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 an 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. 

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Personal Collection, Rototom Sunsplash 2018

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

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

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

Source: Personal Collection, Rototom Sunsplash 2018

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

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

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

Kam-Au Amen has several years of combined industry experience across the areas of business management, brand licensing, media production, and eCommerce. He is a researcher of African and Caribbean entertainment and cultural enterprise management, and is a former deputy director of culture in the Ministry of Culture, Jamaica. He has also served a member of the Entertainment Advisory Board. He is the conceptualizer and first coordinator of the pioneering BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The J’ouvert Bacchanal

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Michael B Jordan, Instagram

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

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

Source: Carla Parris, Facebook

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

Kam-Au Amen has several years of combined industry experience across the areas of business management, brand licensing, media production, and eCommerce. He is a researcher of African and Caribbean entertainment and cultural enterprise management, and is a former Deputy Director of Culture in the Ministry of Culture, Jamaica. He has also served a member of the Entertainment Advisory Board. He is the conceptualizer and first coordinator of the pioneering BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Overcoming Low Economic Expectations

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

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

Source: Bank of Jamaica

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

Source: PublicAffairs, a Member of the Perseus Books Group

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

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

Source: Private collection

My use of ECCI refers to businesses in the sectors of music; events and festivals; radio; film, video, and photography; television and cable; telecommunications; internet and online media; electronic gaming; publishing and printing; sport and recreation; fashion; cultural and heritage tourism; amusement and theme parks; gaming and wagering; toys and games; performing arts; commercial art; cuisine and food culture. All in some way rely on, or trade on, some aspect of the Jamaica culture or our intellectual property for its sustenance. They sectors are not in every way discreet, a few functions overlap, but this structure helps in outlining what businesses we are talking about and how we might begin to organize them, particularly as we begin to dive deeper into how we can finance them in this technologized and globalized context. In this context finance needs to understand what entertainers, artists and other creatives are going on about, and so whatever we can do to simplify and cut through the esoteric the greater the chances of bridging the gap of understanding in order that we can build trust and defy the low expectations.

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

Kam-Au Amen has several years of combined industry experience across the areas of business management, brand licensing, media production, and eCommerce. He is a researcher of African and Caribbean entertainment and cultural enterprise management, and is a former Deputy Director of Culture in the Ministry of Culture, Jamaica. He has also served a member of the Entertainment Advisory Board. He is the conceptualizer and first coordinator of the pioneering BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Business of One Love

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

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

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

Source: The Voice promotional video September 2020, NBC Universal

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

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

Source: Bogle-L'Overture Publications (BLP)

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Jamaica Football Federation

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

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

Source: Grace Kennedy & Co Advertising

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

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

Kam-Au Amen has several years of combined industry experience across the areas of business management, brand licensing, media production, and eCommerce. He is a researcher of African and Caribbean entertainment and cultural enterprise management, and is a former Deputy Director of Culture in the Ministry of Culture, Jamaica. He has also served a member of the Entertainment Advisory Board. He is the conceptualizer and first coordinator of the pioneering BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Reasoning Dancehall and Entertainment’s Refusal

(First published in the Diaspora section of the Jamaica Monitor May 16, 2021)

I was so moved by an article that appeared in the Jamaica Monitor on Sunday, May 5, 2021 that I felt I should chime in on what I think is an interesting start to a conversation. The article was titled, “Jamaican dancehall: The stone the builder refuse[s]”, by Richard Hugh Blackford. I’ll start where Richard ends, which is posing the question, “how can we capitalize on this resource developed largely by people that too many of us would want to identify with only for as long as some of the recordings they make spins on a turntable?” This is a searing indictment on the Jamaican society, and he demonstrates in the article how divided we are by along class lines, by recalling how for years Jamaican music was excluded by polite society and denied air play in the land of its creation. 

Image Source: Graphic Artist Sean Iya Henry (Instagram)

There are many studies that have been done in academia, and by state and international agencies, that are aimed at devising development and export strategies that are supposed to help in catapulting Jamaica’s entertainment, culture, and creative output into the international arena, and return to us great economic rewards. Yet, the great economic returns have not materialized for us. But there is one individual who we know serves as an exception, Bob Marley, and that his estate at the very least sees some “great” economic returns. Since 2012, Marley has consistently been ranked by Forbes Magazine in the top six of the world’s highest-paid dead celebrities, grossing an average US$20M each year. This past May 11, 2021 my social media timeline was filled with tributes to his memory on the 40th year of his passing. No less than the BBC made a tribute to him. His legacy is what impact and relevance looks like. We could discuss how Bob Marley’s brand is able to command that kind of earning 40 years after his death, but in my view that would not address the question Blackford posed. Rather, I suggest that the answer to his question lies in politics, and I will show why. 

