Sunday, December 5, 2021

Creativity and Capital

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor November 28, 2021) 

I recently made my way through the book Significant Zero: Heroes, Villains, and the Fight for Art and Soul in Video Games. It was published in 2017 by Walt Williams a video game writer and executive of over ten years. He is experienced in creating Triple A (AAA) games, which are multimillion-dollar blockbuster games. Williams is candid and hardly holds anything back in the book, sharing the good and the bad, while giving the reader an insight into his rise in this industry in the US. This book is helpful if you are trying to understand the business side of the industry. I found several of his introspective analyses throughout the book extremely insightful and thought-provoking. If you are like me and you maintain a broad interest in the expansion of the Jamaican entertainment industry, I recommend this book to help in thinking of possibilities. 

Image Source: Getty Images

In the book, Walt makes the unequivocal declaration that video games are art, digital art, and I agree with him, few forms of art could be more contemporary. Tangentially, related to this digital field of art and entertainment is esports – another multimillion-dollar industry expression of digital culture – both of which are potentially available for exploration by us. Whereas video game development is not something that we have given emphasis to in Jamaica, I have very little doubt that we have the stories and the cultural material that could make entertaining brand Jamaica games. Having said this, the truth is, these fields are capital intensive, and so the reality is our ambitions for these sectors will of necessity be measured in the first instance until we can figure out our game for sourcing capital. 

It is on one of the discussions about funding and capital in Williams’ book that I want to reflect. Walt outlines for us the relationship between a video game developer and a video game publisher. Typically, game developers rely on video game publishers for funding the north of US$10m game development budgets - the largest game development budget reported to date is for Cyberpunk 2077 (2020) at US$174m. In these instances, the publisher is the entity that pulls the purse strings because they front the cost of development and promotion in exchange for the financial returns on the back end. This is not an unusual arrangement across entertainment sectors, and so what this gives rise to is something that I have heard raised many times in my over twenty years of working with creatives – can art for money possibly be as good as art for art’s sake. 

Significant Zero by Walt Willams

It is essentially an assumption that art and creativity on one hand are mutually exclusive to capital, and that those who possess capital cannot also possess genuine creativity and can contribute to good art. This I am sure will be an ongoing debate, but those who are up to learning how to employ their art in making money will be the winners of now. Of course, this means a willingness to share, if needs be, in the creative control, which I suspect is the challenge many artists have. But, sharing in the creative control does not automatically mean that your art will become bad art, unless the artist really thinks that those who possess money cannot possibly know what good art is, and that the financier does not wish for the artist to succeed. This is a sinister disposition, but in my experience it holds true. We somehow still believe that capital is creatively bereft, while artists are perfect stewards of their own talent. 

If Jamaican creatives want to expand their reach and utilize their art across a wider range of entertainment sectors then there has to be a greater effort in moving them to greater levels of collaboration and trust for capital, because it is those with the capital who have the resources to empower the creatives to reach levels they usually won’t accomplish slogging away by themselves. Buying into this may require an ideological shift, to go corporate, and to aggressively pursue the goal of making money by making art. Williams assures us that there is nothing wrong with that, and uses words in reference to video game development which I think are useful to include here for their relevance. He writes, “Greed and artistic intent are not mutually exclusive, …we all have bills to pay, creating marketable games with broad appeal does not make you a greedy [capitalist]. The reverse is also true, creating pure vision-driven games does not exclude you from being a money-grubbing credit-hogging [detestable person]. If developers aren't necessarily pure of heart, then we can't assume publishers are devoid of it.” In other words, if artists and creatives aren’t necessarily pure of heart, then we can’t assume financiers and capitalists are lacking a well-meaning or a sincere heart. 

My point, therefore, is we need to revisit some of the assumptions we have about capital and the nature of the relationships we should encourage creatives to cultivate with capital in the contemporary period. For us, Garveyite praxis was an early nudge in the modern era that capital would be essential to economic success, and our creatives cannot afford to ignore that message now. The nature of art has expanded beyond the traditional into the capital-intensive digital space where if brand Jamaica is to maintain a presence on Jamaica’s own terms then the way Jamaicans think about the business of art, culture, and entertainment will need an update. 

