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«Prepared for Caribbean Export Development Agency Barbados April 2001 CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION The rapid growth of an intellectual property and ...»

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Mento experienced a decline after the 1930s with the migration of population from the rural to urban areas. The influence of the Jamaican sound also shifted towards African American rhythm and blues (R & B) with the advent of radio in the 1950s. The 1950s also saw the emergence of the sound-systems, which serviced the burgeoning dancehalls around the city of Kingston. The disc jockeys or deejays (DJs) of the sound-systems began talking, rapping or ‘’toasting” over the records in a call and response style. This tradition has remained one of the dominant features of Jamaican music as exemplified by the emergence of dancehall music since the 1980s. DJs or deejays have become recording artists in their own right.

The early 1960s saw the creation of ska by artists like Coxsone Dodd and the Skatalites. Ska was an innovation on American R & B. Ska proved to be quite successful in the dancehalls in Jamaica as well as in Britain, where Jamaicans had migrated to in large numbers. By the mid-1960s ska gave way to rocksteady, which emphasized the bass line and involved a steady off-beat from the rhythm guitar, allowed for a slower pace and more sensuous sound. Rocksteady was replaced by reggae by the early 1970s with the introduction of a new beat that incorporated the old-time mento shuffle with that of rocksteady.

Reggae music, in essence, is a synthesis of the earlier forms of Jamaican popular music, mento, ska, rocksteady. Jamaican popular music has had an impact on the international recording industry since the mid-1960s. The first international hit by a Jamaican was Millie Small’s My Boy Lollipop, produced by Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, which reached the top 5 position in both the UK and the US in

1964. This success was followed by hits from Jimmy Cliff (Wonderful World, 1967) and Desmond Dekker and the Aces (Poor Me Israelites, 1969).

Reggae music experienced a meteoric rise in popularity in the early 1970s. This growth can be attributed to the exposure of Jamaican music and culture to international audiences. First, there was Perry Henzell’s film The Harder They Come (1971) which starred Jimmy Cliff and involved a soundtrack album that featured several Jamaican artists, including Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker, the Slickers and the Melodians. This soundtrack album was the best selling Jamaican album until Bob Marley’s posthumous album Legend (Chang & Chen 1998: 48). In addition, it is well accepted that international reggae was born with the release by Island Records of The Wailers’ Catch A Fire album in 1973. This album is recognized as the first one from a Jamaican artist that was

targeted at an international audience. Chang and Chen (1998: 49) explain that:

It was perhaps the first reggae album conceived as a seamless unit and not just a collection of singles arranged around hits. Here for the first time Jamaicans were making music with a foreign audience in mind. Indeed the studio tape of ‘Concrete Jungle’, the album’s opening song, was taken to England and a long guitar solo was added to make the ‘product’ more accessible to a white rock audience. And while traditional reggae songs were taut and trim three-minute affairs, five of the album’s nine cuts were four minutes or longer, allowing the Wailers to cut loose on songs like ‘Stir It Up’ (all of 5:30).

The commercial success and international media exposure of artists such as Bob Marley and the Wailers, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Steel Pulse, Black Uhuru and Third World elevated reggae music to become one of the first musical artforms from the developing world to be fully marketed in the West and internationally.

The impact of reggae and more specifically, Bob Marley, can also be measured by the success of Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, which became the largest independent record company by the mid-1970s. This wave of Jamaican music, referred to as the roots, rock, reggae era (1969 – 1983), created a large number of international superstars, for example, Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse, Third World, Toots Hibbert, Dennis Brown, Freddie Mc Gregor, Gregory Isaacs and Burning Spear to name a few.

The next wave of Jamaican music is dominated by the ragga or dancehall sound.

While the roots, rock, reggae genre gained strong international appeal its impact at home waned. The void was filled by the rhythmically potent dancehall sound with its sexually explicit lyrics and politically charged social commentary.

