1. bookVolume 11 (2022): Issue 2 (October 2022)
Journal Details
First Published
20 Apr 2021
Publication timeframe
2 times per year
Open Access

The Hustla Playbook: Negotiating the Business Politics of Reggae in the Jamaican Rock Music Scene

Published Online: 22 Sep 2022
Volume & Issue: Volume 11 (2022) - Issue 2 (October 2022)
Page range: 77 - 87
Received: 16 Feb 2022
Accepted: 13 Aug 2022
Journal Details
First Published
20 Apr 2021
Publication timeframe
2 times per year

This paper's main argument is that Jamaican rock musicians have developed a diverse set of hustla strategies in order to navigate a precarious work economy. Their potential for success is debilitated by prejudicial constraints against “foreign” music in a music industry largely dominated by reggae and dancehall. My analysis provides a critical reading of the socio-economic stronghold that reggae and dancehall have on the Jamaican audience's tastes, which rock musicians negotiate through hybridity. Additionally, I stress that reggae and dancehall represent, with symbolic authority, authentic expressions of local experiences and Black nationalist discourses.

Jamaican economist Witter (1980) used the descriptor “hustle economy” in the 1980s to depict Jamaica's informal economy as driven by “the formal distribution system to working class demands” (3). This system was mainly characterized by its illegality, transience and sustenance of the “unemployed and marginally employed” (4). Consequently, illegal activities, such as selling ganja, theft, or gambling, even higgling, by Jamaicans were examples of the hustle. However, when I use the term, I am referencing how locals outwit the shortcomings of the work economy by unrelentingly pushing for success despite the lack of recognition for Jamaican rock music.

Local rock musicians were adept at social skills, such as holding multiple jobs in both the traditional and rock music communities, as well as hybridizing their art form. Omar poignantly describes the rock musician's hustle to procure the respect of one's community and financial security as follows:

It's the hustle... we hustle. The hustle can be alternative as well. The hustle is anti-machine. To understand Jamaica, you have to understand the hustle... the struggle, what the struggle is. It means our suffering.

(O. Francis 2015, personal communication, 24 February)

Studies on reggae and dancehall have highlighted the importance of hybridization in Jamaican music and the positive effects that mixing has brought to the local music economy (Nettelford 1970; Stolzoff 2000; Cooper 2004; Hope 2006). However, there is another side to local music production and consumption. Reggae and dancehall are perceived as a nucleus of Black memory, resistance and excellence. As such, the dominant hold that the sounds have on the locals not only celebrates Black culture but also marginalizes alternative music such as rock.

My research agenda was to uncover the hidden realities of musicians who live on the fringes of Jamaica's popular domain—rock musicians. Fieldwork was undertaken over a period of three years to decipher a relatively unknown music community. From 2013 to 2015, I conducted ethnographic research within Jamaica's music economy, with special interest in rock music and its relationship to dancehall and reggae. I utilized participant observation at bars, live music events, recording sessions, as well as public and private sector meetings. I became an associate member of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA), where I assisted in the planning of Jamaica's Reggae Month celebration in 2014 and 2015. I spent six months living and working at Nanook, one of the businesses that supported the rock community. I also interviewed 100 local audience members and sixty-one music professionals and business associates multiple times throughout my fieldwork.

This work takes a critical approach to understanding the unique life experiences of my participants so as to not use a broad brush stroke in understanding the business of music production and consumption. Critical ethnography is a qualitative method that allows the subjective meanings in the Other's social experiences to be revealed through dialogue (Madison 2005: 9). In effect, the critical researcher's participation in social life gives voice to these individuals and can thwart social crises generated by “global capitalism, neoliberalist ideology and individualised habits of consumption” (Hickey 2012: 168).

In addition to providing an inside look of an ignored community, this paper highlights the hardships of rock musicians in the Jamaican music economy. As a result of their alternative tastes in music, musicians were unable to find employment, feed, and/or house themselves. I firmly believe that making the public aware of the imbalances in power in the Jamaican music industry is the first step to dismantling the oppressive structures and practices within the music economy.

Shields (2012) suggests that critical advocacy research can empower individuals to influence a nation because, from the outset, the investigator must construct “research that is intended to highlight inequities in our current systems and also be willing to advocate meaningful change” (3). In addition to allowing readers to understand the realities of the Jamaican rock musician, it is my hope that this work supports the scene's attempts to fix imbalances in terms of access within the Jamaican music industry.

