Sunday, May 31, 2020

Entertainment Demands A Bold Transformative Economic Agenda

Jamaica has a lot to be proud of and to celebrate. Let's celebrate ourselves with confidence.

Source: JAMPRO Sounds of Jamaica

I am still filled with great pride for my culture following the Beenie Man and Bounty Killer clash that took place on Friday, May 23, 2020, not unlike many Jamaicans at home and abroad that watched live, or later online.  We were left in awe of the life that our culture brings.  Every now and again something from Jamaica raises its head and steals the attention of the world. It may be our music, sports, food, politics, our religion or even our high homicide statistics.  In my view, these are all testament to the fact that when Jamaicans play, we play to win. Friday nights clash was just that, and Jamaica won.

Source: Verzuz TV Promotional Graphic
Jamaica has a culture policy titled, Towards Jamaica The Cultural Superstate”, a title that if nothing more is a call to action for all areas of the state and private sector to work towards the goal of Jamaicas culture, through the business vehicles aligned with the broader entertainment industry, becoming a global force to be reckoned with.   Global entertainment sectors that Jamaica can program for include: events, festivals, music, radio, film, television and cable, internet and online media, electronic gaming, publishing, sports, tourism and travel, amusement and theme parks, gaming and wagering, toys and games, and the visual and performing arts. It could be true that the policy reeks of outsized economic and political ambitions of international leadership that our politicians, bureaucrats, and some of our private citizens, just dont care for.  But, day by day the glorious reality that presents itself is that this kind of calling is being demanded of us, a seemingly reluctant set of players in this Jamaican culture drama.

We are the envy of many in this world, and we simply cannot understand why some seemingly better-off Americans, Europeans and Asians want to be like us. From all corners of the globe the demands hit the Jamaican shore for more: Give us more! Give me more! Even pop superstar Rhianna was seen on Friday asking for more. What is wrong with us? Something is wrong with us! There are more reggae festivals outside of Jamaica than are in it. Several of Jamaicas music genres (ska, dub, reggae), the many we’ve influenced (ambient, house, techno, jungle/drum & bass, trip-hop, hip-hop), and our sound system culture, have lives completely independent of Jamaica and Jamaicans in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. 

Michael Veal's Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Song in Jamaica Reggae that speaks of Jamaica's influence on a number of international music forms
These admirers, yaad-o-philes, want to speak like us, whatever it is that we speak. They want to eat like us. They want to pray like us, and they all, and I mean all, want to party like us. So, what do we do with those Jamaicans the world wants more of? We laugh at their natural speech and English malapropisms, we declare them uneducated wid dem bugu-yaga talk, and call some of them dutty rasta, deriding one of our most valuable assets in the most brutish of ways.  We still do it. We have debated the question of making Miss Lou and Bob Marley our newest national heroes for a very long time, and it is costing us dearly, both in terms of our declared identity of who we are as a Jamaican people, and also economically. It matters not if Jamaica should end up with 10, 15, or 20 national heroes as long as those heroes reflect our values as a people, because the most valuable part of the process is the defining message from their lives that we want to endure throughout the generations.

Rototom Reggae Sunsplash, Benicassim, Spain

There is more money being earned outside of Jamaica from Jamaican culture than that which is earned in it. Since 2012, Bob Marley has consistently been ranked by Forbes Magazine in the top six of the worlds highest-paid dead celebrities, grossing an average US$20M each year.  Those sales are generated by fans who are buying into Bobs estate, and who hopefully represent people who would also buy into a Jamaica that identifies with Bob. I reason, and I think Beenie Man demonstrated a reason, that if Christians go to Jerusalem, and Muslims go to Mecca, then the followers of Rastafari should be taking their annual pilgrimage to the sacred sites of the Rastafari in Jamaica. But, this doesnt happen, because we have fought bitterly to make it not happen, and, if nothing else, Jamaicans are masters of putting up all kinds of resistance. If Bob represents Jamaica, the message must surely be that there is more where Bob came from, but, I suppose the real question is, do we really want to be seen like Bob - the uneducated, “bugu-yaga talking dutty rasta”? 

