in Jamaica with branches internationally. Jamaica should have been playing an active role in the emergence of afrobeats and other music and culture businesses out of Africa, but we never really embraced this Garveyite vision. 

I think Bob Marley saw it; his business moves suggest this. He was beginning to understand what was emerging. Is this also a factor in the mystique that surrounds him? Philosophy and ideology do not earn you cash, but it is foolish to think you will successfully build or keep what you earn without one that guides you along that path. 

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 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, July 4, 2021

The J’ouvert Bacchanal

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor June 27, 2021) 

This past week my social media timeline got hit a few times with the story coming out of Trinidad and Tobago of Michael B Jordan, of the Black Panther film fame, and his recent “ownership” of the trademark “J’Ouvert”, an ownership acquired, at least in the United States of America by virtue of its registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Jordan has been accused of cultural appropriation. I looked at the registration myself, and excluding attorney fees, ownership of the name in the single class for which he is said to apply in September 2020, it likely cost him $350 USD for a standard registration. Barring any objections that require further legal intervention, his financial obligations to the US government as far as acquiring and maintaining the name he hoped to build into an alcohol brand would have been negligible, possibly $525 USD payable in the next ten years. It doesn’t seem like a bad investment considering what he could earn from it. Isn’t it amazing how inexpensively one could lose “ownership” of a part of one’s heritage? Some of my Trinbagonian friends are upset, and I understand completely.

Source: Screenshot Michael B Jordan's Girlfriend, Instagram Stories 

As a result of public outcry, not least of which from Nicky Minaj herself, the poor unlucky soul as I imagine one former colleague professor of mine saying, get ketch, and Jordan by Wednesday morning had issued an apology and stated that he will no longer be using this name in this fashion. Jordan is indeed unlucky, because from the information I have seen on the registration of “J’ouvert” on the website of the USPTO, there have been at least five such registrations for use in commerce, from as early as February 2006. The listings use the term “J’ouvert” or “Jouvert”. Perhaps to the pleasure of my Trinbagonian friends three of them are now listed as dead, meaning they were once in use in commerce but for some reason the owners have abandoned their use.

Of all the registrants only one was from the Caribbean, and that entity gives a Barbados address, and they used their registration to brand air fresheners. The other trademark registrants including Jordan’s registration hail from Florida, New York, California and Texas. Some of these owners may, in fact, have been from the Caribbean, I am not able to tell from the information given, but they represent an interesting business mix to apply the brand “J’ouvert”. Their businesses included an entertainment event, audiovisual recordings and digital media, and restaurant and bar services in addition to those I mentioned above. So, from all indications Jordan’s high profile meant that he was just the poor unlucky soul who would ketch hell for doing what others have done and got away with undetected. And, there is no question that him being an American is a factor for the claim of cultural appropriation.

Source: Michael B Jordan, Instagram

One might ask then, why are these types of trademark applications happening outside of the countries of origin? Why is it taking diaspora residents or foreigners to recognize and seize upon some of these commercial opportunities that our cultures in the Caribbean possess? This week it was Trinidad and Tobago, but those of us from Jamaica are also familiar with this story. I wonder how many of these trademark applications have been attempted in the Caribbean, and if the applications were made, would they have been granted? I won’t attempt to answer these questions here since I’m not a lawyer, and I do not wish to be seen as giving legal advice. I have a fair idea of where this discussion could go, and I think the whole situation opens the space for conversations we should be having about the future of our cultures, from a business perspective, here in the Caribbean.

In my view there are two fronts on which we could approach situations like these, on the offensive and on the defensive. I have no doubt that we ought to be putting out products and services branded with names that matter to us, while we also proactively protect against the exploitation of names and brands that are sacred to our cultural spaces. Entertainment and sport attorney, Carla Parris, executive producer of “The Business of Carnival”, offered us some sound insight that might be useful in helping to prevent another case of this kind of cultural exploitation, since Jordan has at this point promised that he will not go forward with the name “J’Ouvert”. First, she argues that we proactively object to these applications on the grounds of cultural appropriation and cites examples, and second, she argues for greater discussion on the area of “Traditional Cultural Expressions and Traditional Knowledge (TCEs)” within the Caribbean. No doubt these are discussions that cannot happen soon enough, we all need to know more.