Kam-Au Amen has several years of combined industry experience across the areas of business management, brand licensing, media production, and eCommerce. 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, November 21, 2021

Entertainment and the Business of Race and Class

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor on November 14, 2021)

On 25 October 2021, former PM Bruce Golding on his program Jamaica Live on Bridge 99FM focused on the business of Jamaican music as his topic of discussion. I found his program very entertaining and informative. It was not new material as I have grown quite used to this topic. In my view, the arguments have not advanced much over the years, as I think the challenge is not knowing what to do, but rather how do we get what we know needs doing done. It is clear to me that creativity and product creation are not as challenging a set of problems to navigate for Jamaicans as are those of employing the tools of business strategy, management, marketing, and finance.

Image Source: Rene Asmussen, Jamaica Monitor

In tackling the challenge of the insufficient economic returns from Jamaica’s music, one of the points raised a few times by different guests, was our failure as a nation to deal effectively with the negative economic impacts of race and class. Each time this was raised the former PM’s reaction questioned whether this was indeed a factor in our inability to effectively monetize our music and its culture. To his credit, he alluded to the fact that the younger generation of capitalists does not necessarily harbor all those prejudices of old. As my reader, you should recognize that this is a back-handed admission of a prejudice problem. To say that the younger generation is not as prejudiced as that of the old is to acknowledge that the older generation, and the structures that they constructed, inhabited, and maintained contained some level of prejudice.

The dilemma of race and class, and its inherent prejudices, unfortunately, cannot be removed from a discussion of the past and the future of Jamaica’s entertainment business, and I believe some of the panelists illustrated this point. Whereas it is true that in Jamaica the African majority has managed to successfully overthrow the system of slavery that ruled, problems determined by the overarching issue of race persist, and it affects capital and access to it. It also affects access to training and appropriate knowledge, and of course, it impacts trust and the lack thereof.

Our Caribbean societies are reeling from the problems brought on by racism and anti-blackness as a phenomenon that emerged from the encounter with Western European powers and their culture. But, it appears to me that many of these effects seem invisible to a number of Jamaicans in Jamaica when compared to the level of visibility these microaggressions and expressions of racism get in the United States. I find it strange that Jamaicans looking on at the United States see these effects in the US, yet they seem blind to similar microaggressions and expressions in Jamaica. The question I have in this regard is, why? Why is it so difficult for Jamaicans to see the anti-Black racism within their space? Is there a question to be asked of the hegemony about the level of cultural accommodation and co-opting that have taken place that in effect blinds African Jamaicans to the ways in which the hegemony retains power and the ability to dictate anti-black values and attitudes among the ordinary masses without resistance?

I was intrigued by a few quotes I read in Carolyn McCalla’s 2010 thesis titled, “A We Dis?!: The Contestation of Jamaica’s Post-Independence Identity in the Jamaica Festival Song Competition”. Borrowing from the work of Deborah Thomas in her book, Modern Blackness, she pulls on an appropriate example to show how Jamaica displays its anti-Black values and attitudes, which are cloaked in the notion of respectability; values such as temperance, collective work, thrift, community uplift, respect for the leadership of the educated middle classes and Christian living. In contrast, those in the popular music culture, the not-so-respectable poor and working classes, value the accumulation of things, the celebration of the self, conspicuous consumption, public denunciation of political leadership while affirming alternative leadership figures, and the absence of religious ideology. This signifies the essence of our problem because if you are not respectable, and you do not have access to the training or knowledge accessible to polite society to make you respectable, you are likely not bankable, and therefore not investable as far as Jamaican capital is concerned.

It was the late Professor Charles W. Mills in writing about race and class in the Caribbean who argued that the region is a “racially structured class society.” Mills suggests that class is the fundamental categorical determinant in our society. He wrote, “The legacy of slavery was a social structure where race and class were coterminous. Blacks were slaves, whites were slavemasters, while a brown-skinned mulatto group occupied an ambiguous intermediate position between them. Unsurprisingly, then, the dominant ideological framework the prism through which people understood the world was racial in character.” If we accept his analysis, then it is no small wonder that Caribbean societies have remained racially structured class societies since very little effort has been made to address the effects of slavery and institutionalized racism, except of course efforts of cultural accommodation and co-opting to keep the whites and brown-skinned mulatto groups at the top of the hierarchy of Caribbean society. So, whites and mulattoes speak Jamaican Patwa, but cannot bring themselves to formalize it as a language. Blacks can work in the homes and be nannies to their children, but access to serious capital for Black businesses might require half a limb, or simply not be up for consideration. So, structurally Blacks are shut out of advancing in certain areas of the economy, particularly those areas that give them access to real social and economic power.

