Earlier today, Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton told those gathered at the launch of International Reggae Day in Kingston that “reggae is here to stay.” He added that this truly Jamaican musical genre is “one of our most valuable assets.”
No one would deny that reggae has had tremendous staying power, over the years. It is global. I recall years ago walking through the countryside in south-west France on a hot summer’s day. As we approached a house on the outskirts of the small village of Pauligne, strains of Bob Marley drifted towards us across a small vineyard. We looked at each other and smiled. Reggae is, indeed, everywhere.
It came as a surprise to me to hear today that, since 2008, many of Jamaica’s classic recordings no longer have copyright protection. In fact, such protection in sound recordings actually expires fifty years after the record’s first release. Since Jamaica’s musical recordings began to emerge before Independence, clearly their time has run out. Many more will reach the fifty-year mark in short order. 73 member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have extended their copyright terms for musical works, sound recordings and other copyright products and Mr. Robert Scott of the Jamaica Music Society (JAMMS) suggested Jamaica should do likewise – extending the protection up to 90 or 95 years. Even that doesn’t seem a long time in the scheme of things.
Minister Hylton is looking at two strategies through the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) which comes under his ministry’s wing: a certification mark to designate “authentic reggae” to promote the use of Jamaican performers, studios, musicians and merchandise; and obtaining the inscription of reggae on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Jamaica must establish its “ownership” of reggae, added Minister Hylton, since “reggae has only one birthplace.” Earlier this month, Professor Rob Bowman from York University in Canada visited Jamaica to advise on copyright matters related to reggae; he is undertaking a study to consider it as a complete, multi-layered art form with a view to strengthening intellectual property provisions.
There are other goals, one of them being a Reggae Hall of Fame on the waterfront of downtown Kingston. The city of Kingston is the home of Jamaican music, after all. The Hall of Fame project is dear to the heart of Michael Thompson, a Jamaican graphic designer who co-founded the International Reggae Poster Contest – now three years old. I blogged about the first one, when the winning designs were displayed at the National Gallery of Jamaica; they were vibrant, varied, and of very high standard. In that first year the contest received over 2,000 posters from ninety countries. Now, Mr. Thompson says, “We need to focus on what needs to be done” to achieve this goal.
Founder of International Reggae Day Andrea Davis became a little emotional. If we don’t build the Hall of Fame, she said, “someone will build it somewhere else.” Jamaica does not want to be guest of honor at its own party, she suggested, adding that the time for action is now. “The time to talk is long past,” she urged. “No matter who is kicking the ball, the ball needs to move.”
But of course, money has to be found from somewhere. JAMPRO executive Carole Beckford, who moderated the proceedings, noted that bankers and “influencers” must be engaged to support the effort. (Ironically, I had just bumped into the CEO of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica a few minutes earlier; he was attending a seminar next door on labor market regulation). It seems they are not yet engaged. But this must happen. Something else that occurred to me afterwards was crowd-funding. Reggae has such a global embrace; perhaps globally funds could be raised that way.
On Sunday night at the BET Awards 2014 show, the vintage soul singer Lionel Richie received one of those “lifetime achievement” trophies that indicate you are getting over the hill. He did make some marvelous remarks though, which those gathered at the International Reggae Day launch considered appropriate also for Jamaican music:
“Soul is a feeling, not a color. Talent is a God-given gift and not a category. And out of the box, out of the box is that magical place where talent — true talent — goes to live and thrive and breathe. And may you never give that up as long as you’re in this business.”
Meanwhile, tomorrow (July 1, 2014) is International Reggae Day. All kinds of happenings are and have been taking place in Jamaica, including tree plantings, discounts from a number of great Jamaican sponsors, a live webcast and a mural art project. Today’s conference, under the theme “You Reap What you Sow,” included presentations on “Social Design: The Power of Art to Transform Space,” and the all-important copyright extension issue. I am sorry I was unable to spend the day there, but I know that the discussion was lively. And I hope action will follow.