The New York reggae scene – specifically concerts, promoters and the paying public seem to be in a flux. The last spate of shows did not go well. Does the problem lie at the feet of greedy promoters, lackadaisical artists or a jaded public? Recently held local events failed to generate the kind of buzz guaranteed to keep all concerned happy. 
Jamaican Music

The State of Reggae

The New York reggae scene – specifically concerts, promoters and the paying public seem to be in a flux.  The last spate of shows did not go well.  Does the problem lie at the feet of greedy promoters, lackadaisical artists or a jaded public?  Recently held local events failed to generate the kind of buzz guaranteed to keep all concerned happy.  In fact, the word on the streets is that the award-winning Irie Jamborie; normally the biggest outdoor reggae festival in the east will not take place this year.  One can only surmise that the cancellation comes hot on the heels of the visa clamp down which has affected many Jamaican dancehall artists. 

 In Europe, and London in particular, there is no shortage of reggae performances.  There, the winning formula seems to be concerts featuring no more than three or four popular acts on each show.  I can see where this would appeal to the New York set.  You do the math!  You see your favorite artist perform a full set of say 90 minutes.  The promoter reduces his costs by having fewer ‘artists’ together with their ubiquitous followers comprising the entourage; and the paying public is satisfied with a less hurried show which in the past has seen the main acts somehow getting squeezed out.  Having three or four artists on a stage show is definitely preferable to the shambles of dealing with numerous performers whose egos are sometimes bigger than their stage presence or catalogue of hits.  The stage manager’s task consequently becomes more manageable.  It’s also easier for one band to support the headline acts and encourages attendance at rehearsals if you know you only have to support three performers.  Immediately you knock out the interminable delays that accompany band changes – of course, it goes without saying that it’s also financially preferable to not have to pay each performer to transport their individual band! 

Venerable reggae and international artist Freddie McGregor puts the onus on the promoter to organize and take control of the time element – a key component in planning a successful event.  When asked how he feels as an artist whose set is cut short, he expressed empathy for his fans who get shortchanged, he’s willing to give the people what the want, but says you can’t argue with the police when they say the show has to end.  His advice, “promoters have to be more professional and run the show”. 

Sharon Gordon of TSO Productions who has been promoting events since her college days at Baruch says an influx of ‘hobbyists’ in the industry has led to a drastic lowering of standards.  “Deep pockets may guarantee entrée to the business, but do not necessarily guarantee adherence to the level of integrity or professionalism that is needed.  TSO Productions operates outside the shady financiers who may be using the venture to white-wash a money paper trail”.  She tirelessly promotes quality entertainment and has branded the Reggae Culture Salute concert which celebrates its 6th year this October 30.       

Gordon confirms that her signature events, Reggae Culture Salute and Reggae Cabaret have always produced concerts featuring no more than three artists and patrons have always received value for money. 

Louie Grant of Irie Jamborie Promotions confirms that Irie Jamborie’s summer event was cancelled partly because of the travel restrictions and incarceration woes of the current crop of headline reggae acts.  In response to whether that situation could force a sea-change in the artist line up, he explained that what works in Europe will not work in New York.  Different demographics dictate patron’s expectations.  The fact that Jamborie has also evolved into a formulaic event, means patrons anticipate a certain line-up and this expectation has lessened opportunities to experiment.  

Dhaved Levy is quoted in an article appearing in the Village Voice as saying: “When your fanbase doesn’t have the opportunity to see you, they want you more and more,” he says. “Whoever brings a Vybz Kartel or a Beenie here first (after their visa is re-issued) is going to be paid.”  

Perhaps promoters need to focus more on customer satisfaction and not just returns on investment! 

If live reggae shows are to survive – a change has to come.  I wonder how long the public will put up with high prices and shady practices by those who have been around long enough to provide high quality and value for money events.  The world-wide economic downturn has forced folks to be more cautious about where they are spending their money so promoters and performers need to take stock.  In all walks of life ones brand and reputation have been important barometers of integrity and influence for those who do business with you.  Your brand and reputation, like true love, cannot be bought. 

About The Author:

Sheron Pearson host the Conduit Show at 6-9 pm every Sunday at www.e2onair.com. Log on and interact live in the chat room or call in to 718 676 0330.

About the author

Sheron Hamilton-Pearson

Sheron Hamilton-Pearson was born in London but now resides in New York. Her popular Conduit Show can be heard Saturdays 11 am to noon at www.theenglishconnectionmedia.com and Sundays 6 - 9 pm at www.e2onair.com