It's not often I write blogs down but having waxed lyrical to numerous friends in the “industry” I felt I had to write this. This Blog was originally only going to cover certain dancehall & reggae tunes I felt didn't get the commercial love I felt they deserved in terms of radio play listing etc. but I feel that subject probably doesn't cover where we are actually at. There have been numerous blogs/articles since the demise of Choice that talk of the marginalisation of Caribbean music and as I have said before it was something I saw coming for a while but the question I ask is; what justification do radio stations have for this? Admittedly sales of reggae music have dwindled over the years but does sales necessarily reflect popularity, and I would also argue the correlation between lack of sales and lack of mainstream radio play is surely an interesting one. Its almost a catch 22 without support of mainstream media, dancehall & reggae is relying almost solely on a core audience. A core audience that like many others has got used to getting their reggae dancehall fix serviced via various “promo” websites (I could write another blog solely on the piracy issue, so for today lets put that issue to one side, especially as its an issue that blights not only reggae & dancehall but the music industry in general). When I talk core audiences I feel its important to point out this is a group that is hugely multi cultural and isn't just the stereotypical crowd often pedaled by mainstream media (Channel 4 I am talking to you!). Yes admittedly this crowd is divided into various fractions (we will talk about this later) and this does not always help but the love for dancehall & reggae for me is as strong as ever. You go to any town or city across the UK and you will find somewhere that plays dancehall & reggae and in UK's major cities the number of dancehall & reggae nights reflects the popularity it has so why is this not reflected via mainstream radio? Aside from specialist shows on 1xtra and the odd bashment mix “urban” DJs provide during their shows the lack of airtime received by reggae and dancehall is frankly ridiculous. You go back 5/10 years go and you would hear Wayne Wonder, Beenie Man, Sean Paul regularly on A/B lists and you would also hear the influence dancehall and reggae had on other songs featured. Now interestingly that influence is still apparent; abet in a slightly different way, with numerous genres using reggae style vocals or producers such as DJ Fresh & Major Lazer using typically soundclash style concepts in their music. We have also seen typically reggae/sound system concepts being used away from the music production, whether it be something like Red Bull bringing the concept of musical warfare to a wider audience which I have no problem with, to a recent “soundclash” I saw advertised between TOWIE's Lauren Pope and Kiss Breakfast Show host Melvin which quite frankly brought a tear to my eye (especially as it was billed as a soundclash). It often makes me wonder why the “industry” is happy to pillage Reggae and Dancehall in this way but yet refuses to support the music in the mainstream. I know I have waffled a bit without putting forward any tunes that could have been play listed, so let me put a few forward before we continue:
1.Laza Morgan Ft Mavado – One By One
I was driving around listening to this with my Mum in the car, and by the second chorus she was singing along and I personally believe if this play listed the summer of its release this would have been a major hit – It already has a very commercial appeal and with the correct support you could hear a tune like this not only doing well in the charts but also becoming summertime anthem just like many dancehall tunes before it.
2. Denyque – Make Me Believe You
Now maybe this tune will eventually get the love it deserves, but this is a quality track from an artist that has huge mainstream appeal. Over the years dancehall has had it problems with content that was hard to crossover but this tune has so much going for it - catchy lyrics, classic dancehall riddim and a song subject that has mass appeal!
3. Mavado Ft Nicki Minaj – Give It All To Me
To me this tune is a no brainer, I thought it was a hit before Nicki was featured but that only adds to the appeal. I will admit this track dropped rather late in the summer and playing dancehall on daytime radio after Notting Hill Carnival has always been something that very rarely happens but come on!
There are plenty more I could mention but I think I will leave it there for now as there is plenty more to talk about. I am not blind to the fact that the music industry has seen a huge change in recent years. We have seen the influx of EDM on “urban”(I hate this word) music which probably has made it harder to fit dancehall into the play list equation as it doesn't sit so comfortably next to a Calvin Harris record as it would of sat next to the R'n'B of a few years ago. I also admit that the bad press dancehall has received with regard homophobic lyrics and to a lesser extent slackness has not helped the cause but I still think it does have a place on daytime radio and as stated earlier its popularity has probably increased over the years not diminished.
So far I have talked a lot about the dancehall side of things but reggae probably faces an even bigger challenge. Unlike Europe where reggae is played on national radio frequently, the UK has almost abandoned playing reggae on any new mainstream radio outlet. Yes you may hear a few classic Bob Marley tracks on radio but no wonder many peoples view of reggae starts and ends with Bob when radio seems to have abandoned it as a genre.