The Jamaican Music Economy

In trying to understand the environment in which music is produced, I first mapped the conditions in which music was produced. In Jamaica, creative sectors are priority sites for job creation (Kozul-Wright & Stanbury 1998: 16–17; Brown 2004: 3–5). In Brown's (2004) National Strategy and Action Plan for the Jamaican music industry, which was drafted in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), she describes the sector as follows:

the personnel, services and products generated form the composition of musical works; recording and manufacturing; music publishing; wholesaling and retailing musical recordings; production, retailing and distribution of musical equipment and instruments; promotion, management and agency; administration of copyrights; live performances and tours; music education and training.

(Brown 2004: 2)

However, creative industries such as the music industry are also growing sites of precarious employment. They usually incite “income instability, lack of a safety net, an erratic work schedule, uncertainty about continuing employment, the blurring of work and non-work time, and the absence of collective representation” (de Peuter 2011: 419). The instability of the work economy was no secret to Jamaican citizens, and this is supported by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica's (2015) report on the Jamaican “Labour Market Transition of Young Men and Women” in 2013. It was explained that the inability to find a job and a need for independence were the foremost desires of young Jamaicans (4–5).

Moreover, 91 percent of my participants believed that the most powerful entities of the music industry were those persons, organizations, or devices that had the greatest access to financial rewards, possessed the most resources, or were held in high regard. The rock musician, unlike his reggae compatriot, had to contend with both a competitive job market and prejudices against foreign music. Consequently, they occupied the lowest rung (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

The hierarchy of power in the Jamaican music economy.

I surveyed the hierarchical structure to gain a deeper understanding of the network of institutions and individuals who are significant to the success of various genres of music. I have stated above that the government holds the most powerful position within the industry as it implements policies and finance events that support or undermine musicians’ livelihoods. However, other entities contribute unique resources to the success of musicians. Private sector business enterprises utilized the popularity of dancehall and reggae to promote various products. In turn, they provided financial support to various musicians by funding their concerts and contributing to the artiste's events. Business entities such as Digicel, Lime, Wisynco Group Limited, and the National Commercial Bank (NCB) became major resources to the mainstream music community. Jamaica's national Reggae Month activities would not have been a success without the yearly funding from these organizations.

Traditional and social media, which radio, television, and Facebook represented, supplied a forum for advertising new music and events. This allowed the local audience to become aware when and where particular acts were performing. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube were used to directly communicate with local fans. The times and venues of performances, as well as the purchasing of albums and other merchandise, were routinely broadcast on these sites. Traditional media was extremely important in securing an audience for events as much as social media. Even though social media engagement was cheaper and allowed artistes to directly interact with their audience, television and radio were still heavily used by the public.

Party promoters, artiste managers, and producers were described by many music professionals as the backbone of any music artiste as management teams were crucial to their success. DJ Stamma, an up-and-coming dancehall disc jockey explained that to survive the music economy, a team booked engagements and secured profits. They handled the media and managed the artistes. The team propelled careers and individual talents.

Educational and non-profit institutions, such as the JaRIA, lobby for the interests of reggae and dancehall artistes and provide opportunities for work or training in the music business sector. They supply very necessary services to the music industry. As one of the premier performing arts institutions in Jamaica, the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts (EMC) taught a list of courses in theatre, music, and dance. Many of the leading executives and artistes in the reggae industry worked or collaborated with the institution.

Local audiences’ tastes in music were tied to the experiences of the enslaved. Subsequently, the maintenance of Black pride and the use of Black national discourses to thwart the marginalization of the Afro-Caribbean experience were very important. Caribbean ethnomusicologist Rohlehr (1992) defines this attitude as a positive revolution in the self-perception of Afro-Caribbeans after the psychological trauma that colonialism's negative typing inflicted on the landscape. Nettleford (1979) designates this mentality as a feature of Jamaican's chronic individualism. Subsequently, reggae and dancehall were the popular sounds of the mainstream. However, though audiences rooted for various local performers who sang pop, rap, and rhythm and blues (r-and-b) on competitive local music shows such as Digicel Rising Stars, they were diligent against the production of Jamaican pop, rock, and rap.