Ultimately, then, the racist ideology that determined class at the beginnings of African enslavement over 500 years ago persists in form and in institutions that operate in modern-day Caribbean societies. This explains why African culture occupies the lowest level of the class hierarchy followed above by mulattos with Europeans and their culture occupying the highest level of our regional class hierarchy. I suggest that this explains to a large degree why we have failed to effectively monetize our music and our culture to date. I agree with Mr. Golding that the younger generation is not as steeped in prejudice as those of old, but to believe that the prejudices have vanished would be extremely naïve. One 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 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, November 7, 2021

Our Business Theory Matters

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor October 31, 2021) 

I am writing this as a reflection on The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by tech investor and serial entrepreneur Eric Reis. The book was initially published in 2011, and it subsequently spawned what is known as the lean movement. Grounded in consumer feedback, the Lean Startup Method advocates an iterative experimental development of products and services to guard against the inefficient use of capital while it guides innovators and founders to a profitable business model. As The Wharton School associate professor of management Ethan Mollick wrote in a Harvard Business Review piece in 2019 “The Lean Startup approach was an instant hit in Silicon Valley, as startups embraced this new experimental ethos.” He also noted that it quickly became a mainstay of startup accelerators and entrepreneurship classes everywhere. As always, my thinking after encountering these books is what are the lessons and how can they apply to the current Jamaican business context, and how does it feed into what Prime Minister Mia Mottley calls the Atlantic Destiny. I see this, particularly in the broad span of entertainment - which includes media and technology - cultural and creative enterprises. Have we included any element of this operating in our business models? 

Image Source: Rodnae Productions, Jamaica Monitor

The Lean Startup, as articulated by Reis, is meant to be a scientific approach to creating and managing startups. It takes its inspiration from the manufacturing methods pioneered by the Toyota Motor Company of Japan, which used those methods to rise to supremacy in the global auto market. Often referred to as the Toyota Production System, these methods have been studied by academics and entrepreneurs whose goals are to find ways of improving production, improving sales, and increasing profits. Lean Manufacturing, as we now know these innovations today, has given birth to the idea of lean thinking, and now Reis’s novel application to the context of the startup. Ideas, then, as Reis demonstrates, are adaptable, and it is for us to decide how we will adapt them. 

The argument Reis makes in his book for the Lean Startup Method is compelling, and who knows if any Jamaican startups have in recent times entertained these ideas. The thrust of the method gives a lot of credence to engaging with your customer, finding out what they want, and giving it to them as they want it. Given the experience in the US and specific experiments in Italy on the application of the method, it appears that the Lean Startup Method does improve the rates of startup success. Not all is perfect, however, and Mollick in his piece titled, “What the Lean Startup Method Gets Right and Wrong” helps us by pointing out two potential weaknesses with the method. The first is that it may stymie truly novel innovations because customers often dislike truly innovative ideas at first, and the second is the method does not allow you to ask, “what is your hypothesis about the world based on your unique knowledge and beliefs?” What is it about your idea that makes you special? Mollick asks, therefore, how do we hold on to the good aspects of the method and let go of the bad? 

Image Source: Luis Daniel Fonseca

This discussion is one on business strategy, and strategy is a key determinant in Jamaica’s success in the global marketplace. It is in this context therefore that Mollick’s second point crosses with a theme in some of my earlier writings in this medium where I argue for a theory that guides our own business practice. We ought to have the exploration of a set of ideas that guide how we navigate this global context. I am of the view that given our own historical circumstances that the evolution of a theory of business in our space should not be left to chance. 

In his article, Mollick points us to a 2018 Harvard Business Review piece titled, “Strategy for Startups” by Joshua Gans, Erin L. Scott, and Scott Stern that draws on corporate strategy research to make the case that founders should start with a “strategy - a theory about why your company is going to win”, which then informs the choices the founders make in building their business. As Mollick suggests, this is an expansion upon the Lean Method, which he thinks has the potential to better the success rate of evidence-based startups. This I hope is our objective in Jamaica as well, to better the success rate of our new businesses. My question, therefore, is should we not also consider what is our theory around our own business practices? 

As we seek to encourage the creation and expansion of innovative entertainment, cultural and creative businesses, what processes, or methods can we adapt to lead us along the route of successful commercialization? Do we just wing it - “just do it” as Nike says - or are we going to devise, or perhaps uncover given some of our entertainment business successes, a replicable and efficient method that works for us? The Lean Method has been taken on in many countries, and could it be that the method could be improved with our own insights and used in helping some of our newer entertainment, culture, and creative entrepreneurs succeed. I leave it to our academics, our think tanks, and business associations to engage these issues. One 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 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, 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 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. 

