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Is reggae dying a slow death?

Is reggae dying a slow death?

Is reggae dying a slow death?

By on - 14 comments

The upcoming closure of north London record shop Every Bodies Music suggests that reggae music is suffering a serious decline.

ONCE A popular music genre, particularly during the late 1960s and 70s when it found favour amongst the white working class, reggae music has seen a rapid decline in popularity in Britain.

Every Bodies MusicThe upcoming closure of record shop Every Bodies Music (formerly known as Body Music) - the famed store in Tottenham, north London, best known for its extensive collection of reggae music - has sparked concern amongst reggae enthusiasts, while the decline in the music's sales is further indication that the genre which began in Jamaica is suffering.

"Satellite television and Internet communication has had a dramatic effect on the type of music that's being made in Jamaica," says veteran reggae DJ David Rodigan. "Producers out there are hearing music from America and thinking that they can create the next Usher or Ne-Yo record. As a result, very little reggae is being made by young producers in Jamaica."

"There's also no longer any reggae industry the way there was before, in terms of CD manufacturing and 12-inch singles; all that is more or less gone. Dynamic Studios [in Jamaica] was one of the biggest reggae distributors and they closed down. I heard they even melted all the vinyl they had in their storerooms."

“Record sales are really poor and record shops are finding it hard to survive as a result. [Former west London record shop] Dub Vendor is now a café at the front and a small record store at the back."

“We’re now at the point where some artists are releasing their music for free. Tanya Stephens put her last album out on the Internet, and it was available via [German magazine] Riddim as a free supplement.”

Fitzroy Sterling, director of Every Bodies Music confirms that poor sales have contributed to the store’s forthcoming closure.

“We have seen a steady decline in sales over the last five years and it’s at rock bottom at the present moment,” he says. “With new technology, the younger kids can download the music they want and the older folks have got enough music already. As a result, people just aren’t buying music. That’s what’s led to the current situation with the store, though we won’t be closing for now.”

Reggae journalist John Masouri says that the sales figures for recent reggae releases make “grim reading.”

“The last SoundScan figures I saw were for July/August. Damian Marley and Nas [with their collaborative album Distant Relatives] were way out front with around 120,000 sales, while Busy Signal sold just 400 copies of his last CD and Gyptian sold12,000 – and that was with help from a US Billboard hit.”

Emerging British reggae artist Solomon, son of Aswad star Drummie Zeb, feels the genre needs to evolve.

“I think people feel that in order for reggae to be authentic, it needs to sound like it was made at Studio One 20 years ago,” he says. “I think that’s rubbish. Hip hop has changed, r’n’b has changed, and even dancehall has changed, but reggae, to me, is stuck in this old sound. I think that’s part of reggae’s problem – it’s not evolving.”

But while the statistics might not look promising, some feel the music is more popular than ever. Reggae star Damian Marley says: “Traditionally, reggae music isn’t a music that sells a lot of copies in terms of CDs, but live shows have been the source for most reggae artists’ revenue. And now that the music industry in general is going back to that live music element, it’s a great time for reggae because we already have a head start.”

Journalist Chris Salewicz agrees. The acclaimed author of Bob Marley: The Untold Story and last year’s Keep on Running: The Story of Island Records feels that reggae is in a good place.

“What is interesting is that although reggae shops may be closing in the UK and Europe, reggae has never been more popular. A few weeks ago I went to the Rototom reggae festival near Valencia, a phenomenal event that had over 130,000 people attend over the course of eight days. Sometimes I feel that because reggae first broke out in the UK, people here have become tired and blasé about it."

“However, reggae rhythms and dub effects are omnipresent in other artists' tunes, and in TV and radio ads. I think reggae has become so much of the mainstream in the UK that we hardly notice its existence.”

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Read comments (14)

Posted by Mark Gorney on 12.20.2010
For the record, Dynamic Sounds is NOT closed. I wish people would stop perpetuating this rumor.

Re reggae dying - in my opinion this is nothing new. It's been happening since 1985.

Posted by Strongtree on 12.21.2010
I don't believe reggae music is dying.I think people who grew up listening to reggae during the golden era are still stuck there and just can't stop putting down any reggae artist that's not from that era { you know the next generation of reggae artists }.I can remember reading an article,when roots reggae first started being released and how it had its critics.Technology has made reggae music more accessible,but the downside is all the illegal downloading,maybe that's why sales are not doing well?

Posted by Neville Ingram on 01.24.2011
There are many existing so called Reggae artists who have contributed with their outrageous lyrics pure slackness. What has happened to the D.Brown, G.Issac & Bob Marley\ of Reggae all I seem to hear is Slackness, Bad man & Gun ting why are we surprised no body is interested in the music they love!

Posted by Jonny on 02.07.2011
I think Reggae as we know it is dying out. Round my way in Clapton Regal Records is now a Polish cafe. I remember the shop was stinging back in the day. Like the article said, kids ain't playing it no more. Sound systems and park events are more or less dead too.

Posted by steven on 02.07.2011
Reggae, dub has evolved but the people that control the reviews, the promotions etc are stuck in the past.
Reggae is not dead, dub is not dead. Its just sadly neglected and soon will ignored as the newer artsists are surely tired of not getting any recognition wil just move on.
I knwo loads of great artists that can't even get a review. oh well.

Posted by Má Raça on 02.08.2011
Reggae isn't dying, but the conciousness is. there's a lot of modern reggae artists that don't focus their lyrics in the ispiration of the almighty. back in the days (70's and early 80's) reggae was conscious, uplifting and revolucionary. i live in portugal and in here, the soundsystems that gather more audience are the ones who play non counscios dancehall. it's a pity wat's happening to reggae, if i have the skill of a selecta and the means, i start right now my own soundsystem... and a counscious one.

