Monday, June 28, 2010

In the World that Jamaica Made: Make Your Vision Count

In life one thing leads to another and so true to form my participation in the Caribbean Cultural Conference in New York opened an opportunity for me to be the guest speaker at the first annual Reggae AMPPS (Artistes, Musicians, Producers, Promoters and Songwriters) Awards ceremony. This event happened on Saturday, June 26, 2010 in Brooklyn. It was a very enjoyable night and by all appearances it will get better over the years. Among the night’s top honorees in attendance were: Pat McKay of Sirius XM; Howard “Sir Tommy's” Mapp, Producer; Anthony “Downbeat” Rookwood owner of Downbeat the Ruler sound system; Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke; Junior Forbes, Chairman, Caribbean American Cultural Caucus; and Sharon Gordon & Carlyle McKetty of the Coalition to Preserve Reggae Music. This was indeed august company and I was honored to be among them. Below are some lines from the delivery I gave as the event’s guest speaker. Judging by the feedback, the ideas were well received and I am happy that I could have provided the audience with some meaningful words.

Give Us Vision Lest We Perish
I want to ensure that my delivery is one that communicates a vision, that is, a vision for a better Jamaica (and a better Caribbean). This is something I’m very passionate about and it has been a very consistent message since my school days at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona. I’m at heart a Garveyite, I swear by the essential principles of this first national hero of Jamaica: 1) self-reliance, 2) nationhood, and 3) pride in self. Marcus Garvey was a pan-Africanist, and so am I. Mr. Garvey was very clear that development was not going to happen by magic, but that it was going to take serious work, and the same holds true today. Notwithstanding, this is an ideal and it is in striving for this state of being that we become our best selves.

In the World that Jamaica Made
After I had an exchange with Nick Da Silva in February 2010, a Brazilian artist who has created a Jamaican comic book series named “Dread & Alive” here in the US, I wrote,
There is a lot Jamaicans take for granted, and it is a national privilege that just might be short-lived. Jamaica’s patrimony in a very tangible way now belongs to the world. The better part of our national ideas articulated by the best of our folk philosophers have long migrated to create an independent Jamaica. A place that is independent of the island known as Jamaica that is to be found in the Caribbean Sea - and there is no place for the petty there. Welcome to the world that Jamaica made, where “to di werl” means just what it says. Embrace it.
My friends, this is the reality that faces us in 2010 as lovers of reggae music and the Jamaican culture. Much of what we love has been received and claimed by the world. In many instances they have made it their own. Just think of the many reggae events and festivals on which Jamaicans are merely guests. What does this mean for us who were born into the culture? Do we resist this appropriation or do we accept it? Does it make their (foreign) reggae inferior to our reggae or is it just one other type of reggae expression? We’ll have to answer these questions going forward because the answers have implications for how we conduct our business.

As much as we’d like to look inward to move forward, I believe that we will have to embrace these other developments that take place outside to make more successful strides. Friends we have very little choice.

Vision: Jamaica A Cultural Super State
I was fortunate to have entered the work world when I did, after the experience of the ill-fated Caribbean Music Expos (CME) in Ocho Rios, which set me on a path to develop training solutions for the region’s entertainment sector. In October 2001, I landed a job at the Culture Division in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture that saw me coordinating the Culture in Education Programme. Inspired by a January 1996 interview with Marcus Garvey Jr. on Mutabaruka’s Cutting Edge on IRIE FM, I gave life to the idea of a “cultural super state” applied to Jamaica (not Africa as was the original Garveyite intention).

I argued then and I still believe now, that the music sector has the potential to become a cash cow for Jamaica’s ailing economy (by virtue of the convergence of entertainment, media, technology and culture). When I first gave full expression to the notion of the cultural super state in October 2001 at the Culture Agent’s workshop I contended that a focus on this idea could help to bring about:
  • Economic prosperity for all
  • A world-class educated population
  • A healthy nation
  • A just society; with little or no crime
  • Respect for the elders and every human
These are ideals that later appeared as the national goals in the “Vision 2030 Jamaica: National Development Plan” a document prepared by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) in 2009 (eight years later). Notwithstanding, from as early as 2003 the ideas got written into the National Culture Policy of Jamaica, titled “Towards Jamaica a Cultural Superstate”, a project for which I carried some of the development responsibility at the time. Happily, the National Culture Policy was approved by Cabinet in December 2003.

So what does all this mean for us? If words on paper were all that was needed to develop Jamaica, reggae music, and the rest of the Caribbean then we probably would have been developed. Unfortunately, we need more.

Dr. Michael Witter in his 2003 Bob Marley Lecture told us that any strategic development plan for the Jamaican music industry, “must be informed by the industry’s vision of its own future, and it must continue to commit its resources to realizing that vision. The industry’s vision in turn will probably derive from the vision of a few forward-looking investors, similar to the dynamic, even catalytic, role that Chris Blackwell’s investments played in the emergence of reggae as an international commodity in the 1970s.”

