Is patois preventing reggae and dancehall music from being more widely accepted internationally?
In response to Reggae is more appreciated abroad than in Jamaica.
So Ms. Davis say “strides” have been made in reggae “over the years”. This is a viewpoint that is arguable at best. The whole reason for the “New Roots Movement” or “Reggae Revival” as a lever for reggae is because of the apparent stagnation of quality reggae.
The integrity of Rastafari culture has been marginalized constantly as the island – and indeed the entire world of popular music – slipped into more mediocre slack vibes in terms of it’s lyric content and lack of the advancement of musical sophistication (post mid 1980s). Without getting too long-winded here, I think it is important to mention something as a non-jamaican music lover looking into the box that is the current Jamaican music scene. It is an element which is not discussed and something I see as a sort of catch 22 for Jamaican reggae these days and yet it seems to escape the understanding of those inside the box.
So an answer I would suggest here lies in the following question: What are the sound execution elements that Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Dennis Brown, Black Uhuru and EVERY other artist from that era possessed that virtually disappeared from reggae with later artists such as Buju Banton, Capelton and Sizzla?
For one thing it’s the mixes; the craft not being concerned as much with signature sound when it comes to the way a song or album or studio production could be distinguished and also subtle stylistic changes in the instrumentation of the music with the modern approach being more strait forward and homogenous with no particular engineers or players standing out like before with men like King Tubby, Lee Perry, Sly and Robbie, or Roots Radics.
The other sound element to change – and this one is the clincher when talking about popularity and marketability (or the lack thereof) of contemporary Jamaican reggae – the vocal approach (and BTW this diatribe is certainly NOT a counter-complaint, just an observation of a consensus that has come to my attention from voices of the non-Caribbean listening audience at large).
To sing in thick Patois or not to, this is the point which directly confronts the Jamaican Artist who struggles to maintain relevancy in a now full-grown multinational field of representation. To put it in the form of an answer to the question I posed about Bob Marley and Burning Spear, man like that always did their thing with “enough” English that could be sung along with by nations who were hungry for reggae’s message. I have to repeat that: English – that could be sung along with by the nations. (and this is not just me talking but a consensus that I have heard repeated over and over again by the traditionally largest purchasers of reggae music: white people.
Even the children of the white people who were attending reggae concerts in the 1970s and early 80s) That less patios-ish approach by those artists gave away to this now all-pervasive thick patois singer/sing-jay approach. It is delivering Jamaican music proudly as a Jamaican without the acknowledgement that the world at large would be strained to be able to translate the patois, much less sing along with it. Commendable as it is to sacrifice sales for principle and identity, it is then ignorant to turn around and complain about the market without addressing this elephant in the room for which the artist has complete control. Is this really a mystery?
Speaking for the listening audience accountability, this is what humans do. They do what they can and usually not much more. Don’t ask them to work for it by having to learn to decipher an unfamiliar articulation of words that is not common to them. By and large – and that is what we are talking about here, the masses – they won’t do it.
few others have maintained a more English-sounding approach but for the most part, many artists go the patois route and, for better or worse, it has repelled many reggae enthusiasts who prefer the older roots to contemporary artists.
This then begs a self introspection from the current movers and shakers of reggae in my opinion.