If you’ve paid any attention to the news coming from Jamaican media sources then you know that there is a campaign afoot to marginalize and delegitimize reggae produced overseas by non-Jamaicans. It seems that there are some in the Jamaican music and media establishment who would like to act as if non-Jamaicans have nothing to offer the reggae gods. That US reggae artists and acts in particular are not worthy of contributing to the reggae lexicon or that they do not deserve to contribute to this cultural music of Jamaica. XM Radio’s The Joint is just the latest in a long line of music institutions that marginalize reggae music produced by non-Jamaican acts.
While I understand the fact that there are some who believe that non-Jamaicans are only acting to dilute or “wata down” a reggae sound that evolved entirely within the shores of Jamaica, their concerns are just not supported by the reality of the situation. Let’s be quite honest about who is responsible for the “wata down” effect. It is not non-Jamaicans but Jamaicans themselves who continue to record, produce, sell, and broadcast a brand of reggae that is poorly conceived, uninspiring, and downright repugnant. Of course I am speaking about a style of reggae most people refer to as “dancehall,” however I am not so sure that is the word I would use to describe some of the sounds I hear coming from Jamaica. Doing so would be an insult to truly authentic dancehall artists – artists like Barrington Levy, Little John, Barry Brown, Michael Prophet, Johnnie Osbourne and others who fundamentally transformed the sound and vibe of reggae in the late seventies and early eighties. But I digress…
It seems like this campaign of delegitimizing music made by non-Jamaicans has taken hold at the only true and meaningful international platform for reggae artists, XM Radio’s The Joint. Sure from time to time they will play the obligatory track from Stick Figure, Tribal Seeds or SOJA, however, there seems to be an organized, deliberate campaign to keep music from non-Jamaican reggae acts off the airwaves at The Joint. How else does one explain their refusal to play music by the likes of Easy Star, Groundation, Midnite, SOJA, Rebelution, John’s Brown Body, and a whole host of supremely talented non-Jamaican acts? Aside from this practice being morally bankrupt, it also makes zero business sense.
Perhaps the powers that be at The Joint have some twisted belief that by suppressing the art of non-Jamaicans that they are somehow protecting the Jamaican artists and preventing the “wata down t’ing.” This is truly unfortunate. As the only international broadcast channel devoted entirely to reggae, The Joint has a responsibility to foster, preserve, and evolve the genre. Instead of uplifting the consciousness of the music, The Joint is choosing to dumb it down by playing tons of uninspired, soulless, garbage reggae while the brilliant works of most of the US reggae acts sits on the shelf.
They couldn’t be more mistaken.
Let’s just consider a few facts regarding non-Jamaican reggae artists. Fact: Seven of the past eight Itunes Reggae Album of the Year winners were US reggae acts. Fact: According to figures published in Billboard Magazine, US reggae artists sell more records than their Jamaican counterparts. Not just a few more but vastly more according to Billboard’s Patricia Meschino. Fact: The third largest grossing American reggae festival, the Cali Roots Festival, is headlined primarily by US reggae acts, with non-American reggae acts playing the undercard (one exception being Damian Marley, who co-headlined the 2014 festival). Fact: The most popular reggae act in the world right now with more than 4.5 million Facebook followers, more than 300 million You Tube plays, countless 8,000-plus seat sellouts, and 240,000-plus Twitter followers is SOJA, a non-Jamaican reggae act from Arlington, VA. Fact: The most prolific and influential reggae act of the past two decades is Midnite, a non-Jamaican reggae act from the US Virgin Islands.
Yet none of these acts can break the airwaves at XM’s The Joint?
Unlike those running the show at The Joint, some of Jamaica’s most popular “revival” artists see the US reggae movement as a positive force for all reggae artists and a way in which to gain access to a larger audience. Rootz Underground has already jumped on-board for the ride, opening several shows for SOJA in the US. They are also the only Jamaican group who has played the Cali Roots Carolina Sessions. Lead singer Stephen Newland embraces the American reggae movement and is quoted as saying that it is a movement that is “strengthening the genre for all acts.”
The next Jamaican artist to align himself with the US reggae movement is Protojé who is in discussions right now with Rebelution to open shows for them in the US later this year. Over the next several months, many more business savvy Jamaican artists will be closely aligning themselves with the US reggae movement. Do not be surprised to see artists like Jesse Royal, Jah9, Chronixx, Dre Island, and Iba Mahr make well-informed and prudent decisions to jump aboard the US Zion Train in 2016. You heard it here first.
So if the Jamaican artists get it, then why would The Joint continue this practice of trying to suppress and marginalize the music of these non-Jamaican artists? Its difficult to know for sure, however, if they continue this underhanded practice much longer they risk destroying the very artists they have vowed to protect.