For those who still want data as to whether or not investing in Jamaican creativity and culture (a.k.a. brand Jamaica) makes sense, Prof. Vanus James in completing a study for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) August 2007 shows from his research that,
Each dollar of foreign exchange invested in the leading elements of the core copyright sector contributes about J$6.18 of value added to Jamaica, mainly in the form of wages and indirect taxes. These elements are: authors, music composers, and independent artistes in allied activities (not music); authors, music composers, and independent artistes in the core music industry; dance studios; and theater and related entertainment services. Each dollar invested yields as much as J$6.57 in certain partial copyright sectors, such as manufacture of other leather products, luggage and handbags, footwear… and boots and shoes from leather fabrics and other materials… [read branded merchandise]. On the other hand, the same dollar of foreign exchange in communications (say, cable television) yields only J$1.49.
He added, “this simple arithmetic” makes a compelling case, yet we have not had any meaningful action on the part of the authorities nor from enough of our homegrown investors who have the requisite capital.

Despite the struggles on the rock, it is true that within the community of world cultures Jamaica is not dwarfed. Unfortunately though, the money that Jamaica earns stays primarily in the major northern states of USA, Canada, Japan, UK and her EU neighbors under the control of foreigners. This money could otherwise be used to provide better healthcare, a more equipped education system, better roads and an overall better quality of life for Jamaica’s families. Having recognized this, a priority contribution to the national development process is to prepare Jamaican citizens to take control of their cultural products. The change needed to achieve this will only happen through strategic work.

It can no longer be considered a joke when a child says she or he wishes to become a singer, dramatist, entrepreneur or some kind of a sports person. We all see on spectacular display before our very eyes the materially bedecked stars. It should not be too difficult to imagine that from the music sector the related occupations of fashion designing, cosmetology, filmmaking, dance, marketing, tourism, culinary arts, digital design and technology services all grow to support these activities. This cycle continues as each of these areas grow. It might very well be the most apt description of Jamaica’s current situation as regards the entertainment, media and culture segments of the economy to say that the proverbial “stone that the builder refused is becoming the cornerstone of the building”. Increasingly, we have to seek our economic salvation from the creative/culture sectors such as:
  1. Visual & Performing Arts
  2. Music
  3. Fashion
  4. Events and Festivals
  5. Audio-Visual (Radio, Film & Television)
  6. Digital Technology (Animation, Digital Arts & Design, Game Art & Dev)
  7. Publishing
  8. Sports
  9. Tourism & Travel
  10. Amusement/Theme Parks
  11. Gaming & Wagering
  12. Toys & Games
  13. Culinary Arts/Cuisine

All of these areas stand to benefit from the strengthening of the others. Unfortunately, we have not organized ourselves in ways that have allowed us to benefit from these opportunities that exist. Part of the reason for this may be a collective disregard for things Jamaican, but also our feeble efforts at converting very good ideas into reality - manifest entrepreneurial weakness. This is what Prof. James calls the paradox of entrepreneurship in the Caribbean, explained by saying that, “entrepreneurs with substantial capital are usually not drawn to invest in the key creative activities of the copyright sector, such as music; those entrepreneurs who are drawn typically have only small amounts of capital”.

My challenge then to this group of Jamaicans and well wishers in the Diaspora is, organize yourself into business units that aim to invest in the opportunities that emerge from the Jamaican cultural product both on the island as well as overseas. Do not wait on the Jamaican government! Contrary to the December 2004 music industry study done for the UNESCO Global Alliance Programme, I am now very convinced that more than any government, private individuals are better suited to turn this sector for the better, by:
  1. Creating the intersectoral linkages (tourism, manufacturing, IT, etc)
  2. Marketing and promoting the music product
  3. Protecting/policing their intellectual property
  4. Developing standards of professionalism and holding yourselves to it, and to refine new talent; continually innovating for the markets
  5. Celebrating and commemorating industry achievements and heroes
  6. Finding creative sources of financing
  7. Establishing and partnering on industry training
The conclusion then is if we want greater success we should encourage education and the refining of skills, as these are primary forms of capital for the entertainment and culture sectors. The fact is, the more you know, the more you are likely to earn in these sectors. The future is in your hands.

I applaud the development work of Reggae AMPPS and the other activities in which you are involved. More of this kind of effort is needed. I will also encourage you to take what you currently do to the next level. You may very well find that you can act as incubators for a range of other entities that need to emerge in support of the growth of global reggae. If you believe Mr. Garvey’s admonitions that say, “without vision the people perish”, then you have no choice but to stick steadfastly to your vision for yourself.

Thank you for your time.

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