Ronnie Burke, director of the now-defunct, popular music festival Reggae Sunsplash, says that it is time to rebuild reggae, which hasn’t recovered since the death of Bob Marley in 1981.’ He points out that the Jamaican reggae music industry received a huge blow with the death of Bob Marley.
Burke made his observation while contributing to a panel discussion on the effective packaging of the Jamaican entertainment product for the international marketplace, which formed part of the Jamaica Music Conference that [ran until Monday, November 12.] He noted that there is less of a Jamaican presence on the road these days, which he attributed to the fact that there are more persons in the reggae industry from outside of Jamaica who are making greater inroads on the international market. “We are not alone in the game any more. When I listen to the international reggae charts it is difficult to find a Jamaican in the top 10, and if we are there, the sales figures are dismal at best. We have to work on rebuilding that Jamaican reggae domination.”
For Burke, the work to rebuild our brand and status requires the establishment of greater linkages with the international market.
“We have the talent, what we don’t seem to have are the steps that take them to international recognition. We have to rebuild those contacts. And I think that packaging tours with a big headliner that everyone knows filled in with the up-and-coming, find those booking agents who believed in us once to find those promoters who buy into our reggae packages. We have to be careful that we don’t slip any further,” Burke stated.
The emergence of dancehall music also came in for its fair share of the blame as it relates to the dip in reggae’s international visibility.
“I think that dancehall has pushed reggae into a corner. It is so easy for one person to take a computer, build a rhythm, and there are 20 performances on that rhythm. That creativity that would penetrate outside of Jamaica is not really happening with the younger set. I’m not saying their is no audience for dancehall, I would be wrong if I said that, but we are definitely missing that Marley experience. We have to re-establish our links with radio. We are not getting that level of international radio play we got in the 80s and 90s.”
He further observed that the responsibility of taking Jamaica’s reggae brand across the world still rests with the older acts such as Freddie McGregor, Jimmy Cliff, Barrington Levy, whom he stated are still the recognisable talent for reggae from Jamaica from an international point of view.
He, however, highlighted Chronixx as the only young act making headways in this arena. “Chronixx’s lyrics tell a whole story… it starts there. He’s talking experiences, he’s able to capture what’s happening, put it to music, and be exciting at the same time. You can also hear every word that he says. Sometimes I listen carefully to some of the other acts and I’m not picking up, and it leaves me wondering what is he saying.”
“There is work to be done; we are are moving in cycles and we will rebuild. We have the talent,” Burke noted.