In the book Why Nations Fail, authors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson argue that nations fail because of politics, that it is the politics of states that determine the institutions that exist and survive within that polity. They explore the division of institutions, inclusive versus extractive institutions, that make up the modern community of states and demonstrate how they function to empower and enrich large majorities of citizens, or the opposite of weakening and keeping in poverty large majorities of citizens, ensuring that the wealth generated within the state benefits only a small elite. This happens, they argue, because of the nature of the institutions the state supports due to the power of various groups in the society, so then, inclusive political institutions will often lead to inclusive economic institutions, while extractive political institutions will generate extractive economic institutions, and relationships, in a vicious circle that perpetuates itself and ensures that those who labor under the extractive institutions will never get out, unless of course, the politics changes to eventually foster inclusive institutions, and its own virtuous circle. It is a simple theory that dismisses arguments that nations fail and economies like ours do badly and remain poor because of geography, culture, or ignorance of economic management. 

Publisher: Crown Business, New York, 2012

Using the case of Britain and the circumstances that led to the Industrial Revolution, the authors show how beginning with the Magna Carta in 1215 that set in motion the process of gradually weakening the monarchy, and over time, granting more power to a plurality of groups within the society, that that plurality enabled the slow growth of inclusive (and measured in the first instances) political institutions that only grew in power on the basis of the creative destruction and innovation that they fostered, which are both necessary for the sustainability of inclusive institutions. All this is important to make the point that in Jamaica our institutions, both political and economic, are extractive in nature even if they act inclusive and representational, because real power, which rests with an economic elite, is not interested in the empowerment of these economically marginalized groups, the creators of reggae and dancehall, as Blackford points out in his article. And, why should they be? Acemoglu and Robinson will tell you that there is nothing surprising about this, that it is a fact of history that elites have always been concerned about their own power, and change that weakens their power is not something they readily embrace. Creative destruction and innovation, they show, are often resisted by elites. Elites have always been forced to change, and that is the example of Britain. The institutional changes that brought us this modern capitalist world were products of struggle. 

Therefore, we who are members of the entertainment, creative and culture sectors in Jamaican society should not expect that Jamaica’s political and economic institutions will give entertainment what is demands. It is not going to happen. I am of the view that members in these sectors must think seriously about how they will build capital. In this context, capital accumulation is equally a political act, because one of your greatest levers is the wealth you control. So, musicians, filmmakers, performers, managers, event promoters, media owners, attractions and theme park operators, wagering and gaming services, and others, must seek to leverage wealth, and equally seek to have political representation from among themselves. An active role in political institution building is a prerequisite for economic institution building, and it is the state that provides the framework to ensure the viability of these institutions. 

It is one of the saddest political miscalculations that the Rastafari movement in Jamaica separated itself from political representation, engaging from a distance. I reckon that even if it separated itself from either of the two major political parties on its mission for political representation, it would have benefited from having institutions that actively engaged the state to force more inclusive institutions. It is not lost on me that Bob Marley as an individual, as a Rasta, and as a musician, was aware of the immense political power he had, and attempted to use it to force change for more inclusivity via his peace concert, that too is political engagement, and it is important. 

Video Source: Jab Jab Official (Instagram)

If we are serious about the business of entertainment and the economic development of Jamaica, then we will need to “bell the cat” so to speak. There are many numbers that are passed around as to what the entertainment, culture and creative sectors of Jamaica may be worth, and even Blackford includes a number in his article, but those numbers will remain in dispute for a while, because it depends on who is counting and what sectors they choose to include. Yet, there is no question in my mind that to attract the kinds of investment needed to produce the billions we claim to be possible that the state must be forced to incentivize these investments. And, it is going to be through the active political engagement of industry players who stand to profit from these developments who must contest those elites who now command the state to do their bidding to the exclusion of entertainment, culture and creative enterprises. 

I am one of those Jamaicans who is saddened that Bob Marley passed when he did, because I strongly doubt that our economy would have been organized in the way it is presently. I am of the view that had he 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, he 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. And he was acutely aware of the nexus between money, politics, and power, and he had the aptitude to navigate it. 

Image Source: Sound System Festival (Instagram)

If you are a member of the entertainment, culture and creative sector who is serious about generating wealth and development in a democratic and inclusive society that fosters inclusive economic institutions it would be a smart move to encourage more entertainers turned investors like Marley, particularly as Jamaica struggles to source foreign capital for growth and investment. A vibrant entertainment, culture and creative industry needs a broad coalition of “industrialists”, to borrow an old term, that is, traders, manufacturers, businesspersons, investors, and commercially minded activists to make an industry; an industry that demands and forces change in our political and economic intuitions. But this will not be an easy feat or quick event, rather, it is a process that takes years, and perhaps generations, and hopefully the contingency of history bestows some luck along the way. 

Acemoglu and Robinson tell us that extractive institutions do not generate sustained economic growth for two reasons, first, the lack of an economic incentive to do so, and second, the resistance by the elites who will not tolerate creative destruction, that they think will undermine their power within the state. Both of those political factors will have to be overcome if a transformation to inclusive political institutions is to happen, local and international strategy papers notwithstanding. The answer to Blackford’s question of “how” is political engagement.

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.