Foreign audiences contributed the most profits to the music industry. The downloading of songs, the buying of compact discs (CDs), their attendance at events, and the purchasing of merchandise were the major contributions of foreign audiences. Brown (2004) concludes that the United Kingdom and the United States are the main audiences of Jamaican music. She estimates that the international market for reggae is between US$60–$75 million, while the “revenue earned from shows and dances in Jamaica in 2000 was estimated conservatively at J$160 million, and approximately 6–10,000 persons are directly employed in the music industry” (6). Consequently, the capitalist machine, which maintained local and foreign audience's tastes in reggae and dancehall, also ensured that these tastes would reject or ignore the attempts of Jamaican artistes to produce music outside the stereotypical Jamaican brand. This is why Brian Jones, lead guitarist and lyricist for the hard rock band Downstairs, described his attempt to forgo the local music industry and gain the interest of US music executives as futile for the past 10 years (B. Jones 2014, personal communication, 6 February).

The use of local music in foreign and local quarters is measured by foreign music monitoring groups, such as the American Society for Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), and local music monitoring groups, such as the Jamaica Music Society (JAMMS) and the Jamaican Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers (JACAP). These organizations utilized technology to monitor the airplay of music on radio stations, at concerts, and in advertisements. Their monitoring systems allowed for the accurate logging of the songs’ use and collection of monetary compensation, which results in royalties being doled out to writers, producers, musicians, and singers. These entities were seen as important to the livelihood of local artistes.

Small business ventures by craftsmen and booksellers utilized social media and word-of-mouth advertising. Moreover, their businesses gained clientele from handing out flyers and selling products at live music events. These individuals (such as I-Nation, a well-known book seller at local reggae concerts) were extremely reluctant to air their finances. Their yearly earnings or the informal nature of their transactions with event producers were kept close to the chest. Many music artistes and associates were reluctant to air their profits and losses because they feared being taxed. They implemented secrecy to thwart governmental interference. Unfortunately, because of these tactics, the Jamaican government did not possess accurate or reliable data on the revenues generated from the music industry, “although it is estimated that the potential global market value of reggae is US$1.2 billion per annum” (Kozul-Wright & Stanbury 1998: 23).

Artistes waiting to catch a break encompassed budding reggae and dancehall artistes who were in the process of meeting with music executives, handing out CDs at music events, and playing live shows for free in the hopes that someone with the right connections would give them a big break. Rock musicians waiting to catch a break, such as pop rock band Robot Taxi, hard rock band Downstairs, and solo rock acts Wayne McGregor and Kat CHR, were at a disadvantage to these budding reggae artistes. Rock music, such as hard rock, pop, rock, goth, and screamo, were not patronized by the public. Music executives were hesitant to take a risk on alternative acts as they were in the business of sure profits and not indeterminate losses. This is seen in the disparaging comments made by Paul Love, reggae music producer of 35 years:

Because we barely have the market for reggae. Reggae is there but reggae doesn’t have a big, massive market like the r and b and the soul. And reggae is big. Cuz when you even think about calypso and soca, they really behind reggae... So we don’t have the market for rock. Rock isn’t our thing.

(P. Love 2013, personal communication, 2 October).

Live events at bars in Kingston were the main sources for rock music production and consumption. Some acts were able to produce CDs and music videos; however, the lack of support by the audience and industry saw very low sales and viewership. Though rock musicians believed that they should be able to earn an income from performing their music, resistances to joining the dancehall or reggae industries fell short when compliance to the mainstream filled bellies. In this way, most musicians abandoned the rock music scene to offer their paid services within the reggae industry. These musicians worked as part of backing bands for reggae artistes. For instance, a summary of guitarist Omar Francis’ employment history reads as playing in the alternative rock band Two Guitars in 1998, then leaving that band in 2002 to find conventional employment in the United States. On returning to Jamaica, he played in several different rock and reggae bands between 2006 and 2015, including his own funk rock band Free Willies. However, his career path found him playing lead guitar in various reggae bands over the years until he became a permanent part of the popular reggae band Rootz Underground.

