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.