Dancehall became the new voice of the people and captured the imagination of Caribbean youth in the region and in the diaspora. The early exponents of the deejay-inspired genre included artists like U-Roy, Big Youth and Yellowman who generated much interest from the mid-1970s. Dancehall became fully established by the mid-1980s with the success of the fully digital rhythm of Wayne Smith’s ‘Under Me Sleng Teng’ in 1985. Dancehall music catapulted into the international market in the early 1990s and achieved unprecedented commercial success and media exposure through artists like Shabba Ranks who won the Grammy award for reggae in 1992 and 1993. Other luminaries include Chaka Demus and Pliers, Inner Circle, Ini Kamoze, Diana King, Shaggy and

Patra. Analysts Chang and Chen (1998: 8) summarises some of the achievements:

Shabba Ranks appeared in Time and Newsweek magazines and shared a number one hit on the American rap charts in 1995.

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Ini Kamoze’s ‘Here Comes the Hot Stepper’ topped the US Billboard Singles charts in late 1994 and was one of the year’s biggest selling records.

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Diana King’s ‘Shy Guy’, used in the ‘Bad Boys’ movie soundtrack, made the Billboard top ten and her album ‘Tougher Than Love’ reportedly sold over a million copies.

Shaggy, who topped the UK charts in 1993 with ‘Oh Carolina’, is probably the biggest selling reggae artist of all. His two-sided ‘Boombastic/Summertime’ hit #3 in the US charts in mid 1995 and debuted at #1 in the UK charts. The Grammy winning ‘Boombastic’ album went gold.

From the mid 1990s dancehall artists like Buju Banton, Beenie Man and Bounty Killer (the 3 B’s) emerged as the successors to the path paved by Shabba Ranks. However, this sound appealed largely to the core Caribbean and diasporic markets. Sales started to dwindle as the artist were unable to break into mainstream markets. Labels and Imprints like VP and East Coast in the US and Greensleeves and Jet Star in the UK were able to sustain their core urban markets but suffered from declining interest on the part of the major record companies. It is argued that the majors often had difficulties knowing how to market the dancehall genre given its use of Jamaican patois and risqué lyrics. The prime example of this being the controversy surrounding Buju Banton’s 1992 recording ‘Boom Bye Bye’ with its strong anti-gay lyrics.

It is also noted that the artists and their managers were not skilled enough to navigate through the challenges of the corporate music world. The challenge was essentially one of going after the mass market, for example, in the pop or hip hop genres, without losing the core fan base. This was the nature of the marketing challenge faced by Specs/Shang when they introduced Shabba Ranks to the hip hop market and when Patra was positioned in the pop scene.

The sought after crossovers did not materialize as hoped for. Consequently, by the mid-1990s the furore created in the early 1990s had begun to fizzle, thereby questioning the continued commercial possibilities for dancehall music.

Despite the successes of the above listed artists only a small group of artists had contracts with the major recording companies. In early 1995, artistes like Tony Rebel, Tiger, Worl-A-Girl, Ed Robinson, Barrington Levy and Redd Foxx had either their contracts revoked or have been dropped because their albums sales were only in the vicinity of 30,000 units (Watson 1995: 15-16).

The period from the mid-nineties saw a stylistic shift in the dancehall genre away from hardcore ‘rudeboy’ and ‘slackness’ lyrics towards ‘conscious’ lyrics, as exemplified by Buju Banton’s 1995 album Til Shiloh. In the late 1990s artists like Luciano, Tony Rebel, Morgan Heritage, Sizzla, Everton Blender, Maxi Priest, Beres Hammond, Shaggy and Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers have been able to sustain some international interest in dancehall and reggae music. However, sales have not rebounded to that of the early 1990s.

The shakeout in dancehall had a telling effect on reggae sales internationally.

It also led to a decline in overseas concert tours and live performances. The industry experienced another blow when US based cable music video company, Caribbean Satellite Network (CSN), closed down in 1995 after four years of operation. CSN had a large reggae and Caribbean music program and played a critical role in terms of media exposure for Caribbean genres. After CSN’s demise Black Entertainment Television introduced their ‘Caribbean Rhythms’ program. This was discontinued in 1998. In 1996 Caribbean Video Network (CVN) began distributing broadcast videotapes from its base in Tobago. CVN moved operations to Miami in 1998. The latest effort in this area is Jamrock Cultural Productions one-hour magazine TV show entitled ‘Lifestyles of the Caribbean’. The program, which is aired on cable channels in the US, Canada and the Caribbean, integrates news, interviews, sports with music videos. Jamrock’s operations includes a website and a mail or internet order system which allows viewers to purchase advertised merchandise, for example, reggae and soca CDs.


