Sat | Dec 15, 2018

Donovan Watkis | What’s the value of Brand Jamaica?

Published:Sunday | June 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Donovan Watkis

Recently I saw where Tina Pinnock, known professionally as HoodCelebrityy, a Jamaican dancehall singer and songwriter from The Bronx, New York, signed to Epic Records. She released two mixtapes in 2017. After having only one hit song, the record label found interest in her career. From all indications, she has been working hard to establish herself on the mainstream. She also has a song on the Superfly movie soundtrack.

That's a commendable achievement and she should be congratulated.

However, it made me wonder why more youth from Jamaica who sing with the same accent and work as hard were not afforded the same opportunities. What is it about the information, education, and access given to most Jamaican youth that place them at the back of the line and render them inferior to their competitors overseas.

More interesting is that the competitors overseas seem to know this to be true and use it to their advantage. Many times the Jamaican culture is appropriated to Americans and Canadians who use it to climb the world charts and claim huge prizes. It is no wonder Jamaican youths believe that they start life with an unfair competitive advantage and seek to move overseas at the first chance they get.

While the Americans are progressing in huge numbers with their networks, the struggle to make it mainstream remains constant for Jamaican artistes.

According to an islandwide poll commissioned by the Jamaica National Building Society and conducted by Bill Johnson Survey Limited five years ago, 36 per cent of Jamaicans would leave Jamaica today if possible. Another 32 per cent see the very culture and country they inherited as a hindrance to their well-being, 43 per cent of the respondents being college graduates.

Many people in Jamaica work hard to become the best in their field in spite of these perceptions - their only hindrance is being the wrong countrymen. When they work harder and do get congratulated, the monetary rewards remain inferior compared to their North American competitors.

 

Differing views

 

I have heard people argue that had Usain Bolt been from a First-World country or even lived outside the Caribbean, his brand would command more wealth, being an international superstar with world-class achievements. His place of residence reduced his value.

Spice recently said on Love and Hip Hop that she outgrew Jamaica and was in America to break new ground for her career. She didn't say whether she migrated fully or was visiting to make this a reality.

If you are schooled in Jamaica, for example, as a doctor or achieved mastery level education at any local institution, and should you decide to go live abroad in the USA, you would need to do an updated aptitude test.

With a United States college degree or a London school degree, you can easily get a job based on your qualifications in most countries, including Jamaica, without any further testing.

Jamaica has great world-class performers who are on par with performances by Jay-Z and BeyoncÈ (maybe not BeyoncÈ, but definitely on par with Jay Z), and they have big brands that can be further developed. Many of those acts are struggling to get established in the world of music, even though they are the best in their field.

Opportunities follow perception, so the labels stay clear of approaching these Jamaican acts with lucrative deals. They make excuses about their quality of music or their troubling brand, although many artistes on their roster have done far worse than any Jamaican act.

To a child growing up in Jamaica with only Jamaican citizenship, he/she will wonder about the bankable power of Brand Jamaica outside the shores of Jamaica.

If local citizenship cannot grant access to the world's resources when the Jamaican displays excellence at work, he will seek different alliances. Many Jamaican superstars have never taken a vacation because they work tirelessly for the benefit of themselves and their country.

So who benefits from the inferior knowledge and access now being given, and who is withholding the diplomacy that will embolden the talks needed to break the barriers?

Who benefits from holding back the artistes who are at the top of their game and living in Jamaica? Why only let in one or two artistes from the diaspora's cultural affiliation every three years?

Last, and more directly, congratulations are in order for the artists who are able to garner support for making and distributing their art, but why would a major record label skip over the top male and female acts in reggae and dancehall like Spice, Shenseea, Tifa, Konshens, Chronixx, Tarrus Riley, among others, to sign only one artiste who has only one hit song in her catalogue?

It speaks loudly for the lack of research and respect record label executives have for the culture and people of Jamaica. What are we willing to do about it?

- Donovan Watkis is the host of the JR Watkis Podcast and World Music Views on TVJ's ER. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and coloringculture@gmail.com, or tweet @jrwatkis.