Jamaica Music Conference 2015: Sustaining an Industry
November 25, 2015
This year’s staging of the Jamaica Music Conference (JMC) provided an excellent opportunity for those working formally and informally in the industry, locally and internationally to discuss problems but also find solutions to some of the challenges facing the sector. It also provided an opportunity to interact with students from the Haile Selassie I High School which has been a focal point of goodwill for the JMC.
What follows is a synopsis of the JMC weekend of panel discussions as well as a brief commentary on other events for the three days of activities commencing on November 20, 2015. It is my intent to focus on the insight and gleanings, which were most significant to I experience from what was arguably an essential grounding for all who were in attendance.
Service Day 2015
Each year’s activities begin with a Service Day which involves students from the Haile Selassie High School. This year, students were taken to an organic farm in St. Catherine and were also exposed to a film capturing the work of Habesha Incorporated. Many of them were easily engaged when expressing themselves through live performances, which gave them an opportunity to show skills in drumming and vocal performances. The team was heartened at their willingness and boldness but also the courage shown by those who at first appeared shy and unwilling to participate.
Despite this, there is much to be done to ease issues of concern relating to how the youths value and view themselves. There is much work to be done to reach them right where they are, and show them another way from what they are perhaps used to in less fortunate circumstances of life in which many find themselves. In visiting the school, it’s also noted that once a year is not enough and immediately thoughts of how to create a greater impact comes to mind because the ultimate hope is that a positive influence will turn the tide to necessary change which will stem a disturbing cycle of self-destruction. We have a mammoth task ahead.
Day 1 Panel 1 –- “The Role of Education in Creating Independent Music Professionals & a Sustainable Music Industry”
The first panel consisted of Hugh Douse, UWI Lecturer at the Institute of Caribbean Studies and Rayven Amani, Founder of the Jamaica’s Best School Band Competition. Salient points discussed emphasized the importance of training for all professions in the industry especially as it relates educating the youth to see music and the performing arts as seriously as other professions are taken in terms of preparation.
The discussion also pointed out the importance of not just recognizing talent but also helping individuals reach their potential. Ms. Amani spoke specifically to having to give a wakeup call to students who only see the glittery side of being a performer. Also highlighted was the lack of music programs in high schools, with fewer schools actually having students sit the exam. This obviously was sending the wrong message to those interested in moving forward in this direction. Mr. Douse emphasized this with statistics and exposed the weaknesses of even the Ministry’s role in making music a priority. Solutions offered were for those interested to take advantage of training opportunities, like those created by the Institute and Edna Manley. Closing points and advice were to take the craft as seriously as any entrepreneurial endeavor. Adequate training and preparation was hailed as the answer to raising the profile of the industry in the minds of parents of the talented youth, Jamaica’s society and a means by which we can measured on the international stage.
Day 1 Panel 2 –- “Developing and Protecting your Brand”
Distinguished panelists Marcus Goffe, Attorney and Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) Trademark Manager, Joavan Puran, Visual Artist and Stephen Newland of the Rootz Underground Band participated. Mr. Puran shared his passion for his art and invited deep contemplation of what it takes to build a brand while Mr. Goffe provided important information relating to registering trademarks. Stephen Newland of the Rootz Underground band offered advice on building one's brand and revenue stream through merchandising during touring. The following are useful resources for further contemplation for those looking to protect their brand.
https://www.jipo.gov.jm/ (Jamaica Intellectual Property Office)
http://www.copyright.gov (US copyright Office)
http://www.uspto.gov/trademark (US Patents and Trademark Office)
Day 1 Panel 3 – “The Women of the Jamaica Music Industry”
This panel was the most spirited of the day’s activities and it’s no secret as to the cause; it raised for discussion the point of how gender is perceived in a perceptibly male dominated field. It consisted of Denise Isis Miller Radio Host and Event Promoter, Kareece Lawrence, Publicist and Manager, Masani Montague, Booking Agent and Promoter and Leslie Ann Welsh, Production Manager, Anubis and Manifesto Jamaica. The women shared their experiences some negative and others positive in the industry which also pointed out possible ways in which relations for business could be improved between the opposite gender as well as working relationships among women in the industry. It was noted that there needs to be a greater atmosphere of cooperation and also inculcate a culture of respect for the valuable contribution of women to the industry.