“Precariatization” reflects the positions within a workforce that are unstable and provide uncertain socioeconomic support. Standing (2013) suggests that individuals of the global work economy are urban denizens without implementable strategies to escape their precarious job status. The precariat population often moves from job to job, has incomplete contracts, and is subjected to casual labour (Standing 2013: 93–5). The citizen works and receives benefits, and denizens such as Omar acquire “chance” labour with no social benefits such as insurance or tax incentives. Many reggae and dancehall professionals were subject to Omar's precarious lifestyle; however, they did not also have to contend with prejudices about the music they produced. Thus, to survive the precariousness in the industry, hustlin’ techniques in the form of taking on multiple occupations were used by the rocker. This defined their resourceful and creative money-making ventures in the face of harsh economic realities.

An interest in the production of rock music generally succumbed to societal pressure to adopt traditional and “authentic” modes of employment. Therefore, even though a well-trained rock musician could play multiple instruments, write music and lyrics, as well as produce and arrange songs, these skills did not allow him to earn a living in the rock scene. Many eventually invested time and money in learning other skills in information technology, media and public relations, law, film work, and journalism, which could lead to conventional jobs that brought in an income. Solo rock act Kat CHR explained why familial support made her one of the fortunate few able to pursue rock music solely:

everybody circumstance different because I have the freedom to do that with my dad. I don’t have to pay rent, I don’t have a job. So my parents completely have always supported and believed in me and said we see you doing great things, so we are going to continue to support you.

(Kat CHR 2013, personal communication, 17 October)

Still, the very few musicians who remained true to their aspirations to become rock stars navigated between the local pressure to produce “authentic” Jamaican music as well as their deep-seated passion for rock.

The rock scene's musicians moved between Western and local references in their artistry to secure respect, popularity, and financial rewards. Solo rock act Kat CHR launched a new sound in rock music in 2014, which she called Alternative Lover's Rock. It featured the mixing of reggae's lover's rock with indie rock styles. She was especially proud of this merger and suggested that the new sound was reflected in the visible representation of her identity, which she personified with the phrase “Dress like Shabba, sound like Sadé” (Kat CHR 2013, personal communication, 17 October). She positioned herself here with the tenacity and fashion sense of Shabba Ranks, who was known as a heavy hitter in the dancehall with his witty lyrics and snazzy fashion. Kat equally saw herself as a musician of worth in the rock scene and her musical style mirrored the smooth vocals of Sadé.

Black Nationalism, Law, and Music

A past of colonialism and slavery made the descendants of the plantation economy suspicious of products derived from Euro/American regimes. Caribbean scholar Nettleford (1979) explained that this distrust has informed the Jamaican temperament. Chronic individualism is the term used by him to describe the defensive, distrustful, and aggressive nature of Jamaicans towards the “unknown”. Dancehall and reggae are seen as fundamental to the construction of the Jamaican identity: genuine artefacts of the Black experience. Local audiences do not have a taste for rock music and their consumption habits validate reggae's and dancehall's importance. Omar, lead guitarist of the funk rock band Free Willies, explained: “When you are a musician in Jamaica, that's what you do. Reggae is what you do. You don’t think about it” (O. Francis 2015, personal communication, 24 February).

In the Caribbean, the first kernels of difference are theorized as beginning with the coming of what Brathwaite (1984) calls “the alter/natives”. Slaves and indentured labourers replaced the indigenous people of the Caribbean. White identities and the aesthetics attached to European culture were positioned at the top of the social pyramid of the plantation society. Black and brown bodies and the cultural objects attached to Africa were subjugated. The embodied capital that these pigments and social positions represented remains a part of the organized system of social relations in the Anglophone (Henry 2000: 11; Bolland 2002: 31). The memory of hardships that foreign entities inflicted on the Caribbean has cultivated reservations about assuming “foreign” tastes (Nettleford 1979: 47–54). Therefore, the Jamaican audience's and music industry's tastes in music reflect the tensions of a history defined by differences, not least of all the difference between the “foreign” and the “local”:

The [Jamaican] nation state is imaginary. The global is real. Because of this it is dangerous to use rock as the vehicle for change because rock is played out on the global stage... [Moreover], youth is sliding back into colonialism without realising it. Utilising rock will be us willing giving ourselves back to slavery.

(I. Cooper 2013, personal communication, 15 September).