Source: Bob Marley Archive
Never mind that had Bob Marley been alive today he would likely be one of the wealthiest among us, sitting on a perch somewhere at the commanding heights of our local economy, because, as we know, Mr. Marley had invested in his own studio, record manufacturing and music distribution businesses well before the millionaire turned billionaire entertainer-entrepreneur of today was in vogue. It would be a smart national strategy to want to create more entertainers turned investors like Bob, particularly as we struggle to source foreign capital for growth and investment. Had our entertainers been pitched as we often do other potential investors why wouldnt some of them respond with investments? After all, they are people too. Our collective minds need shifting as Marley himself sung, echoing the words of Marcus Garvey’s 1937 speech, None but ourselves can free our minds.” 

Source: Bob Marley Legend Album Cover

But the larger question, and the one that drove me to write this piece is, who do we really want to be, because, even if we dont all identify ideologically and culturally with our rastafari brethren among us, we are all from an even larger and more pervasive cultural fabric. To put it another way, every Jamaican may not be rastafari, but every rastafari is Jamaican (Im not referring to the international community of rastafari here, just Jamaica).  And there is nothing that makes us all Jamaican more than that this glorious Jamaican language called Patwa, you are either in, or youre out, and boy we do know how to use it to put others on the outside.  But, like the maturity of these two legends that we watched grow over the years, we too must move beyond this petty role that we have for too long relegated our Jamaican language because it now reflects badly.

Louise Bennett's Jamaica Labrish, a book of Jamaica poems captured in the Jamaican lingua franca

It is now an urgent economic necessity that the government of Jamaica acts to give official status to the Jamaican language and open up the doors for further income generation potential. Inaction is now a stumbling block to progress and prosperity, both culturally and economically.   It is no longer cute to make any argument against legislation to give Patwa, the first language of the vast majority of ordinary Jamaicans official status.  Arguments against this official status are either misguided or steeped in prejudice, class prejudice specifically, that have no scientific basis in fact, the practice of which leads to discrimination, state-sanctioned discrimination, against the very essence of the Jamaican being.  What kind of dissonance are we living in? How does anyone who experienced the clash of Beenie and Bounty, and saw the international response, deny the vehicle of communication that made this possible? It was our own vehicle of language that carried on its back the Jamaican culture that moved the world in a uniquely Jamaican way that night. 

Mind you, the most puzzling observation for any Jamaican is how do we keep the attention of our audiences with a significant portion of them not understanding at times huge chunks of what is being said. There were several comments that came through in the live feeds asking for translations and subtitles. The Instagram video by Wimatch posted below serves as an illustration of what the non-Jamaican community experiences when hearing our language and our music:

The need for Jamaican translators is real, this is not the figment of the imagination of a UWI linguist.  Ive been paid to work on a few international film projects producing subtitles for features whose subjects are Jamaican, but whose audience is international. So too Ive had to help locate Jamaican interpreters for civil court cases in the US, most of whom have not been formally trained in translation, but for whose Jamaican-English and English-Jamaican translation services theres increasing demand.  I am aware that some Japanese, Germans, and Africans want you to teach them how to write and speak Jamaican, much more than the expletives they know and love. So, in my view, it is a terrible neglect of our resources to not guide the provision of meaningful solutions to the market demands. 

Chart Illustrating the Jamaican Alphabet

Ideally, it should be private individuals who will seize upon these opportunities to make some of these language solutions a reality, but the state does have a major role to play in creating the environment in which these small businesses can grow into larger companies and employ hundreds of trained Jamaicans locally and internationally.  The inescapable fact is that government has a responsibility, and those of us who want to see more viable entertainment and cultural enterprises cannot allow the government to shift this responsibility. 