Posted by HarryT on 03.14.2011
I was at a dance in Southend last month - well and alive scene there - big tunes and even found a new online store for me vinyl - jah love to the scene! - killer tooooons

Posted by Henrik on 03.16.2011
Yes. It is dying. All labels have folded, or at least are not releasing a lot. Think Greensleeves, Trojan, Blood & Fire, Jet Star. Artists like Sizzla released 4-5 albums a year. Now he will be happy with one. I myself bought 30-40 albums a year 3-10 years ago. Now? Not since Sanches latest great effort. I Sweden where I live, the reggae artists used to play in places about 500-1000 capacity. Nowdays 200-500. I feel sad. But, at the same time, the reggae festival in Uppsala is quite successful.

Posted by sandra on 10.27.2012
But Check the music now, compare the music of today with the oldies and be honest, which era sounds better? People are not stuck in the old days, artist nowadays are not rising to the occasion and writing good songs. Damian Marley is a good artist, but a lot of his success is because of his father. One of the major problem is, the radio disc jockeys, such as Irie Fm and others have helped killed the music. This payola business is rediculous. You don't believe me? There are a lot of great reggae songs sitting on the shelf in the radio stations. They won't play it if the artist and managers don't run money on some of the prominent Djs. Black people are corrupted against each other, from Jamaica to Africa. All we do is exploit each other rather than to build our economy and stregthen our market. The only thing we have is our music, jamaica doesn't export anything the world really needs. Our culture is dying, remember? Ghetto youths don't have any big education and Bob Marley and other legends gave us this music so ghetto youths can help themselves and what has happen now? Money, it becomes more important to individuals, and over the years of this exploitation look what has happened. Bob marley would be ashamed to see the current stages we are in.

Posted by 70s reggae on 12.23.2012
'Oh that sounds just like 70s reggae! I don't usually listen to reggae but that REALLY sounds like reggae, and I know what I like, and what I like is good, and that's better than anything new. Good job!'
'How should I place the mic exactly like everyone else to get the same rattly 70s drum sound?'
'Exactly which fuzz pedal do I need to use so that my music fits in with all the other old-sounding stuff?'
'I want to make a record I can sell digitally. Where can I buy a Rhodes organ to play my simple bubble on.'

Reggae is dead because innovation isn't tolerated in musicians. Anything that sounds any different to 'rootsy' 70s stuff is immediately labeled as inferior. 2 chords and a single root note for the bass guitar, and provided you're using all the old style instruments, you're onto a winner. Musical content, originality, using different gear is all disdained. It was once progressive and hi-tech! Now it's finished because of dumb listeners and 2-hits-and-I'm-a-Rasta 'reggae producers'.

Posted by Christoffer on 12.28.2012
I seriously doubt it is dying but the slump it is in right now is because folks aint buying music or magazines. I mean, a genre with not even one English spoken magazine dedicated to it? That's sad and us fans are to blame.

I don't buy that there is no good music coming out, there is more good music now than ever, it may be burried in tons of crap but it's there.

Reggae has the most sorry fans ever, let's rise to the ocasion and start supporting acts and labels with our hard earned cash.

Posted by Sean on 12.29.2012
It started to wane in the early 80s, with advent of dancehall scene. I was getting so tired of hearing a thousand and one so-called tunes featuring the same rhythm, over and over again. The sadist thing is, that those who invented and originated many of these rhythms did not receive royalties for their work they put in creating these rhythms that are now over 30 and 40 years old.

Even today, many radio djs simply play cut after cut of a popular rhythm and refused to play anything with the slightest bit of creativity. There is good music around that is both original and creative, but you don't tend to hear it on the radio these days. How can reggae music be taken seriously if there is no creativity or originality, and all the industry can produce is cut after cut of the same rhythm?
Nowadays you have several artists on one rhythm track which all sounds the same, to me, anyway. Also there aren't many good songwriters around as there once was.

There use to be a very elitist attitude that thought only good reggae could be only be made and produced in Jamaica, but increasingly that is not the case nowadays because I've heard some very good reggae coming from all around the world, which is both creative and original.

The whole industry needs a major re-assessment of where it is going. There is not even one major record label out there that can promote and managed the artists, like say Motown did for soul and its black artists since its existence. That is both sad and pitiful because what seems to be in place is a collection of individuals all doing their own thing. Only time will tell if the dry rot continues to take whole of this beautiful music.

Posted by Christoffer on 12.29.2012
Although i think the blame is mostly on us fans who isn't supporting what is out there the industry has one major shortcoming. Why is there so very little of interest being released on Cd nowadays?

One has to look to vinyl for anything truly worthwhile and how many are willing to do that today? I recently invested in record players, mixer, a pre-amp and bad ass speakers but how many are willing to do that today?

Is the vinyl loving soundsystem scene really that big today to sustain the scene?

Posted by Pecos Sound on 03.27.2016
Great article. The comments all bring important points. Very sad the important Every Bodies Store was closing..Pecos Sound System came out of that early 1980;s to early digital Sleng Teng Riddim start of Reggae Dancehall. If we keep them together as the Youth or the next faze of Reggae with new scenes & Vibes they are like the old 1960's to 1980's sound days. Places like the Every Bodies Music did all they could to spread the Vibe Of The Most High may God Bless them.With all the changes it is tough to know what is ahead for the Reggae Scene. The old shows you really knew the music of those performing. After the show or hearing on the radio it made you like the story noted the older wave went to this important type of music store Every Bodies Music to find that music.

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