Kingsley Michael Cooper, better known as Ibo Cooper, was the president of the JaRIA and a senior lecturer at the EMC. More than these credits, Cooper had been a past member of the reggae band Third World. His attitude to rock music was mirrored by his compatriots in JaRIA. Cooper described the alienation between the rock musicians and Jamaican traditions as a result of Western imperialism:

Ibo: The difference with Third World is though we were influenced by rock and jazz we kept reggae on the brain, we kept Jamaican consciousness. And we produced original music. We were the first reggae group to use a cello.... But we didn’t take the cello and just play traditional cello music. They took out the cello and played dancehall. At that time it was a serious piece of innovation. So it has to do with the culture of imperialism. You must still produce from your own creativity. Many of the guys they copy and alienate themselves from their culture.

(I. Cooper 2013, personal communication, 15 September).

The network of monetary and material resources, which government bodies like the Ministry of Tourism and the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) possessed, was the life force of many cultural initiatives in Jamaica such as the Reggae Month or the National Festival of the Arts. Additionally, the ability to influence laws, finance various events, and sanction the use of venues meant that the government held extreme power in the industry. Nettleford (1979) explained that voluntary bodies such as JaRIA as well as the Institute of Jamaica represented the State's instruments of action as they executed their civil responsibilities in assisting each other in producing cultural events (72–9). Nettleford's optimistic overview of the industry belies the prejudices of both policymakers and the private sector towards non-indigenous music. To secure an authentic cultural heritage, which reggae and dancehall represented, interest was shown in securing dancehall and reggae artistes’ livelihoods and was not extended to rock musicians.

Many efforts have been made by the government and its instruments of action to boost the mainstream music economy. The National Industrial Policy of 1996 was one of the first initiatives undertaken to draft policies in favour of the Jamaican market. In 1993, the Copyright Law replaced legislation written in 1913, and an entertainment advisory board was created in the Ministry of Industry and Tourism in 2001. Additionally, in 2003, the Ministry of Finance waived the custom duties on “the equipment and tools of trade for musicians” (Brown 2004: 4). Since the early 2000s, there has also been a spike in the organizations used to support the reggae and dancehall economy such as the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), the Jamaica Intellectual Property Organization (JIPO), and even the JaRIA. These bodies “cover the range of rights management services necessary to realize significant returns within the music industry” (Kozul-Wright & Stanbury 1998: 5).

During the time of my ethnographic fieldwork, two laws were being debated in the Jamaican Parliament and the halls of public opinion: The Criminal Justice's (Suppression of Criminal Organization's) Act or the “Anti-Gang Act”, which was passed on 21 February 2014, and the Noise Abatement Act of 1997. The Anti-Gang Act was crafted to stem the rise of organized crime and gang-related activities locally. It stipulated that failure to adhere to its guidelines was punishable with up to 20 years in prison. This legislation was contested by JaRIA, members of the public, and the music industry. A formal complaint was sent by JaRIA to the Parliamentary Committee in October 2013 about the way in which the laws were drafted, specifically pertaining to Subsections 2(a) and 2(b), as well as Section 15. Subsections 2(a) and 2(b) defined a criminal organization and a gang with such ambiguous jargon that, by its definition, three or more friends or a church's youth group could be charged as a criminal entity:

(a) Has as one of its purpose the commission of one or more serious offences; or

(b) In relation to which the persons who are a part thereof or participate therein (individually, jointly or collectively) issue threats or engage in violent conduct to –

(i) Create fear, intimidate, exert power or gain influence in communities or over other persons, in furtherance of unlawful activity, or

(ii) To obtain directly or indirectly a financial or other material benefit.

In addition, Section 15 stated that “[a] person shall not use of a common name or identifying sign, symbol, tattoo or other physical marking, colour, or style of dress or graffiti or produce, record or perform songs to promote or facilitate the criminal activity of a criminal organization”. JaRIA held issue with the broad description of gang symbols because it meant that any reggae or dancehall artiste could be tried as a gang member or facilitator of a crime by copying the fashion of the streets. JARIA also made the point that the critical social commentary that reggae and dancehall provided about crime, violence, and drugs could be eclipsed by artistes’ fear of reprisal. The group insisted that these regulations violated the democratic freedoms of the Jamaican citizens. As a result of these and many other protests, the Act has not been enforced by the government.

However, though rock musicians may benefit indirectly from these debates, Section 5 of the Noise Abatement Act operated in direct opposition to the economic interests of the rock music scene. The Act outlined that all events that used loud sounds on weekdays should end by 2 a.m. However, the clubs and bars that housed rock and alternative music events on weekdays were not able to attract large audiences because of the stipulated time limit. Yet, rock, jazz, and rap music events were kept primarily on weekdays as alternative musicians could not compete with reggae and dancehall events held on weekends with unrestricted time frames. In 2014, it was suggested in parliament that entertainment zones be drawn, which would allow for the staging of events without restrictions on time. However, this suggestion was never followed up.