Source: Carla Parris, Facebook

Carla Parris has some very good advice for businesses in the Caribbean that I would commend to business owners here in Jamaica. She suggests that before you market your goods and services you conduct an intellectual property (IP) audit and seek the services of a qualified IP attorney if you need the help. Take heed. When you compare the financial outlay I mentioned above to what you may be called to lay out in defense of a brand under challenge, you may be pleasantly surprised.

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 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, June 20, 2021

Overcoming Low Economic Expectations

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor June 13, 2021)

While some of us have high expectations some simply do not, possibly even satisfied with low expectations. The book Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, by economics professors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo got me thinking about this. This not a new book, it was originally published in 2011, and it won the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, as well as being the Financial Times Business Book of the Year. In the book they shared a story that is worth repeating. 

Source: Bank of Jamaica

Banerjee and Duflo recount an attempt to reorganize the teaching in a Kenyan school, taking advantage of an extra teacher to divide the classes into two. Each class was separated by prior achievement to help each student learn what they did not yet know. Teachers were then randomly assigned to the top or the bottom track by a public lottery. The teachers who lost and were assigned to the bottom track got upset by their assignment, claiming that they would not get anything out of teaching, and that they would be blamed for their students low scores. Not surprisingly, the teachers adjusted their behavior accordingly. The authors recount that in random visits the teachers that were assigned to the bottom track were less likely to teach and were more likely to be having tea in the teacher’s room. If this sounds familiar to you, it probably is. Some of us don’t expect much from poor performing children, and so we treat them accordingly. But is the problem the poor performing child/student, or is the problem the adult/teacher and their programmed expectations? This is a serious question. Maybe it is that those who are in charge have low expectations of the powerhouse each of their charges could become; that it is possible that one of those struggling students could become the next magnate, scientist, or minister of government. No one wins here. Life is replete with examples that prove that humans are often wrong with our limiting expectations. 

Source: PublicAffairs, a Member of the Perseus Books Group

As someone who has an enduring passion for the creation and growth of businesses across the entertainment, culture, and creative industry (ECCI) sectors I found myself turning the story around to ask what are the expeditions we have of ordinary Jamaicans, who have roots in the cane piece, to evoke the spirit of departed professor Rex Nettleford, and their ability to function at the highest levels of business? Do we have expectations that they will manage, and not only manage, but thrive? What level of trust does our society demonstrate? Given some of the processes we put our fellow citizens through to access a business loan, or a mortgage for that matter, it is probably a very low level of trust when measured? Are we asking if our business processes are unduly onerous? And, are some of our financial institutions looking into ways that we can make these processes more dignified (or even just “first world”) and suitable to robust commerce built on mutual trust? I am not saying that due process and caution should be thrown away, far from it, but many of us know that some of the processes need not be so demanding/demeaning in 2021. 

In 2007 I was a part of a team that worked on a Creative Industries Development Plan for JAMPRO under the leadership of DPM International Limited. On the team we had economist Dr Kadamawe K’nIfe and at the time banker Beresford Grey, who later went on to co-found the Sygnus Group, in which Sygnus Credit Investments has been highly profitable (this past May they reported an 80% jump in net profits in that unit). One of the key points coming out of the plan was an examination of the linkages from the ECCIs with the traditional manufacturing, trading, and established service businesses. One of our challenges it appears was to treat the commercial possibilities of the ECCIs with the same level of seriousness as we treat traditional businesses like an ice cream manufacturer, a wholesaler, or a small hotel operator. Significantly then, one of the calls of the development plan was facilitating financial options for ECCI enterprises. This is something we are still struggling with today. I include this to make the point that we have had some of the brilliant minds of my generation apply themselves to putting forward solutions that are workable, yet their ideas get shelved. What accounts for that? But the track record of the Sygnus Group and what they do now exists objectively for all to see. [When the opportunity presents itself many among us are fully capable of surpassing any limiting expectations that had no place in the picture.] 

Source: Private collection

My use of ECCI refers to businesses in the sectors of music; 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; performing arts; commercial art; cuisine and food culture. All in some way rely on, or trade on, some aspect of the Jamaica culture or our intellectual property for its sustenance. They sectors are not in every way discreet, a few functions overlap, but this structure helps in outlining what businesses we are talking about and how we might begin to organize them, particularly as we begin to dive deeper into how we can finance them in this technologized and globalized context. In this context finance needs to understand what entertainers, artists and other creatives are going on about, and so whatever we can do to simplify and cut through the esoteric the greater the chances of bridging the gap of understanding in order that we can build trust and defy the low expectations.