I know there are Jamaicans who would like to have the environment that can enable them to confidently establish businesses that offer these services, but how far can they go if government cannot perform its role in facilitating and stimulating a market upon which they can build? Governments can create markets, and here is a case in which ours must. There is money to be made and people who can be employed, but it is the political indecision that is the obstacle to their prosperity and our progress. If the government is serious about wealth creation, and if in fact it believes in the people whom they govern, more than mere political rhetoric, then they now have an urgent responsibility to allow the Jamaican language to do its part in positively impacting the economic and cultural lives of the people who speak it.

Reggae Themed Merchandise on Sale at Rototom Sunsplash in Spain 

If Jamaica is to maintain its international presence as a cultural superpower in relation to its size, and if the call to action of its 2003 culture policy is not to be a mockery, then the Jamaican leadership must take bold action and demonstrate its faith in the Jamaican culture. By virtue of the unapologetically high-quality entertainment and culture output Jamaicans have given the world for more than 60 years these artists and businessmen have long ago declared to the rest of the world that we Jamaicans walk on our feet and not on their knees, except that our leadership class have failed to take note. It is now time for the government to rise to its feet and match the mettle of the ordinary folk whose international acceptance should be sign enough that we are worthy, our unvarnished culture is worthy, and who we are is enough.  It would be incredibly transformative for Jamaica economically and politically if any administration were to make that declaration and act upon it with bold confidence.

Reggae Themed Merchandise on Sale at Rototom Sunsplash in Spain 

Our leadership should, acknowledge the Jamaican language, facilitate its commercialization perhaps by expanding the role of the JCDC to handle marketing and branding (including licensing) of related aspects of entertainment and culture, abandon its cynical disposition and declare heroes of Miss Lou and Bob Marley, and lead us to greater victory in the global culture business battle, after all, some do believe that business is like war, and Jamaica’s entertainment and culture is wanting those opportunities to do battle, because we are confident in our victory, not unlike Friday’s demonstration. 

Jamaican popular culture has never been calculating or politically correct, but its been perpetually victorious and often on the right side of history leading on the issues of equal treatment, fairness and justice for all.  I believe that it is high time that the Jamaican leadership comes over to the right side of history and reciprocate to the culture of the people, equal treatment, fairness and justice that looks like the official acknowledgement of the vehicle that we have used to make us, including Prime Minister Holness, be able to claim that Jamaicas culture is global”, and that we are in fact a cultural superpower, or, at the very least, we’ve set a course there.  

The Worth of Jamaica's Entertainment Industry

On May 5, 2020 I was asked by a journalist to answer some questions regarding the entertainment industry in Jamaica, his interest was getting some idea of the value of the industry, and my view on the impact COVID-19 may have across the industry. 

Source: The Sunday Gleaner
It's a very interesting question, one that concerns many people, and it was definitely worth working through. He presented me with four questions to which I provided the answers below:

1. How important would you say the entertainment industry is to the economy? 

I think the entertainment industry is important to the Jamaican economy, and by entertainment industry I mean sectors such as the visual and performing arts, music, events and festivals, audio-visual (radio, film and television), Internet and online gaming, publishing, sports, tourism and travel, amusement and theme parks, gaming and wagering, and toys and games. So when you take these sectors combined they contribute a significant amount of revenue to the Jamaican economy.  I know these are very different from what Jamaicans narrowly conceive as entertainment - radio, tv, film, music, dances and parties, carnival, or maybe a traditional cultural event. The reality is that in the global context the entertainment is considered way more that how we see it locally. 

2. Are you aware of any research done that would give some indication of the industry’s worth? 

So the trouble with ascribing value to the entertainment industry in Jamaica is that this sectors that I mentioned above are not measured in that context by the Jamaican statistical institute, STATIN. So if you really want to get accurate numbers you will have to go do some primary research.  Nevertheless, a few economists such as Vanus James, and Michael Witter have been able to give us some estimates for some segments of the entertainment industry, for example, Witter argued some years ago that Jamaica’s music was worth US$2.5billion, which doesn’t necessarily mean that that is what it is worth to Jamaica itself, since the truth is that most of Jamaica’s, music forms, ska, dub, reggae, dancehall and our sound system culture, have taken on a life of their own outside of Jamaica, living very vibrant lives, devoid of any Jamaican involvement in many cases, so none of us is earning from those Jamaican music related activities. 

