Since 2008, February has been observed as Reggae Month in Jamaica and across the diaspora and provides opportunities for the celebration of the country’s rich musical heritage and its most iconic genre, reggae. While the observance of Reggae Month is an important cultural event, it also holds significant economic potential for Jamaica.
Reggae’s economic potential
The music industry, particularly in the realm of reggae, has the potential to be a major source of income for the country. According to a study by the World Intellectual Property Organization, the global music industry generates over $150 billion in revenue each year. Jamaica, as the birthplace of reggae, has the potential to tap into a significant portion of this revenue. This potential was provided with two major lifelines by the United Nations Education and Scientific Council (UNESCO) first in 2015 when it declared the city of Kingston as a Creative City of Music and as the birthplace of 6 distinct musical genres: mento, ska, reggae, rocksteady, dub, and dancehall and for nurturing the careers of music legends such as Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Peter Tosh, and Jimmy Cliff.
In 2018, UNESCO provided its second lifeline when it included Reggae in its collection of “intangible cultural heritage” and in effect provided Reggae with protected status, joining a list of more than 300 other cultural traditions like the Spanish art-form flamenco, Mongolian knuckle-bone shooting, and yoga in India. At the presentation the UNESCO body declared that “Reggae music functions as a vehicle of social commentary, as a cathartic experience, and means of praising God remain unchanged, and the music continues to provide a voice for all.”
Absence of planning and supporting infrastructure
Despite these lifelines however, Jamaica has not yet fully capitalized on the economic opportunities within its music industry. One of the main barriers to achieving this is the absence of a developmental plan for the industry and an associated lack of proper infrastructure to support the industry. This includes a lack of properly equipped recording studios, concert venues, and other facilities necessary for the production and promotion of music. Additionally, there is a lack of adequate investment, promotion, and support for Jamaican music, both within the country and internationally.
To capitalize on its rich music history and fully tap into the economic potential of the industry, Jamaica must invest in the necessary infrastructure and support systems. This includes investing in recording studios and concert venues, as well as promoting and supporting the music industry through government initiatives and partnerships with private organizations. Furthermore, Jamaica could also look to create more international market access opportunities for their music and artists. Jamaica has to envisage using music as a driver for sustainable development by focusing on the revitalization of the inner city communities to harness the full creative potential of people from vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.
Need for public/private sector partnerships
Another important feature that will leverage the island’s status of having protection for Reggae and in particular, Kingston’s status is by building private-public partnerships in the field of music to increase the number of creative clusters and development programs and establish a Live Music Museum, a creative incubator focusing on building capacities and offering vocational courses to youths ; broadening access to, and participation in cultural life by bringing music to outdoor venues. This measure will also promote intercultural dialogue through exchange programmes through the Edna Manley Music School, as well as the Simon Bolivar Cultural Centre, aimed to develop initiatives showcasing the ties between cities in the Caribbean and fostering exchanges of know-how, best practices, and expertise with other Creative Cities of Music.
Strengthening the brand Reggae
In addition to these efforts, Jamaica should also focus on building a strong brand around its music, particularly reggae. This includes promoting the cultural and historical significance of the genre, as well as highlighting the unique sound and style of Jamaican music. By building a strong brand and increasing the visibility of Jamaican music, the country can attract more tourists and create more opportunities for international collaborations and partnerships.
Set Goals the Reggae Month
Reggae Month is an important cultural observance, but it also holds significant economic potential for Jamaica that will not be realized by just talk. It is time for all involved to use the period as an opportunity to set tangible goals in the short, medium, and long term. It is time for all concerned to realize that by investing in the necessary infrastructure and support systems, promoting, and supporting the music industry, and building a strong brand around its music, Jamaica can fully capitalize on its rich musical heritage and generate significant income for the country.
About the Author
Richard Hugh Blackford is the host of a 2-hour music-driven internet show Sunday Scoops on yaawdmedia.com each Sunday from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm. The show focuses on Foundation Jamaican Music and takes its audience on a nostalgic but historical musical journey, peeling back the years of Jamaican musical development as the hosts explore the careers of Jamaican artistes. Sunday Scoops provides interviews with personalities, and discussions on Jamaican music and other topical issues. The show is co-hosted by noted DJ Garth Hendricks.
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