July 5th, 2012
The cancer in Jamaican music
Jamaican music has caught up to the politics of country to be a broken wasteland of noise that is filled with incompetent, narcissistic people who have no allegiance or care to anything but themselves. The thing is that everyone wants to act like this just happened when it didn’t. This cancer of noise has been spreading and slowly eating away at our music for over 15 going on to 20 years.
In the early 90’s when a lot of dancehall acts started interacting with American labels, a lot of the producers, musicians, artists and managers took the money and didn’t invest in quality music but instead short changed the music. Talk to someone like Sly Dunbar and he will tell you about a lot of so called reputable producers/musicians that got free work from their peers, with the idea of reciprocity. They did not credit a lot of their peers that worked on their initial projects and those that did get credit were credited as work for hire; and a lot of favours weren’t returned for the initial free work.
A lot of these so called reputable musician/producers, by the second run, delivered substandard results because they could not get any decent musicians to work with them the second time around. After that, everybody locked themselves off and did almost every aspect of production by themselves, ending a lot great collaborations. Reggae music which could be compared to a game of football was basically turned into a game tennis by selfish and egotistical musicians turned producer who just did not want to pay up front for work for hire or share possible earning with their peers by giving them credit for their free work. Some musicians/producers did not even try again, they just took their lot, bailed on the music, and sat back criticising all day.
The thing that a lot of people don’t realise is that a lot of great Jamaican producers were not necessarily musicians or singers but they were people who felt the music, understood the streets and understood the elements of bring the right people together to create great sounds. Some were engineers, sound system operators and even record retailers. Some musicians criticise Jammys, Germaine, Techniques, Digital B and Music Works because the producers for these labels weren’t musicians for the most part, but these labels consistently put out great music for decades and they weren’t one hit or one decade producers but producers that endured and also ushered in many revolutionary changes in Jamaica music.
Bobby Digital was initially an engineer by profession but in his role as a producer, he still worked with people like Dean Fraser for harmony and vocal arrangements and individual brothers from the Brownie family as musicians. Outside Of Clevie Brownie, Digital has found more success as a producer than the other Brownie brothers and Fraser. The simple fact is that a lot of great music that has come out of Jamaica has been the result of great creative collaborations and not necessarily any one individual; and a part of the downfall has been the selfishness and greed that led a lot of people to isolate themselves so as not to share in the reward that comes from good music but not realising that 100 per cent of crap is still crap. Just pick up a good reggae album from the 70’s to the mid 90’s and look at the musicians credits and the producer credit – then find any album after the mid 90’s with the same producers and look at the difference in musicians credit and think about the results of the both albums.
I remember a producer telling me in the late 80’s that one of the worst things that can happen in the Jamaican music is if deejays rise to the top of musical ladder. You see in Jamaican music, the initial order of importance in music was musicians, singers; then deejays came last. After a while the order changed to singers, musicians and deejays still last. I still remember Red Dragon refusing to sign on to a show because Sanchez was getting paid more than him; granted Sanchez was selling more records but that didn’t matter to Red Dragon. In the very late 80’s to the early 90’s the deejays managed to come out on top and the musicians were relegated to last with the singers in the middle. Now the simple fact is that the deejays were the deafest and most musically illiterate of the three.
The deejays’ musical illiteracy, combined with the loss of competent musical collaboration because of selfishness, basically guaranteed the downfall of Jamaican music. We see the results in the lack of quality music and the promotion of noise as music today. These songs are so bad they can’t even make it to the Harbour View roundabout much less to get on a plane to go anywhere outside of Jamaica. The pinnacle for these songs is getting played at Passa Passa or being acknowledged in a local tabloid.
Until we see a return or rise of competent and visionary producers, in combination with good musicians to guide the deejays and singers to record music that aspires to be more than a forward at Passa Passa, Jamaican music will be stuck in the vast wasteland of irrelevant noise.