Nanook, one of the few popular bars for alternative music events in Kingston, was unfortunately subject to the time restrictions. Rock musicians held their Thursday night Jam (Jam) at Nanook between 2014 and 2015. At this performance, rock musicians and other alternative artistes would play music to a small crowd. The Jam was known as the main social gathering for alternative music. Despite this, the Jam was shut down many times by the police promptly at 2 a.m. Furthermore, because of complaints by neighbours (who did not appreciate the rock sound), the police sometimes showed up before the stipulated time and requested an end to the event. This act infringed on the musicians’ and bar's earnings. Annoyed customers who planned to spend a few more hours socializing did not return on another Thursday night to have their good time ruined.

Consequently, the bar's management declined to host the event after March 2015 as it did not earn profits. The Jam was a casualty of the law as it crippled the potential to grow the scene's audience. The plight of the scene has been ignored by organizations such as the JaRIA and the JCDC. Artistes and professionals who worked within the reggae and dancehall industries reaped the most benefits from the government and its instruments of action's projects—material (money, assets) and symbolic (respect) benefits.

In valuing the importance of cultural goods in economic terms, Throsby (2010) posits that it “requires a recognition of the fact that such goods fall into the category of mixed goods; i.e., goods that have both private-good and public-good characteristics” (19). Private goods and services are seen to benefit individuals or firms as they assert property rights over these materials, while public goods and services benefit everyone in society. The Jamaican mainstream audience did not view foreign music such as rock as a valuable private or public good because it was considered inauthentic and non-indigenous. Therefore, the music was not worthy of support.

Ethnocentrism is a consequence of securing cultural authenticity in music (Kellas 1991: 11; Sadre-Orafai 2005: 221–2). Sadre-Orafai (2005) sees that ethnocentrism or hypernationalism is a threat to transnationalities as it staves off syncretism between the local and the foreign:

[Its] ideologycreates and binds the nation, and privileges national forms on the basis of production, consumption, and/or association, including consumption-only claims. This specific type of nationalism is also concerned with defining the foreign and the national, but considers any contact of its citizens with “foreign” forms as national on a certain level. Hypernationalism this makes consumption active, as opposed to its generally passive connotations.

(Sadre-Orafai 2005: 222)

The imagined lack of complexity to the authentic musical sounds of Jamaica (reggae and dancehall) was forwarded by the Black Nationalist concerns. This constructed history of undisturbed Black creativity and innovation is not supported by many works on Caribbean music (Dawes 1999; Guilbault & Rommen 2019). Lazarus (1999) claims that non-African-based popular music is often dismissed as inauthentic and non-traditional (197). In truth, forms of musical hybridity are assessed as naïve, Western clichés, and the abandonment of a rich tradition of local music practice (Lazarus 1999: 200–1; Sadre-Orafai 2005: 220). The pressure to remain authentic is not only championed by the local audience but by many scholars as well. Writers such as Stolzoff (2000), Chang and Chen (1998), Cooper (2004), and Hope (2006) have expressed pessimistic warnings about the fate of reggae in the hands of foreign music executives:

It is not difficult to imagine reggae suffering the same fate as the delta blues – co-opted by commercial popular music, its roots insidiously and inevitable gnawed away, and its greatest practitioners lured away from the source of their inspiration. The separation of artistic ability and emotional depth is always a cultural tragedy.

(Chang and Chen 1998: 7)

Despite the policing of the mixing of “foreign” music with local styles within Caribbean borders, many foreign music groups are appropriating the Jamaican sound. No Doubt's alternative pop rock mixes reggae beats and makes them highly successful in the US market. Nicki Minaj's, Rihanna's, and Justin Bieber's use of the dancehall and reggae aesthetic in hip hop and pop music have earned them international success. Chang and Chen (1998) see that these success stories do not deter local audiences, who feel that their best artistes should concentrate on Jamaican music and not succumb to over-commercialization, which dilutes the quality of the music (3).