Source: Vanus James, Mona School of Business

Vanus James in his 2007 study, The Economic Contribution of Copyright-Based Industries in Jamaica, using data from STATIN found that the copyright based industries, which sectors parallel the entertainment industry, contributed an estimated 4.8 percent (in the neighborhood of US$464.7 million) to the GDP of Jamaica back in 2005. James noted then that these estimates essentially represent just the floor and that the actual numbers are likely to be higher when more data can be gathered.  James points out that these numbers are also reflecting a context where there is far from adequate enabling environment, where it has been shown that greater success and greater profits can be had with the right policy support from government, including direct government investment, targeted education and training, and other types of preferential tax benefits. 

3. If you were to put a dollar value on the entertainment industry, what are some of the things to take into consideration and what would that figure look like? 

These are the sectors I’d take into account if I’m trying to measure what entertainment contributes to the Jamaica economy - the visual and performing arts, music, events and festivals, audio-visual (radio, film and television), Internet and online gaming, publishing, sports, tourism and travel, amusement and theme parks, gaming and wagering, and toys and games.  The dollar value I’d assign here would probably be conservatively at least one and a half times the numbers Vanus James arrived at, but it could easily be double. There are a number of entertainment sectors that were out of the scope of Vanus James’ work and so were not counted.  It is my view that any act of figuring out what Jamaica’s entertainment industry is worth to us should also account for the opportunities we have not been able to capitalize on because of our unpreparedness from the perspective of business. 

4. How do you see the sector recovering from COVID-19? 

My guess is that all these sectors will recover from Covid-19, I can’t say how well, but I expect like all other sectors they will remain profitable. There is no question in my mind that the growth of online and media based experiences will grow in response to people’s need to have their entertainment but also be distant.  To the extent that suppliers of Jamaica entertainment can capitalize on these opportunities I think they should go for it.

Source: The Jamaica Star
The journalist's article was published on May 15 titled, How much is entertainment worth? - Industry insiders believe figure is still not known. Perhaps the fact that figures aren't truly known in detail are an indictment, and it speaks to a big gap that hinders growth, since investors will favor conditions where more of the variables that impact success are known rather than not. However, this fact could also be representative of big opportunities for those who want to come in early and go big fast. 

Source: The Jamaica Star

Since the publication of my article two other newspaper publications have touched on this.  The first contained an interview with Howard McIntosh, chairman of the Entertainment Advisory Board (EAB), titled, Data Is King, published on May 17, 2020.  In it McIntosh argues a similar point to that which I have made:
"There is some reluctance, among practitioners in Jamaica, to share their real numbers... But think about it, how can policy and regulations be made to protect the industries if there is no base information? That is, if we don’t know how many, how much, as well as the what’s, where’s, and whens of their economic activity, how can protections be crafted?
Critical is the need for the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, the Planning Institute of Jamaica, the Bank of Jamaica and central government to properly understand the value of entertainment in terms of direct contribution and indirect impact."
On the journey towards Jamaica the cultural superstate what gets named and measured is what gets investment and support, so we've got to name and measure them all, going much wider that the traditional sectors Jamaicans consider the entertainment sector.

Source: The Sunday Gleaner
In the second article, Entertainment suffers $26-billion COVID hit, where the newspaper reports reduced earnings due to COVID-19 Minister Grange of the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport shared some estimate figures:  
“When extrapolated to the relative size of the industry, this represents loss to the arts and entertainment sector as, conservatively, J$19.2 billion for micro and small creative businesses and individuals. Coupled with losses from medium and large events such as Calabash Literary Arts Festival, Carnival in Jamaica, Dream, and Reggae Sumfest, the lost revenue increases to in excess of $26.182 billion,” [the Minister] said.

There is little doubt from all these points of view that the Jamaican entertainment sectors are worth more than Vanus James's 4.8% of GDP, but it doesn't mean that's the value we have for it.  If we think it is valued more, we're going to have to do more to show it.