The question of the downturn in support for major reggae/ dancehall shows first arose last December, following a disappointing turn out for the 27th staging of the ‘greatest one night reggae festival on Earth’ — Sting.
In addition to what was perceived as a weakline-up, the support for the annual Boxing Day event was perhaps the weakest ever, as many potential patrons refused to shell out their already limited funds to see acts whom they had been seeing on stages across the island at numerous promotional road shows without spending a cent.
The impact of these corporate events rose steadily during the final quarter of 2010 and peaked during December in the run-up to the Christmas and New Year’s holiday.
This period saw the staging of the massive Arthur Guinness Day celebrations inside Kingston’s National Stadium in October. This well-produced event featured the much-talked about performance by dancehall rivals, Beenie Man and Bounty Killer. The major telecommunications players, LIME, Digicel and Claro all staged a number of roadshows across Jamaica as the plugged the season’s promotional campaigns. On December 12, Red Stripe Bold took to New Kingston’s main artery — Knutsford Boulevard — where thousands stood shoulder-to-shoulder in driving rain for another free concert featuring the year’s top deejay, Vybz Kartel.
Sting then became the benchmark, with a number of reggae/dancehall watchers noting that the proliferation of these free, promotional stage shows by corporate entities is having a negative impact on the business of legitimate show promoters.
Reggae act Tony Rebel, who heads Flames Productions — promoters of Rebel Salute — was vocal about the impact these shows are having on operations such as his. Speaking in Kingston last week at the launch of this year’s staging of Rebel Salute, he called for a levelling of the playing field.
“We all have to play our role to keep the music alive, but these free shows by corporate Jamaica are threatening to put legitimate promoters out of business. We haffi balance di ting to make it work for everyone,” he suggested.
Senior lecturer at the UWI, Dr Donna Hope Marquis agrees that the increase in shows by corporate Jamaica is having an impact on the legitimate promoters and dwindling patronage at their shows. She however notes, that this is being done by corporate Jamaica in a bid to develop stronger ties to their markets. ” I get the impression that some of these corporate sponsors want to maintain traction with their core consumer group, but wish to do so in a more direct way so that the consumers will perhaps develop greater affinity for their product because they see them as a ‘benefactor’ — Jamaicans, we are told, love freeniss,” she explained.
Dr Hope-Marquis added, “These free shows are being put on by corporate entities that were once the primary sponsors of many legitimate promoters, and so the sponsorship funding is being siphoned off into other areas. If legitimate promoters do not garner corporate sponsorship, music stage shows will continue to dwindle and evaporate. It is a sad commentary on how we regard and support a critically important component of our culture that has such wide-ranging social, cultural and economic repercussions for so many demographics — age, class, gender, etc.”
Meanwhile, at least two of the corporate entities who have staged the shows, particularly in the run-up to the the holidays, have defended their events.
LIME chairman, Chris Dehring notes that “the focus of LIME’s musical foray is to give our musicians the opportunities which we feel our fellow Jamaican and Caribbean musicians deserve. We also believe that the market is there for innovative promoters to stage successful stage shows even while we continue to expand the opportunities for our musical artistes. In fact, by embracing our own Jamaican music, LIME is expanding that market for even more musicians and entertainers, which will lead to a better and more organised music industry. This should in turn lead to more opportunities for show promoters.”
And, fellow telecoms player, Digicel, notes that since their entry into the local market in 2001, they have continuously supported the local music industry through sponsorship of events such as Reggae Sumfest.
Head of marketing at Digicel Donovan White stresses that Digicel’s shows are a signature part of our promotional activities and over the years they have given artistes the opportunity to market themselves and increase their fan base. Importantly, performances on Digicel Road Shows serve as a promotional teaser for the artistes as to what patrons can expect from them at larger events.”
White adds, “taking our free shows to communities across Jamaica also gives persons a chance to see and interact with their favourite artistes as they may not be able to attend the larger events.”