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Local music needs international appeal – industry players

Published:Sunday | March 1, 2020 | 12:00 AMStephanie Lyew - Sunday Gleaner Writer
The panellists (from left), Kool Herc, Kemar Highcon, Gramps Morgan and Shaggy sit with moderator media personality Winford Williams on stage for the Evolution of the Reggae Mecca segment of the Jamaica Music Conference, held at The Courtleigh Auditorium on February 15.
Mikie Bennett

With the introduction of digital music in the mid-1990s, consumption became increasingly popular as more and more persons were able to discover new music from across the world. The developments in sharing and streaming music impacted the way listeners of even reggae and dancehall consumed music and selectively chose songs with the sound they preferred, say a number of industry players.

The constant change in consumer preferences, Kemar Highcon told The Sunday Gleaner, “has a significant effect on the industry as a whole, from producers and artistes to publishers and platforms that share the music”.

He continued: “The supporters of reggae and dancehall need artistes to fuel them and the artistes need these same people to fuel them. So, how do we move forward and change the way music is consumed? Appeal to the international markets.”

The ‘Sauce Boss’ expressed that the generation of dancehall entertainers he is a part of are challenged with putting out enough music to compete with each other and meet the demands of their “tribes”.

“I (and other artistes) have created ‘tribes’, specific fan bases to support or consume the music, but we have to continuously build and make them feel part of our music every day; it is more than music now,” he said of his strategies to promote music.

Where is our focus?

“Most of our music don’t pass Norman Manley International Airport because we are sometimes focused on the audience here rather than the international market. There are songs that are big in Jamaica I never hear in a club in New York – people still consuming ’90s music overseas, and that’s one reason for my focus on those timeless lyrics.”

On the other hand, said dancehall entertainer I-Octane, “timeless songs or the conscious music we believe people consume isn’t being embraced as we would like it to”.

“The same people that make up the local support or may help with the promotion of artistes’ catalogues push that music one side, forcing artistes to follow trends or looking to international sounds and markets, which in turn force consumers to take what is available.”

His recent song Banga Fone was, he said, a deliberate attempt to see the reaction of various audiences, locally and internationally. He said, “It nuh balance now; people want me stick to the reggae-type, conscious music that generally appeals to overseas but I, and all artistes, cannot give up on dancehall and our presence here.”

But can we change how the consumers want the ‘touch and go’?

That is the question Grammy Award-winning entertainer Shaggy asked and answered at the recent staging of the Jamaica Music Conference.

“There is a huge disconnect; there are songs that stream huge but don’t play in Jamaica, and the top song in Jamaica has nowhere near the streams, and it does not have to do with the sound alone,” Shaggy said of music consumption.

“The advantage that exists now – the Internet – people never have that. You can go on it and create fan base. It is continuous and the players have to go after it because we are at a disadvantage with a small genre, but know that when we make noise or find that cool factor, everybody listens.”

Expert director of music and producer Mikie Bennett expressed that there is not one set formula to make local music appeal to international markets in order to improve profitable consumption.

Bennett told The Sunday Gleaner, “ it’s appealing to both the little and the big man in the industry to want to listen to the music, then to local and international consumers, and it doesn’t mean it has to be a fusion of genres either. The artistes and producers alike need to be dedicated from production to promotion.”