Day 2 Panel 1 – “Music and Social Change”
Member of Parliament Olivia “Babsy” Grange and Joan Webley, Founder of Nanook Enterprises were the panelists for this discussion. Ms. Grange shared at length her within the music industry in Canada as well as in Jamaica in addition to her involvement in the “Abi” Reggae festival which was held earlier in April of this year in the Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast in Africa). Ms. Webley also shared her experiences as part of United Purpose tour in Europe earlier this year. Lessons shared were for a more united effort to declare a Jamaican presence at these overseas festivals in light of the fact that Jamaica’s Reggae Sunsplash had inspired Rototom Sunsplash, yet it appeared that the due or respect was not being reciprocated locally. Proactive response suggested was to look at how communally the creative community could garner financial gain as well recognition in the overseas market.
Day 2 Panel 2 – “Reaching the People: The Direct to Consumer Relationship”
The panel was chaired Delroy Thompson, Founder of Juice TV, Media and Streaming Services, Kabaka Pyramid, Recording Artist, Ricky Trooper, Sound Trooper System and Masani Montague, Founder, Upfront Theatre, Rasta Fest and Sistah Fest. Ms. Montague spoke at length regarding her organizing for the Sistah Fest and Rasta Fest and her work in Toronto. Kabaka shared briefly on touring recently in Europe. He shared that having a professional team is important that will help you organize efficiently. Mr. Thompson shared on his work on the Abi Reggae International Music Festival. Ricky Trooper spoke of the importance of sound systems in creating that all important buzz for an artist yet seemingly this recognition is not reciprocated to those involved in the culture. Reaching the people involves taking the music to them. He spoke to his early days and involvement with the music and his passion for it.
Day 2 Panel 3 – “Navigating Prime Time”
Contributions came from Kendall Minter Esq. Entertainment Attorney, Agent Sasco (formerly known as Assassin), Garfield “Chin” Bourne, Manager& Promoter of Irish and Chin Promotions and Winford Williams, Creator and TV host, Onstage TV. Mr. Minter shared advice as it relates to artist rights to protect their music.
It was interesting to note that many were not fully informed of their rights including some panelists who were artists. I think this speaks to the value of such a conference to even those seasoned in the business. Irish and Chin spoke to how he built his brand but also highlighted issues that come with booking artists for shows and also the seeming decline in dancehall music as well as overcharging by some artists. Winford Williams shared his wealth of experience from producing shows to hosting Onstage, which is without argument a growing brand in the Jamaican media landscape as well as in other territories. He spoke to using you tube as a platform to reach persons live, thereby expanding the audience reach. The lingering feeling was to first educate yourself on your rights and have supporting documentation to support agreements made between artists and producers. It was also emphasized that we need to join societies or groups that represent our art to also take advantage of getting in the know of the industry.
In between the discussions, on Friday and Saturday, attendees of the conference were feted to acoustic and band supported performances on both nights. The stage shows featured acts such as Jah Bouks, Lymie Murray, Asante Amen, Rayven Amani, Samory I, Feluke, the Marcus Garvey Revolutionary Guards, and an appearance by Iba Mahr to launch his LP, Diamond Sox, all rolled into the Conscious Reggae Party brand. There were also brief reasonings with the audience by this year’s revolutionary Speaker, Mutabaruka, and the reggaelutionary speaker and one of the JMC's founders Dejazmatch Kwasi Bonsu. It was a thought provoking and fulsome weekend. We anticipate further growth in the coming year and encourage wholeheartedly all who work in the industry to attend where possible. You will not be disappointed. BLAK IWA TV also looks forward to the continued partnership with the JMC team.
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