One love, and what I choose to call “One Love, Inc” is an unbelievable economic platform on which to reshape the economics of this country if we choose that path. Individual Jamaicans world famous our not have demonstrated that we are capable of greatness; it is within us. Let us expect more and reshape our institutions to deliver on those high economic expectations.

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 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, June 13, 2021

The Business of One Love

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor in two parts - May 30, 2021 and June 6, 2021)

The poet Mutabaruka would often say on his Cutting Edge radio show, “the only way to defeat the other culture is to live your culture”, and that stuck with me. If you understand this simple statement, then you understand much about the politics of Mutabaruka and the message he has spent his life communicating to African people, and Jamaicans in particular. The saying comes from a long tradition of resistance to any oppressive idea, the metaphoric Babylon, that what we have or who we are is not enough and not worthy of respect or value. This tradition of positive reaffirmation of our own African diaspora identity, the validation of self and self-worth, has given to us, the lucky ones, the wholesome tradition of “one love”.

Jamaica’s worldview, music, language, food, and Rastafari politics, aesthetics and iconography have become a chosen medium of cultural expression in several international spaces. Indeed, the Jamaican notion of “one love” immortalized by The Wailers group in their 1965 One Love ska recording and later re-released as a reggae recording by the “one love” ambassador himself, “Bob” Marley, who included the song on his 1977 Exodus album, is the song that was in the year 2000 selected by the BBC as the song of the century, as by then it demonstrated in no uncertain terms the global impact of Jamaica’s liviti – Jamaica’s wholesome “one love” was then acknowledged as unquestionably universal. 

Source: The Voice promotional video September 2020, NBC Universal

I tried, sometime in January 2021, to trace the origin of the use of the term “one love”, to ascertain at what point, and perhaps for what specific reason the term was coined. I was unsuccessful. But, regardless of its origins, there is no question that we Jamaicans have made it our own and, subsequently, gave it to the world. The popular Jamaican term was internationalized by Bob Marley, he did not create it. I came across sources that claim that it was actually used by Marcus Garvey, and there were some that suggested that it might have come from his movement’s motto “One God, One Aim, One Destiny”, but I have not seen anything authoritative that confirms any of this as its origin. 

On this question a colleague of mine, Dr Jalani Niaah, highlighted that the Rasta brejrin who were in the circle of Rasta leader Mortimo Planno often used the signature term, “one perfect love”, and that this would have influenced songs in the 1960s. Bob Marley would have been one of those who would have been under Planno’s influence as Planno was to serve as Marley’s manager and spiritual guide for several years. One other brejrin, Ras Kaimoh, communicated to me that, when he “arrived in Jamaica in January of 1970, the terms “one love” and “one heart” were common sounds—sometimes used as a greeting—heard to affirm solidarity in various kinds of social exchanges among bredrin and sistren.” Professor Rupert Lewis did point me to a 1971 publication tilted One Love by Audvil King, Althea Helps, Pam Wint and Frank Hasfal that was a collection of prose literary writings by four Jamaican authors. The publication is now out of print, so I was not able to dig in and see what might have influenced them to go with that title. So, at this point then, I still do not know the origins of the term. Maybe it is that this writing will encourage someone to contact me with some information that may lead me closer to an answer. 

Source: Bogle-L'Overture Publications (BLP)

Notwithstanding, what I wish to assert is that the phenomenon of “one love” sits at the core of an industry, as in the technically productive commercial enterprise sense of the word. One in which Jamaica and its culture sits at the center, if we can organize some of our key business enterprises to capitalize on the opportunity. Informally, I have used the expression “one love culture” among my peers as I seek to describe the essence of what the Jamaican resistance culture represents to the world. It is my attempt to describe the cultural and economic space that emerged from the liviti, the daily living of our culture, that is our own, and is globally recognized as our own, even if we are reluctant to claim it. Bob Marley may have been the chief apostle, but it now rests with each Jamaican to make manifest the message of one love, this is indeed the world that Jamaica made. It comes from within us. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, the “one love” culture is informed by Jamaican worldview, music, spirituality, food, language, lifestyle, history, and politics. And though each of these are sacred aspects of our being, with their own existence despite the world of business and commerce, they also represent viable commercial opportunities that can help to sustain and perpetuate them on their own terms, the “live your culture” of Mutabaruka’s advice, if you will. 

