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Can Jamaican Music Strike the Right Note for the Economy? Symposium Urges Investment in the Sector

Nomaddz performs at Arts in the Park 2013

A clear call for investment into the creative sector was issued at the launch of the Jamaica Music Museum’s first symposium on music and the creative sector. Guest speaker of the opening event, the Most Honourable PJ Patterson, outlined that the industries required investment in infrastructure and education. The former Prime Minister issued the challenge that Jamaica be restored to being “the place of choice to enjoy Jamaican culture.”

Mr. Patterson’s call, was more than a cute pun on Vision 2030. It was a clear signal, that for Jamaica to rescue the vision outlined in the strategic document from being a mere hallucination, the country needs to place greater emphasis on its creative output, especially during an era when the traditional industries are floundering.

Former Prime Minister PJ Patterson

“In what is now the post bauxite era, I believe we need a new locomotive that is within the grasp of the people," Mr. Patterson said, arguing that training in the cultural sector needed to begin from the early stages of education and the creation of more spaces, including two music halls, was critical to the sector’s growth.

Speaking as a former PM (for four consecutive terms), a cultural entrepreneur and former minister of multiple portfolios, Mr. Patterson’s speech indicates that clear knowledge of what needs to be done has been within our grasp for years, the steps just haven’t been taken. 

Indeed, the small home of the Jamaica Music Museum is a clear indication, of the absence of sufficient investment in the sector. However, like the music, JaMM is attempting to punch well above its weight, including with the creation of the symposium dubbed, The Business of Jamaica’s Music and Cultural Industries. The museum has also staged the annual Grounation weekly series, a combination of reasonings and performances which take place during Reggae Month.Di Blue Print band playing at a JaMM signature event, Grounation

Mr. Patterson also pointed out that, at the psychological level, Jamaican music had much to offer the citizenry, being a great tool for teaching how to strive for excellence. He described the music as the greatest possible balm for the psychic wounds festering in the country, despite the recent negative turns in artists facing criminal charges.

"Our challenge is to do more and to do even better, significantly better," Mr. Patterson said. 

He remarked, that other countries were tapping into Jamaica’s cultural output to our detriment. 

"You can here more ska in the streets where the restaurants exist in tokyo than you can in Jamaica, Mr. Patterson said, arguing that it was time that Jamaica and Jamaicans start reaping greater financial rewards from the culture and the genius within our creative expressions.Herbie Miller, Director and Curator of the Jamaica Music Museum

Indeed, as Reggae has skanked around the world, Jamaica has reaped only a small fraction of the profits which have come from the multi-million dollar industry.  Additionally, local players in the industry have been attempting to ring the alarm bell about the increasing presence of major reggae events without any Jamaican input, an initiatives such as Reggae Month are designed to help return Jamaica to the centre of the Reggae industry.

Mr. Patterson’s words almost appeared to be an extension of the earlier speech given by head of the Jamaica Music Museum, Mr. Herbie Miller. Using the strength of the cultural industries in the United States, Mr. Miller pointed to the transformative strength of the sector. 

He argued, that Jamaica’s creative industries can be used as the base to resurrect Kingston as a “modern, dynamic city”.  Arguing that culture should be at the heart of the regeneration of the city and the national economy, Mr. Miller explained that the economic returns extended beyond the turnstiles and box offices for cultural events, but also impacted on restaurants, boutiques, the creation of memorabilia, hairdressers and numerous other professions and businesses. 

"[I]n spite of our third world status, culturally, Jamaica is no cultural state." Miller said noting that the impact of Jamaican culture has dwarfed that of many countries in a far superior state, and therefore we had the bedrock on which to build the changes experienced in spaces like Soho which have been regenerated by the cultural sector. 

"We can do it here. We must do it here,” Mr. Miller said. “Our culture is too important."

The two-day symposium was held at the Institute of Jamaica in downtown Kingston, March 28 - 29, 2014. The event featured a cross section of industry practitioners, lawyers investors, bankers and cultural entrepreneurs. Presenters included  including Wayne Chen, Dennis Howard, Sheldon Shepherd, Seretse Small, Christopher Issa, Joan Webley and Analisa Chapman.

The opening event, was held at the University of Technology’s Sculpture Park on Thursday, March 27 at 6:00 pm. When the dust from the two days of discussions and the opening settles, it will then be seen whether a clarion call to action has been issued or it was just another yell into the darkness.