There is an obvious fear, in the Caribbean, of a nation's identity becoming assimilated into dominant cultures. Hybridity's homogeneous effect is said to be able to disable the nation's social differences, while differences maintain the imagined prejudices of the nation (Bhabha 1994: 37; Puri 2004: 9). Caribbean scholars have voiced major concerns about the assimilation of local culture into the global market. Many scholars believe that imperial strategies such as Americanization forces the loss of the community's self-definition, and the lack of a cultural policy to monitor these activities further exacerbates the tenuous situation (Nettleford, Inward Stretch 120–1; K. Nurse, The Caribbean Music Industry 26–7; H. Brown, “National Strategy and Action Plan” 12; Dunn, “A One Way Street” 135–46; Sadre-Orafai 216–7).

Thus, globalization can then be assessed as the cultural, political, and economic forces outside the local that destabilize indigenous practices and identities in favour of foreign ideologies and homogenized consumptive practices (Appadurai 2005: 29–30; Nilan & Carles 2006: 5; Martell 2010: 9–11). This position underlines the loss of authenticity, which local cultures are subject to in the light of the influences of global movements such as pop music and fast food. However, Bhabha (1994) stresses that the hybrid being who appropriates foreign cultural influences lives in a “kind of global cosmopolitanism … that configures the planet as a concentric world of national societies extending to global villages” (xiv). This enhances and complicates the local space rather than diminishing specificity.

Hybridization in the Reggae Revival

The enhancement and complexity that cultural hybridity provides can definitely be found in Jamaica's Reggae Revival. Adherents within the alternative music communities, such as rock and rap, were a driving force for Jamaica's new sound. The Reggae Revival is contextualized as a renaissance in the reggae industry. This renaissance was much more than the revival of roots reggae. It also involved the translation of foreign music such as rock and rap with reggae.

The revival was coined by Dutty Bookman in November 2011 to describe the renewed interest that young Jamaicans had in 1970s and 1980s roots reggae. This interest was evidenced in the regeneration of both the traditional lyrical motifs in roots reggae as well as its musical style. The revival describes the activities of performers and the heightened consumptive practices of the Jamaican people. Reggae music is receiving support from the general public. More reggae music is being bought and events attended in contrast to the late 1990s:

After more than two decades of being dismissed as music for parents and tourists, roots reggae is relevant again in Jamaica. A group of young artists is repopularising the genre in a new wave that has been named the Reggae Revival.

(Aguirre 2015)

The revival of 1970s roots reggae and the Jamaican artiste Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley have been credited as inspirations to this scene as many acts follow Marley's unique performance style and vocal techniques. Ibo Cooper, however, has been positioned as the central architect of the revival because of his influence on the curriculum at the EMC. Cooper explained that it is his mission to reintroduce young musicians to the history of Jamaican music. By doing this, he hoped to re-energize the local imagination and limit the descent of trained musicians into Euro-American styles of music. It is not that he discredited the creativity and musicianship of these foreign styles, but he wholeheartedly believed that Jamaicans playing local music was the antidote for many social ills. This reconnection with the past through the teaching of mento, ska, and other past traditions has been suggested as a reason why many young Jamaicans are finding their way back to reggae.

The Revival has solicited new interest in the Jamaican music scene by foreign markets. Bands such as Jah9, Chronixx, Raging Fire, Protégé, Kabaka Pyramid, Jessie Royal, and Rootz Underground tour America and Europe. What seems to be ignored by the mainstream audience and industry professionals is that many of these performers are products of the rap and rock music scenes. The Revival then is also a direct result of foreign tastes being re-conceptualized with reggae music.

Viewed as one of the earlier waves of bands in the Renaissance, Rootz Underground began their career playing reggae and rock. Stephen, the 39-year-old lead singer of the band, was influenced by the Rastafarian religion, which led him to the playing and writing of reggae. Though his band was widely regarded as a part of the reggae scene, many in the rock music community remembered when Rootz Underground played at rock events. Stephen confirmed that he was a part of the scene: Author:

Why was I told that you were a rock musician in the first place?


Because I rock, I rock yo, I make it rock. Rock music? What you mean by rock so? You talking about such as classic rock genre, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Muddy Waters


All those things... I mean did you start with a rock sound...


And start and still. How you mean? You never listen to our music yet


Yes, but it seems more reggae


Ahhh. It is more reggae because we are Jamaican. We are a reggae rock band, not a rock reggae band. There is a difference.... The music Rootz Underground plays is like no other music in the world.

