Last Thursday evening, the four-man band Blu Grass in the Sky was elevated on stage at the CPTC’s Wycliffe Bennett Studio.
From there, under the all-seeing gaze of a multi-camera set-up, the band delivered their brand of music – what their Facebook page terms ‘Celestial Mind Medicine’ – reggae, dancehall, blues, rock fusion, world sound to a very sparse audience.
Still, although a more substantial audience for the recording would have been appreciated, Blu Grass in the Sky and the other bands on the CTV Rocks series also have their eye on a much larger and more sustainable crowd.
Gary Neita, manager, Creative Television, CPTC, told The Gleaner in an email interview that “we are producing with the intent to market the series internationally … In our agreement with the bands, we ask for the rights to sell the production for a set period, in any territory that will buy it. It’s not easy to sell TV programming internationally. It takes a lot of knocking on a lot of doors and it can take years. Sometimes, the older it is, the less attractive it becomes, unless you hit gold and record the next Bob Marley & The Wailers.”
“Flow Jamaica is carrying the series for one year on their Channel 1000 (Local Video On Demand) and they promote it heavily across all their main channels whenever there is a commercial break – BET, CNN, USA, Nick at Night, HGTV, TLC, ESPN, the music video channels, name it. It was a good feeling to be watching USA Network during the Grammy’s and see our 30-second promo for Rootz Underground come on during the commercials,” he said.
The bands are required to do a 70-minute set and Blu Grass in the Sky started off with a track which includes their name, showing the variety of tempo which marks many of the songs they performed.
Lead singer and guitarist Simon Samuels has a quick tongue, which he put on display to good effect with rapid-fire lyrics.
There were lyrics for the ladies (“I am the riverstone you are the water/roll over I”) and some quick ones about bad boy Johnny for the ‘rude boys’ (“Shot up north, shot up south/Shot up yard, shot up house”), the latter song including an extended dub section.
‘CTV Rocks’ began last year with Downstairs, Rootz Underground, Dubtonic Kru (before they went on to win Global Battle of the Bands), Black Zebra and then Blu Grass in the Sky, following in that order.
Chalice performs today, while Uprising Roots and a second showing by Dubtonic are also on the schedule of the six remaining recordings.
The participating bands are not paid in cash. However, apart from the prime setting for a live recorded performance with the unpredictable exposure benefits, Neita points out that the bands receive services from CPTC.
“We are not sponsored and really can’t afford to pay for the performance, so we try to make the arrangement as equitable as we can. Some of the things we give in exchange for their performance include a video camera crew for five hours to shoot in our studio or at any location in the Corporate Area, video from their performance and copies of the photos from the performance,” he said.
However, getting the audience for the all-important live feel has been problematic. Summing up the ‘CTV Rocks’ attendance as “weak”, Neita says “Maybe we are off the beaten track – Arnold Road off South Camp Road – but surprisingly, everyone who has come to a show for the first time gets very excited about the production facilities and the venue. It’s a TV studio in a very secure, gated compound, with huge parking.”
It is also a setting where a standard suitable for broadcast has to be maintained. “Their contract is specific – no lyrics that might give me a problem with the Broadcasting Commission and if I have to cut anything in their set I will advise them,” Neita said.
The Gleaner asks if ‘CTV Rocks’ is in response to a noticeable resurgence in bands performing and recording in Jamaica and Neita says “it’s not a response, it’s our mandate – to showcase the best of Jamaica’s culture to local and international audiences”.
“It’s an investment as we build our music catalogue and try to showcase Jamaican bands internationally. We really felt vindicated when Dubtonic Kru, the third band to perform, went on to become the World’s Best Band at the Global Battle of the Bands in Malaysia within three weeks (of performing on ‘CTV Rocks’),” Neita said.