The nominations for the 2013 Best Reggae Album Grammy, as in previous years, acknowledge the genre’s veteran acts while overlooking popular releases by a younger generation of artists, as Patricia Meschino reports in this article for Billboard.
The nominees are Jimmy Cliff’s “Rebirth” (Ume/Sunpower Records); The Original Wailers’ “Miracle” (MRG Recordings); Toots and The Maytals’ “Reggae Got Soul: Unplugged on Strawberry Hill” (Metropolis Recordings); Sly and Robbie and the Jam Masters’ “New Legend Jamaica 50th Edition” (Mondo Tunes) and Sean Paul’s “Tomahawk Technique” (VP/Atlantic).
The category’s sole dancehall reggae representative “Tomahawk Technique” spent 13 weeks on the Reggae Chart, peaking at No. 2. “Rebirth”, produced by Tim Armstrong of the punk rock/ska group Rancid, is Cliff’s first album in seven years and widely considered to be among his finest efforts. It sold 34,000 copies, according to Nielsen Soundscan, peaking at No. 76 on the top 200 and No. 1 on the reggae tally “Rebirth” spending 21 weeks on the chart and currently residing at No. 6. Meanwhile, celebrated, albeit modest selling, contemporary roots reggae releases by Jamaica’s Busy Signal, “Reggae Music Again” (VP Records), Mr. Vegas’ “Sweet Jamaica” (MV Music) and Romain Virgo’s “The System” (VP Records) were snubbed, as were albums by dancehall reggae stars Konshens (“Mental Maintenance”, Subkonshus Music) and I-Octane (“Crying to the Nation”, Scikron/VP Records). Well-received releases by American reggae bands Rebelution, Soja and The Green were also ignored. Selling far more than the aforementioned Jamaican acts, Rebelution’s “Peace of Mind” (87 Music/Controlled Substance Sound Labs), which debuted at no. 13 on the Top 200, has moved 52,260 units; Soja’s “Strength To Survive” (ATO Records) scanned 38,000 copies and The Green’s “Ways & Means” (Easy Star Records) just under 19,000, each crowning the reggae tally at various times throughout 2012.
“Of the 2013 Best Reggae Album nominees only Jimmy Cliff’s “Rebirth” has had any significant impact; for years, most of the reggae category’s nominations haven’t reflected what’s currently bubbling and do little to support acts who are pushing the genre forward resulting in a missed opportunity to develop the reggae market,” opines Eric Smith a founder Easy Star Records, the New York based reggae independent best known for their reggae remakes of classic rock and pop albums. (The Easy Star All-Stars’ 2012 interpretation of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, “Thrillah”, debuted at No. 1 on the Reggae chart and has moved 5,116 units in the US and just over 15,000 worldwide).
“To those who don’t know, the reggae industry appears dead because the same older acts and the Marleys always get the Grammy nominations,” laments Shane Brown, a primary producer on “Reggae Music Again” and “The System,” which respectively peaked at No.’s 5 and 6 on the Reggae tally. (Bob Marley’s sons have dominated the category: Stephen, for example, has won eight Grammys as a solo artist, as producer of younger brother Damian’s two Grammy winning efforts and as a Melody Maker alongside older brother Ziggy) “A nomination is prestigious but irrelevant,” Brown continued, “not having one doesn’t stop us from touring and making great music, nor does getting one make a veteran more popular.”
Since the Best Reggae Album category was established in 1985 the nominations annually underscore the chasm between popular reggae releases in the US and Jamaican markets and those recognized by the Recording Academy. Dr. Mike Alleyne of the Department of Recording Industry at Middle Tennessee State University, and author of the recently published “The Encyclopedia of Reggae: The Golden Age of Roots Reggae” says the Recording Academy “rarely acknowledges the emergence of new talent. They should assume a more developmental role by, for example, establishing a Best New Reggae Artist category, automatically motivating voting members to acknowledge upcoming talent, and encouraging artists with otherwise limited chances for recognition.” Alleyne concedes the necessity of a strong lobbying force to engender such a change, given the Academy’s streamlining of categories. “Having only one category for reggae undervalues the music,” Alleyne continued, “until there’s a more balanced assessment of reggae the voting patterns will remain the same.”
Just 53 albums were submitted for consideration in the Reggae Grammy category, comprised of dancehall and roots, veteran and upcoming artists’ releases. A minimum of 40 titles are required for consideration of a new category, therefore a second reggae classification seems unlikely in the near future, Bill Freimuth, Vice President, Awards, Grammy, explained. “Within a community it seems like we put apples and oranges in the same category, but viewed from a general consumer or fan standpoint it makes sense to call it all reggae,” Freimuth told Billboard.biz. “Even mainstream categories like rock contain Coldplay and Iron Maiden and many rock fans would draw a fat line between those two. It’s difficult to categorize music, we put things together even though they may not be that much alike, but it’s the only sensible way to divvy up the awards.”
Freimuth also commented on the Grammy’s recognition of older reggae artists’ works at the exclusion of their younger counterparts. “It’s hard to say why in recent years our voters have leaned towards old school reggae,” he said,”because we never know how many votes these recordings actually get and while some people don’t like this years nominees, others do.”
Kingston based Andrea Davis a member of Toots Hibbert’s management team says the ongoing selection of established names reflects the voting members’ limited awareness of contemporary reggae acts and those artists’ labels ineffectiveness in establishing a presence within the Academy. “Labels usually advertise the artist and the albums strategically targeting the industry within months of the nomination and voting process,” noted Davis. “Only Recording Academy members can vote so Jamaican producers and labels need to apply for membership, cast their ballots and nominate their albums!”
With an aim of increasing voting membership among the reggae industry, in 2009, Cristy Barber, currently the Director of Operations of the Marley family’s Ghetto Youths imprint and a 2005 Grammy nominated producer for the various artists compilation “Def Jamaica” (Island/Def Jam) spearheaded a Recording Academy educational drive with the goal of annually registering 100 new Academy members. She has admittedly fallen short, recruiting just 80 voters since beginning her crusade. “After campaigning for four years it’s difficult to see the genre’s biggest albums still ignored,” acknowledged Barber. “Many people have the credentials to vote and don’t bother to; until the industry takes voting seriously the majority of reggae Grammy nominees will continue to be on name recognition, rather than merit.”