(2014, personal communication, 8 April)

He imagined the historical trajectory of Jamaican music as a “compounding swell”, where local musicians merge foreign sounds to create something unique. Bob Marley's “How does it feel” and “Tambourine Man” were examples of this swell to Stephen. For him, the use of an electric guitar in Marley's music, innovative recording techniques, and a foreign management team facilitated the indigenization of non-indigenous music in Jamaica. Following in Marley's footsteps was how Stephen validated the use of rock influences in his band's music.

Another example of the alternative music scene informing the production of reggae music is in the sounds of Kabaka Pyramid. A popular reggae revivalist, Kabaka began rapping in the local hip hop community, focussing his craft on lyricism. He explained that he could not play an instrument and rap connected him to music. After some time abroad, he discovered the power of live music on his lyrical flow (Kabaka 2015, personal communication, 3 June). When Kabaka came back from the United States in 2007, he and his managers founded the artiste management company Bebble Rock Music in Jamaica. He developed an album The Transition Vol. 1 in 2007, incorporating rap music with live music, but it did not receive much of a local audience.

The limited success of this and other projects that he undertook was extremely frustrating to him as he felt his work was very good but because rap music was considered “American” and not intrinsically Jamaican, it did not do well in the local market. Kingston's Pay Attention music event was one of the few places where he saw rap being encouraged and supported. He then developed his craft not just in the rap scene but in the alternative music community. Kabaka reminisced that he played alongside rock bands, dub poets, and rap performers. He described the alternative music scene as extremely positive and unlike the “slackness” in dancehall.

Kabaka conceived his transition to reggae with his album Rebel Music in 2011 and Lead the Way in 2013 as the development of his unique style. With the creation of his popular song “Better must come”, which mixed reggae music with a hip-hop beat, he began to feel that he did not have to limit himself to either hip hop or reggae. With the support of the Bebble Rock management, his unique interpretation of reggae pushed his celebrity with local and foreign audiences.

Rock and rap have had a unique impact on the musical renaissance in reggae. Thus, it may be more accurate to label the movement a musical revival instead of a “reggae revival” since the contributions of various styles are affecting the form and content in contemporary Jamaican reggae music.

The Hustla Playbook

Hustlin’ was the armour used against the penalties that social differences incurred. It allowed one to reap respect and financial assets despite one's class, colour, sexuality, femininity, and tastes in music. As commodities of value to the Jamaican mainstream audience, dancehall and reggae found support within the local music industry. However, rock music was not given the same attention as it was seen as a symbol of White oppression. Local rock musicians hustled by subsidizing their income by playing in reggae bands or abandoning their ambitions in the rock scene to pursue conventional occupations. Very few restricted their energies to solely producing rock music.

The perceived difference in tastes between Jamaican and foreign music signified one's authenticity and inauthenticity. “Authentic” music production honoured Black traditions, i.e., dancehall and reggae. Ideas of authenticity then simply perpetuated longstanding prejudices held about blackness and whiteness and denied the realities of hybridization. The distinction between differences in foreign and local tastes maintains a tradition of oppression by extending Black, Brown, and White archetypes to new areas of music consumption such as Jamaican rock music. By the mainstream's logic, Jamaicans are perpetually doomed to enslavement if they step outside of their local traditions.

Rock music may eventually be co-opted into the Reggae Revival as many alternative musicians are influencing and transitioning into the Revivalist scene to make their foreign style more palatable. By reaffirming reggae's importance to the Jamaican identity, privileging stereotypical Afro-Caribbean discourses, as well as becoming a driving force of Jamaican musical hybridity, rock musicians have been attempting—with some success—to hustle the Jamaican audience.

Local rock music is a potential money-making resource for Jamaica as well as serving as a foundation on which other Jamaicans can derive further creativity and innovation. Unfortunately, it remains hidden behind the noise of reggae and dancehall. It is quite interesting that, even in the depths of an economic crisis, the Jamaican music industry would still ignore the tradition of hybridity and cling to imagined standards of Black authenticity. Differences in taste act as a barrier to rock musicians’ economic progress. This has resulted in their frustrations, and they are now beginning to look beyond the local for validation.

Figure 1

The hierarchy of power in the Jamaican music economy.
The hierarchy of power in the Jamaican music economy.

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