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How XM’s The Joint is destroying reggae

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.

The-Joint

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.

soja

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.”

Stephen Newland of Rootz Underground

Stephen Newland of Rootz Underground

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.

Protoje (Photo: Sista Irie)

Protoje (Photo: Sista Irie)

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.

Stay tuned….

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Comments

  1. supermandude says:

    This is not to start an argument, because this is a valid point you are making and if your observation about “The Joint” is indeed true, it’s a shame. However, I personally catalogue foreign reggae in it’s own sub genre and can understand why a radio station might choose to keep both separate, especially if those who control the station are culturally attached.

    Some may call it appropriation of culture… I personally believe music is universal and can be consumed by all. Once you start taking culture and religion into consideration however, things change. There are certain artists who seem to have no cultural/religious connection to the music yet use it in their music.

    I invite you to read an article I wrote about Jamaica protecting Reggae as a source of pride and as one of their most important exports.

    http://ow.ly/1073ei

    1. midnightraverblog says:

      Thanks for commenting. I will surely read your post as you seem to care much about this issue as do I. I am also someone who understands, and is quite sensitive to, the preservation of culture issue. However, XM is a publicly traded company and what they are doing is just plain wrong. They are gaming the system to favor Jamaican artists over non-Jamaican/US artists. The Joint is the only meaningful international broadcasting platform for reggae artists (except maybe the BBC) and by suppressing the music of certain groups they are impacting the hopes and dreams of very talented artists. This post only touches on one of my gripes with The Joint. Overall I think their programming is piss poor and unimaginative. It is a terrible radio station. I can find better selections on the 1-hour local reggae radio program on Sundays. No special programming. Few interviews. No history. No context. No debate. They basically allow their talented jocks to announce song titles. There needs to be a significant overhaul of staff and ideas IMHO.

      1. supermandude says:

        You bring up a different point here. We need more radio stations dedicated to non-top 40 here in the US, but I guess that wouldn’t be good business… I was fortunate enough to have lived in several places including Kenya and later the UK, both had radio stations dedicated to Reggae/Dancehall sounds.

        It is surprising that the American reggae sound hasn’t found it’s way on to radio, considering there are many influential groups nowadays I can picture a station dedicated to that particular sound.

        I haven’t tuned in to XM much.

  2. Etienne Stettler says:

    Maybe the producers of the show don’t care much for US reggae and prefer to play Jamaican artists. Do they play any African reggae? European? UK? Japanese? Maybe they want to promote Jamaican artists, since it seems like the US bands are already doing well enough. Again it’s really what they want to do.

    I listen to a show out Brighton, UK, called the Roots Garden and I notice that the DJ never plays US or African artists, but focuses mostly on Jamaican artists old and new. They also promote some UK based acts, but those are usually of Jamaican decent as well. The DJ has certain tastes and while I don’t always agree with it, it’s his show. He even mentioned once that he was not a fan of the “rocky guitar sounds” in reggae, which basically eliminates all US artists!

    I understand that the Joint is obviously a much bigger thing, but like most corporate radio stations, they play a lot of crap. And they probably play the same crap over and over again. Just like a lot of my local Washington DC radio stations, who probably have less than 50 songs in rotation at any given time. Corporate radio, at least in my lifetime, has always sucked. Maybe XM can a have World Reggae station and you can run it!

  3. Max says:

    I grew up with roots reggae in the late 70s and still love it and dub it, but I couldn’t care less for negative music, dancehall or otherwise. I don’t even regard todays dancehall as a sub genre of reggae. It’s Jamaican hiphop and I dont care.

    And when the term “wata down” is mentioned I don’t think about reggae from USA or Europe. I never did. I heard reggae artists and groups with hope to be as good as their Jamaican guding star. Not transform it into popcorn music.

    So it’s just the opposite. Superb roots and dub music is produced in France, Spain, Belgium, England, USA – all over the world. If I should mention one country that watered down this music genre it would sadly have to be Jamaica.

    When I listen to reggae from JA these days I am just deeply saddened. This used to be a genre with the roots from the culture, the pure talent of just anyone who grew up in JA as it seemed. Superb singers in every street corner, trios, groups, bands, producers, boom, boom, boom. Knockout music from the backyard.

    Now I hear some blipeti-blop-skeng made on a computer and it’s just sterile music. The album title is “Blaha Blaha Riddim!” and 27 persons who can’t sing takes turn in voicing it using a machine to make it appear like they can sing in key. So you think you should be a singer? And you need a machine to hold the key? Maybe rethink your career choice? The riddim turns out to be an old Studio One riddim but who cares – now DJ Sucksalot made it on his computer so he calls it the “Blaha Blaha Riddim!”. Deal with it! Did I mention DJ Sucksalot made it on his own computer?

    Of course I understand that these reggae albums are produced by the same production companies that pumps out dancehall 99% of the time. But this is the “normal” reggae music the island is producing these days. And it’s just crap.

    These productions all sound the same and it’s some type of assembly line production which just drains it from originality and all other qualities we listen for in good music. It really is the complete opposite of what made the reggae genre so great in the first place.

    I can’t think of a more clear case of “wata down”. The complete dismantling of a genre by it’s heirs.

    1. supermandude says:

      Completely agree that Dancehall should not be considered a sub-genre of Reggae, indeed it should be considered Jamaican hip-hop. The same way American reggae is usually considered “Rock Reggae”.

      Lets not forget that there are still artists who remain true to the idea of Reggae music, ex Jahdan Blackmoore, Kenyatta Hill?

      I think it’s hard for young artists to capture the sounds and feelings of yesterday in a culture driven by US celebrity culture. Money, cars, women etc appeal to these guys and people their age. Times have changed.

      1. midnightraverblog says:

        You speak many truths.

  4. midnightraverblog says:

    You obviously get it. Thanks for taking time to post.

  5. SImon Dennan says:

    Great post! I found it very interesting. Similar problems down here in Aotearoa New Zealand where bands that play a watered down BBQ Reggae get air time while bands that are more Roots orientated get marginalized or forced to become more “commercial” to get played on the radio or in the music media. This is really sad as a form of Pacific Reggae has evolved since 1980 and the first indigenous Reggae record release ‘Whats Be Happen’ by Herbs but the masses are largely unaware of it.

    1. midnightraverblog says:

      Make sure to check the Reggae Kulture Show with our good friend DJ Nattymouse on Free FM NZ!

  6. Ogbosu says:

    I wouldn’t read a conspiracy into it. I think it is just “piss poor programming” as someone eloquently put it. I do have to say I listen a lot and I have never heard Midnite…

    1. midnightraverblog says:

      You probably got it spot on

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