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.

0 comments: