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In The Spotlight, November 2007

In The Spotlight, November 2007

In The Spotlight, November 2007

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United Reggae publishes Barbara's bimonthly In The Spotlight. Barbara Blake Hannah is a Jamaican author, music journalist, film-maker and public speaker. Here comes her first one.

Kingston, Jamaica, November 2007
REGGAE ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS

It’s not too early to announce that the first REGGAE ACADEMY AWARDS ceremony is set to unfold on Sunday February 24th, 2008 at the National Indoor Sports Centre in Kingston. The REGGAE ACADEMY is a project of the Recording Industry Association of Jamaica (RIAJam) under leaders Clevie Brownie and Lloyd Stanbury and membership is made up of music producers, vocalists, songwriters, music video producers, media representatives, artist managers and agents.

This week the Academy’s members were sent Entry Forms for nominations in several categories for the Reggae Academy Awards, promised to be ‘a first class international music awards event for Reggae and Dancehall’. According to chairman Stanbury, plans are at a very advanced stage for the event. The design and technical elements of the show are being worked out, and several top artists have already signed contracts to appear as performers and award presenters on the show, including Shaggy, Sean Paul, Morgan Heritage, Elephant Man, Diana King, Ky-Mani Marley, Ce’Cile, Etana, Assassin, and Voice Mail.

In addition to the artists already confirmed the organisers are also looking at a number of overseas based artists who have been involved in Reggae and Dancehall music such as Gentleman out of Germany, Sinead O’Conner, Sean Kingston and Collie Budz. Buju Banton is also expected to join the list of acts slated to appear as performers and presenters at the event.

The REGGAE ACADEMY AWARDS will be the final event in a 4-day series of activities in Kingston which will include music business conferences, a UWI Reggae Studies Unit seminar and live performance showcases for emerging artists. The project has already received the endorsement of the Jamaica Tourist Board and Jamaica Trade and Invest/JAMPRO. Presumably, the new Minister of Culture will soon add her official endorsement.

The reggae industry has long needed a first-class Awards show. This could be it, as clearly next February will be Reggae Month in Jamaica.

SUPPORT LACKING FOR REGGAE IN JAMAICA?

Which leads me to ask: do Jamaican people truly support our indigenous music industry? We may look at the large crowds at reggae shows featuring the latest hit makers, but we don’t buy their music -- we only go to a show, spend one or two thousand Dollars, and that’s usually the biggest contribution most Jamaicans make to an artist’s levelihood. Sure, the artists get paid for performing, but that’s not as big as people buying your music in the street every day.

Artists recognize this, so as soon as their hit song has done the rounds of all the stage shows they can get, they high tail it out of Jamaica to tour Europe, America and Japan where their records are bought by the thousands who attend their shows. Can’t blame them. Can’t blame Jamaica either, we’re a poor people with little or no disposable income.

But if we don’t start buying our own music, we’re going to continue losing our artists to overseas companies who can ensure their income. Another scenario is that foreign artists like Germany’s Gentleman, Italian-Jamaican Albarosie and Israel’s Mahityasu (who’s already on his way to an international Reggae No.1) are going to start winning Reggae Grammys just because of sales volumes.

And a word to the artists: it’s not about running away on tour. We need to see artists giving back more to the Jamaican community in ways that would make people buy their records as treasures to be handed down to generations. I’ve always thought that one way children would easily learn their times tables, would be if some reggae artists got together and composed a song for each times table from 1 to 10. Kids would learn as easily as they learn the hitlyrics. What about an artists’ charity to give back to the ghettoes from which many of them came? Stuff like this needs to happen to re-calibrate the relationship.

Or else all that will be left will be the glitzy concerts where working women with salary-filled purses scream, crowd the stage and line up for foreign acts like Michael Bolton, Air Supply and L.L. Cool J to sign their CDs.

CHRISTMAS REGGAE SHOWS

The Christmas shows are already being announced by launches of one or another. Cindy Breakspeare and Rupert Bent proudly announced that the third staging of “Welcome To Jamrock” begins the December concert season on December 18, headlined by (of course) Damion ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley with brother Stephen giving us the first chance to hear songs from his new album live. Can’t miss this one.

Also pleased to report that East Fest will return this Christmas after a one-year hiatus. Morgan Heritage’s commitment to the parish of St. Thomas will present a reggae-filled show on December 27th at the Goodyear Oval that promises changes to improve production and crowd control. For instance, no VIP section will be set up between the stage and the music massive who are anyway the biggest fans.

Then in January Walter Elmore and the usual suspects present the annual Air Jamaica Jazz & Blues musical and social event. This year promises Diana Ross and Anita Baker as headliners, who should certainly bring out an even more massive crowd than last year. Miss Ross is definitely NOT TO BE MISSED.

ERIC JEROME DICKEY’S EROTIC LITERATURE

I’ve never met a real best-selling author, so when the opportunity came to interview Black American Eric Jerome Dickey during his recent promotional visit to Jamaica, my curiosity overcame my hesitation to speak with a writer whose success rests on the copious amount of ‘erotica’ contained in his eight best selling novels. In fact, I put down his latest novel “Waking with Enemies” at Page 26, unable to travel further through the explicit sexual content that decorates his narratives.

Such sexual content will certainly not deter Dickey’s legion of fans who have consistently placed his novels on the New York Times best seller list, so, I sat down with him to ask whether ‘sex sells’ is the best route for a successful novelist.

Not a Rasta despite his long dreadlocks, Dickey says: “My novels are a mixture of thriller, mystery and erotica, but it’s always the story first. Even in the sex there is something that motivates the character further and deeper into the story, either moments before or after. Even so, I have never written a character that has gotten off easy for anything they have done.”

But does the sex have to be so graphic, I questioned. “I write it the way I like to read it and my readers like to read it,” is his answer. “I have a lot of loyal readers who have been enjoying my stories since my first novel in 1996.” Dickey says he has no plans to change his narrative style and is already planning another novel that may take place in Jamaica, which he has visited several times as a tourist and says he has been taking notes on this trip of people and places.

Dickey advises that Jamaican authors seeking to emulate his success need to organize their own promotional tours, especially of US cities such as Atlanta and Miami where there are so many Jamaicans and Black Americans. He admits, however, that American authors are lucky to have so many promotional opportunities close at hand, citing the many book fairs, conventions, book clubs, universities and entertainment events at which to make one’s presence felt, adding that the growing number of Jamaican authors could/should form themselves into an organization that can use the strength of numbers to break into US and European markets.

Dickey, whose novels always feature Black characters, says he considered himself just a Black writer until he went to London, where he was surprised to find himself described as an “American”. “At home, we are always seen as Black first and then American somewhere down the line. As a Black writer you may sell 20,000 copies, which seems like a lot until you realize that is a small number compared to other best sellers.”

One little-known fact about Dickey is that he has written the text for several Marvel comic books, a project that he found challenging and ‘ fun’. “Marvel invited me to write for them after reading that I’ve always loved comics. They present a new kind of mythology for which there are rules. First, you have to do background research into the characters to make sure you keep the history of each character, then you write the text with information that is new enough to hold up.” Copies of his Marvel comic books have been collected into one glossy bound volume “STORM” that is now on sale in Jamaica and is much more my to my taste in reading material.

As for my inability to read his sex-filled stories, he comments with a charming smile: “Life will be fine if you don’t like my books. It takes all sorts of writers to fill bookshelves.” Well, judge for yourselves, readers.

LOVE and BLESSINGS

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