In my last reasoning, published 16 May 2021 here in the Jamaica Monitor, we questioned why after 40 years Bob Marley’s brand was able to command the kind of earnings it now does. The fact is that the Marley brand answers to a need that customers have. And it is not just Marley the individual who addresses the need, but also the message of the music of an era coming out of Jamaica, that spoke to struggles, triumphs, hopes, and dreams, not only along racial, but also class lines, of which the latter was particularly important to white audiences who did not readily identify with some of the racial references. So, Marley’s music therefore served as an opening to the Jamaican worldview for whole sets of new audiences, its cultural practices, the Rastafari movement, and Jamaica’s economic arrangements. 

Following Marley’s death on 11 May 1981, which we marked a few days ago, his estate has been able to capitalize on the awareness of his music and the messages to supply additional music, merchandise and other commodities to a market wanting and willing to purchase products that have been shaped by this Jamaican worldview. Branding them as Marley therefore was a natural progression; but, I want to make clear that the culture is not unique to Marley, and that we, too, share in this cultural inheritance from our ancestors. There is nothing that says the Marley representation or expression (excluding the use of his image and name, of course) is the only way to brand Jamaican or Rastafari expressions of the Jamaican culture and liviti. But, having said this, I will say that it pays to understand and respect the branding canons and conventions, until you are able to change them. 

It must be understood therefore, that when I speak of the “one love” culture, and speak of Jamaican music, and the economy that Jamaicans have forged that is our music entertainment industry, that I see this as the gateway to a larger economic platform. By larger economic platform I mean the proper integration into the international capitalist structure of manufacture, production, and exchange where we are not simply marginal consumers and producers, but that we take a greater share of the production of goods and services that purport to be expressions of Jamaican culture. So, a case in point is if Clarks footwear are to be produced and branded as Jamaican, they could have been done under license from a prominent Jamaican artiste for argument’s sake, so that licensing revenue in the region of 5-10 percent could have been coming to a Jamaican who has a stake in the success of the brand. Then a portion of that 5-10 percent revenue then becomes available for investment another business, filmmaking maybe, or a new hemp project. 

Lest we think this is only about music, it is my hope that one of our top athletes, before the end of their career, begins to conceive of their own athletic line to rival Puma. After all, we also use sporting goods. Of course, these kinds of ambitions have implications for the kinds of contracts they can sign, but that is why we expect that they must also have smart management. There is no question in my mind that one such huge opportunity was missed before, but the future is unknown. What flavor could a Jamaican themed athletic line add to the world of the Nikes, Adidas, and Pumas of this world? And who doubts that a pan-African brand positioning could not make a significant dent in any of their businesses? 

Source: Jamaica Football Federation

You may have seen the story recently of the Bob Marley inspired jersey leak to fans of the Dutch Ajax Football Club. Fans could not wait to purchase their jersey, and all they had seen was leaked Bob Marley and Rastafari inspired designs. There are more of these stories, and our culture and our politics are at the center of it – but we are not. We need to figure it out. Hopefully we have noticed that African music is here, and behind that will be the world of sports and entertainment, complete with a significant portion of fans who want anything Jamaican they can lay their hands on. But which Jamaican businesses and industries, traditional or entertainment focused, are lining up to serve them? 

The forward-thinking leadership at GraceKennedy made the bold leap into Ghana in 2012, distributing “Grace-branded beverages Tropical Rhythms, Mighty Malt, Ginger Beer, along with corned beef, as well as GraceKennedy's range of spices.” This kind of export too in my view falls within my widened scope of what is produced and exported within the realm of a “one love” culture, because of who is doing the branding. Our worldview matters because it impacts paths and outcomes, and so, too, does the language, food, aesthetics, and the iconography we employ in deciding what makes the final packaging.

Source: Grace Kennedy & Co Advertising

GraceKennedy has had to adjust their business model since being in Ghana, downsizing their operations due to operational challenges, but they know better than to withdraw. Because they know that West Africa is a market that is coming, it is not in retreat. We and they are what we call emerging markets. And, in emerging markets like Jamaica and West Africa investors can see far better returns on their investments in over time, when compared to the often smaller return that investors would be satisfied with in developed markets in the north as a tradeoff for less investment risk. 

The “one love” culture of which Jamaica sits at the center is a phenomenal gift bequeathed to this nation by our ancestors. Owed to their struggles and their triumphs, we have a glorious opportunity to conceive and execute our vision of “one love” that lifts us emotionally, spiritually, and economically among mankind. Our investors, business leaders, and our creatives and sports personalities turned investors are being encouraged to help us to live our culture in the modern dispensation, and it benefits us all if they share in the vision. One love. One perfect love! 

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 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.