Dub by Michael Veal

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.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

The Business of Tech and the Sound System

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor July 25, 2021)

A few days ago, we saw the conclusion of the seventh Sound System Outernational (SSO) academic conference, titled Sound Systems at the Crossroads. Owing to Covid-19 this staging of the conference ran for six days online. This is a project of the University of London’s Goldsmiths College, headed up by one of my former graduate work supervisors, Professor Julian Henriques. Imagine that though, a full-blown sound system conference with academic presentations, documentaries and film shorts, and sound system sessions with DJs and sounds from Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, South Africa, Italy, the UK, and more. Is there anyone missing? Jamaica was front and center for sure, but again it was about paying respects for its gifts, not about anything of economic or financial significance. 

Image Source: Sound System Festival Instagram

Professor Carolyn Cooper did a very good write-up ahead of the conference in an article titled, "University of London promoting sound systems" in The Jamaica Gleaner that I recommend you read. Her argument sheds some light on why all this global respect, admiration, and imitation of the economic (for non-Jamaicans) and cultural force that is Jamaica fails to translate to more than big-ups. She pointed out that, "the Jamaican elite devalue the mother language of the majority of citizens in much the same way that they diss sound systems. I suppose we need a Jamaican Language Outernational project, supported by a foreign university, to force us to honour fi wi culture, fi wi knowledge an fi wi identity." In other words, we strongly dislike who and what a majority of us are, and we want to sanitize ourselves. "Elite" as referred to by prof Cooper should not be read to mean descendants of those who use to rule. Today, many of them look like those who were enslaved because it is not purely about color, rather it is a way of thinking. 

One of the benefits of having lived outside of Jamaica is you develop a comparative lens through which you begin to examine your present and past lived experiences. It is an immensely valuable tool. I am a big advocate of traveling as a part of an overall education process. Not only is it about seeing how other people do things, but it is also about learning to appreciate what you have. Many life expressions from Jamaica, namely, reggae, dancehall, dub, ska, the sound system, Patwa, Garveyite and Rastafari philosophy, food, and so on have become the “luxury” good, the aspirational product or brand, the Gucci, the Louis Vuitton, the Range Rover, Mercedes Benz, etcetera of world popular culture. If only we truly understood this. 

I see that this past week the government showcased some Jamaicans in the business of technology, which is a worthy project, but I couldn’t but wonder if we aren’t losing a massive opportunity to play to our own strengths in technology by launching from a base of our innovations in sound system technology. The sound system is a product of modern electronic technology, developed on the island of Jamaica. The study and mastery of sonic and related entertainment technology are not fields we would be woefully ill-equipped for. We have been unrivaled authorities to some extent, though we may be losing that authority. 

Image Source: Sound System Addict Instagram

In my conversation with prof Cooper ahead of the keynote presentation that she delivered at the SSO conference I raised some points that she picked up on. I told her that I think one goal of Jamaican music entrepreneurs in this new era should be scaling the sound system segment of our culture as businesses beyond the individual or small group into streamlined manufacturing operations. These operators should be holding trademarks for sound system brands and marketing merchandise, and, also holding patents as pertains to the creation and manufacturing know-how of sound systems. We should aim to have a vibrant global operation to build and consult on building and operating sound systems as streamlined operations. 

These are the demands of the modern world for which we must prepare physicists, sound engineers, industrial designers, marketing managers, and business leaders. Recall Patricia Meschino’s article "Check out the real situation: Charting reggae's vast influence", published in The Jamaica Observer on April 18, 2021, in which she argued that Jamaica should embrace technology and other sectors in the country to monetize Jamaica’s vast music influence, and I am in agreement with her. To date, we have been using an outlook that has not facilitated a more seamless integration into a globally integrated capitalist economic structure on our own terms and I fear we are now experiencing the consequences. 

Unfortunately for us, it appears that we are blind to this world of our technological genius and are sadly consumed by what David Schwartz in his book, The Magic of Thinking Big, describes as a “greed that is blind to the how of making money.” To explain, it is a greed that is in the perpetual pursuit of money but lacks the higher understanding of how the system works, a lack of understanding that meaningful economic wealth comes from a full embrace of yourself, your identity, and your humanity. Learn to embrace your culture and what you have here at home and the wealth you so desperately seek will find its way to you naturally. 

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, 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 ideas and ideals 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 a 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.