THE DISCUSSION had been hot online and the headlines have read “Afrobeats is taking the dancehall playlists spots in the UK!”
I was receiving phone calls and WhatsApp messages asking if it was true. There seemed to have been several stories that had emerged in the Jamaican press that seemed to point to the discussion being had all over social media.
It started with a conversation with PR specialist and Grammy-winning producer Cristy Barber which was misunderstood.
She had just been in the UK promoting the new Spragga Benz album Chiliagon, which she was working on. During an interview with the Jamaican Gleaner, she spoke about playlist spots, but was actually referring to the US radio stations.
What was seemingly a simple misunderstanding had led to the internet taking over.
Personally, I don’t see it as ‘versus’ or a takeover. I see it as another black music genre growing in the mainstream that should be given its space respectfully. Why should we be pitted against each other in this manner?
However, as Cristy outlined to me: “Some of this Afrobeats stuff is better than the hip-hop tracks, but unfortunately reggae gets to take the backseat because some of these radio programmers are not educated enough to know these are different music genres.”
The popularity and growth of Afrobeats over the last few years cannot be questioned. The scene has grown many stars worldwide like WizKid, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage and Davido.
This feeling of Africa having stars like this is not a new phenomenon to me.
I first visited Kenya around 13 years ago when reggae and dancehall was still an underground movement. I remember having to go down the commercial Sean Paul route for my DJ set. What I did notice was the support for local acts – they were huge, with superstar status rightfully on their own soil.
What I was told on the way back to the hotel was that bootlegging was stopping the artist from truly seeing their full potential in record sales. This was a global problem at the time, but magnified in a region like this, as no-one bought CDs legally.
Fast forward to 2019 where we live in an age of digital streaming. Numbers, stats and analytics mean everything. As long as someone hits the play button you score a point. This is when you have to look at demographics and reach.
I recently hosted a Q&A for the launch of Walshy Fire’s Abeng album. During this discussion, he made a very valid point about the numbers game and Africa.
The estimated population of Nigeria is 200 million, and with numbers like that it’s not going to be hard to build a following from local support, and with those numbers comes attention and traction.
It all sounds very simple, when you think about it logically, but there are some things that we do have control of in the reggae market. The discussion of playlists at radio stations got me thinking. Do Jamaican radio stations operate a playlisted schedule where you hear the most popular songs or ‘important songs’ on rotation?
I asked a few of my broadcasting colleagues on various stations on the island, all of whom answered “no”. I was told of only one that did have a playlist and, guess what, it was mainly RnB, pop and hip-hop tracks.
Would I be wrong in thinking, well you can’t expect others to support the music in a particular way if you are not doing it yourself, or is this just too simple? Is it these simple things that the reggae/dancehall circle need to look at to fix the problems that we are seemingly facing?
No-one can question the influence of the music on a global stage, but is the core of the Jamaican music scene invited to this wider party?
I actually don’t worry about this, as I’ve seen many new music movements come and make an impact. Drum n bass, garage, dubstep, reggaeton, EDM.
When this happens, the foundation of RnB, hip-hop and reggae seems to get pushed to the back of the room for the new kid in class to come and shine for a moment.
Unlike some of the other genres I’ve seen have their time, I do believe Afrobeats is here to stay, as it’s built on a culture that has deep history. I also see a sense of pride in the young African generation to fly their flag and tell their story, just like how I did as a young dancehall fan whose mother was Jamaican. I represented with pride!
I like the fact that a discussion about our industry or lack of an industry is now a priority. The ball is definitely in our court in terms of making things better for us all. While there is a global demand for our music, we have to get the infrastructure of our business together.
The longer-term vision, goals and aspirations as an industry have to be more aligned – we are way too fractured as a series of businesses and that helps the few, not the majority.
While radio stations and outlets have a role to play, so do artists, managers, agents and promoters.
It’s time for us to get back to work. “Playtime is over, shottas are back!”