Artists such as Chronixx have been getting critical acclaim in the press and have sold out shows throughout the UK but we are still light years away from hearing “Smile Jamaica” on Radio 1. Now I admit similar to the problems dancehall has with fitting the daytime schedule, reggae has an a even harder job but surely good music has a place on national radio? Well here is the interesting thing I have noticed with stations such as radio 1, Kiss, Capital etc. – good music is the last thing that interests radio programmers who seem to have resorted to the lowest common denominator when it comes to radio – resorting to silly gimmicks, bland presenters and a play list that repeats almost hourly. This is a problem that is not just bound to radio but reflects wider society and I won't sit here and condemn it wholly as I understand many enjoy their reality TV and there is a place for that in balanced media of any form but reggae & dancehall seems short changed in this balancing act.
I slightly swept Channel 4's My Crazy New Jamaican Life under the carpet earlier and from what I have heard I was one of the lucky ones as I avoided it while being wholed up in hospital (one of the few benefits!) but it's this stereotypical view of Jamaican life that is equally mirrored in the view many media outlets that has allowed this short change to happen. Yes there is undoubtedly a very slack element to dancehall that over the years has changed the context of how dancehall is seen. Whining was never originally about sexual gratification but more an art form that reflected the seductive sound of dancehall. I remember as a teenager spending ages getting my head around holding a whine properly only to see it now replaced by young people daggering each other (less about hip movement and more about thrusting) and that's not to say that there is anything wrong with daggering, but more the fact that it's again allowed dancehall culture to be cheapened by mainstream media.
Music does change and many peers in the reggae dancehall world often comment that dancehall especially has lost its edge recently taking more hip hop influences but I'm sure this was a view echoed by elders in the 80's scared of the digital revolution etc. However this outlook that dancehall is somewhat a lesser sibling of reggae is unfair and in my opinion detrimental. There is more than enough different strands and styles to dancehall and this move to be a Selector that plays one or the other (Dancehall and Reggae) is detrimental to the music. Yes their will always be sound systems that specialise but there is definitely an argument to say that sounds should be able to represent reggae as a whole (encompassing dancehall under that umbrella) like sounds have done for years.
We started talking about lack of mainstream radio support and it is somewhat understandable when people within the core industry regularly turn their noses up to certain aspects of the music. I mentioned fractions within the core audience and these fractions do have an effect on the wider commercial appeal. I recently read a opinion piece in the evening standard from the Independent Editor who bemoaned the fact that London was missing quality reggae nights after a bad experience at a Dub night in Brick Lane and you can clearly see how a bad experience can affect the casual fan and with so many strands it must be hard for the casual fan to untangle the good from the bad but this is surely where mainstream radio has a role to play.
If mainstream radio found space to play quality dancehall and reggae even if only occasionally and allowed a few more specialist shows you would hope this would help to reflect the finest both Jamaica has to offer in terms of music and the UK has to offer in terms of taste makers. I've said on facebook after Choice was “re branded” that there is plenty of quality reggae and dancehall shows out there both on traditional Pirate radio and the more modern podcast medium and it is about time they were given the recognition they deserve whether that be by greater light shone on what they are currently doing or being given the opportunity to showcase their talents on more mainstream stations.
Ultimately we do need to make some changes to how we do things in the core if we strive to see reggae and dancehall back where it belongs. Unity is something I've longed to see for some time. I'm not saying we all have to be friends and get along but supporting each others endeavours and pushing the scene forward is surely a simple thing to do. Similarly getting taste makers together to discuss where we want our music to go and what artists and songs we wish to promote will surely strengthen the scene and provide a platform for radio pluggers and labels to pressurise mainstream radio into putting dancehall and reggae back on the A/B lists and stop the culture of reggae and dancehall being cheapened further. I for one don't want to see a TOWIE star and the words soundclash in the same sentence nor do I wish to see dancehall culture cheapened by pointless channel 4 documentaries and on that note I'll ask you this where is our generations “Babylon” or “Dancehall Queen”? Films that certainly represented dancehall and reggae in a greater degree than anything we have seen since.
Remember if you agree or disagree with what I said here I just hope it opens a debate and gets dancehall and reggae back to where it should be and finally I urge you to continue to support reggae and dancehall by buying the music and attending the events and concerts!