The structure of the music industry is such that its strength is in artistic and intellectual production. Jamaica is considered to be the most prolific territory in terms of musical output. There is an almost endless supply of artists, songwriters, lyricists, producers and arrangers. Outside any of the major studios in Kingston one can see a ready supply of new talent waiting to be discovered.

The emergence of digital recording technologies and the growth of ragga or dancehall music allowed for the proliferation of studios as well as increased opportunities for new artists to be recorded.

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Aspects of the Industry Situation and Context

1. Dominant phonogram Records. Many blank tapes sold.


2. Best/latest estimate of market 2.5 million singles, 800,000 LPs.


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The recording industry in Jamaica for the last three decades has been based upon a handful of locally owned larger companies, which record, manufacture and distribute local and foreign product (see table 1 above for more details). In the early 1980s there were four recording companies that were members of IFPI, seven recording studios (mainly 16 track), and seven pressing plants. The larger category of recording companies includes firms like Dynamic Sounds, Tuff Gong and Sonic Sounds, which are today three of the largest local recording firms.

Dynamic Sounds was acquired by Byron Lee in 1966 after a fire destroyed West Indies Records which was owned by George Benson and Bunny Rae, who in turn had acquired it from Edward Seaga (former Prime Minister and current Opposition Leader) the year before. West Indies Records Limited (WIRL) which was established by Seaga in 1958 gave competition to Federal Records owned by Ken Khouri, which had started the first recording studio in 1949 and pressing plant in 1957. Federal had a monopoly on record pressing but had no mastering capabilities and so was reliant on sending records to the US for mastering.

This dependence on imported masters continued until the late 1970s when Lee’s Dynamic Sounds and Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong upgraded their facilities. Tuff Gong started as a record label in the late 1960s. A record and distribution company was registered in 1973 but began operations in 1978. The pressing plant came on stream in 1979. The mid-1970s also saw the birth of Sonic Sounds, owned by Neville Lee, a record label, publishing house, recording studio and manufacturing plant for vinyl records and cassette tapes. Sonic Sounds was also operating as the regional distributor for the major international label BMG via a licensing agreement.

Up until the mid-1980s there were no transnational firms operating in Jamaica, even though there were two attempts by CBS to establish a presence there. The first attempt was in 1976 when reggae music sales were expanding rapidly. This initiative was blocked by the nationalist Michael Manley administration. The second attempt was in 1981 under the Seaga regime. A bid was made for a large share of Dynamic Sounds, which was owned by artist, bandleader, entrepreneur Byron Lee. This deal also collapsed. The main aims of the CBS initiative was to gain access to local talent as well as compete with the other majors and control the regional market. The failure of the deal did not stop CBS from increasing its catalogue of reggae artists like Peter Tosh, Third World and Jimmy Cliff and becoming a competitor in international marketing (Wallis & Malm 1984: 97-100).

The direct involvement of a transnational does not occur until the arrival of ‘Island Jamaica’ in 1995, which is a joint venture between former owner of ‘Island Records’, Chris Blackwell and PolyGram2. Island Jamaica took over ‘Mango Records’ portfolio for reggae music. Mango Records shifted focus to producing and distributing ‘World Beat’ music. In 1997 Blackwell exited the PolyGram board and established Islandlife in 1998, which includes record labels Palm Pictures and Rykodisc; licensing entity Bob Marley Inc.;

film/audio company Mango USA; and publishing company Blue Mountain Music. The merger of PolyGram with Universal in 1998 to create the Universal Music Group resulted in the establishment of a new label group called Island/Def Jam Music Group. This label group includes a number of artists from Island Records, Def Jam Records, Mercury Records, and their associated labels (Billboard 1999: 77).

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