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.