Monday, April 27, 2009

War of the Music

This is a copy of an article posted over at: Imran Khan, the new media critic. This article is copied in full. The last time I saw an interesting article about Guyanese music, before I could copy it, the site went kaput. I've been hearing about this war of words in bits and pieces and someone has finally put it all together. Imran seems to have lots of time on his hands, thanks, saves me some time.

The big local music imbroglio

I have been following an intense and sometimes rancorous debate which has begun to rage on local television (specifically HBTV Channel 9 and STVS/HJTV Channel 72) and to a lesser extent NCN radio channel 98.1 HOT FM about the local music industry. The genesis of the debate lies in comments made by gospel artiste Kester Deane on a Brutal Tracks (the recording studio aligned to Swansea Telecommunications) programme on 98.1.

Though Deane did not refer to anyone or any group by name, Rawle Ferguson of Hits and Jams Entertainment took it upon himself to respond to Deane’s comments on his (Ferguson’s) live call in Hitsville programme on HJTV. Ferguson took Deane to task to which Deane responded in a subsequent programme (Swansea Information Hour) on HBTV.

Deane had initially said that promoters in Guyana were not booking enough local artistes on their shows, opting instead to dominate their line up with foreigners. Deane also said that there is no need for promoters to bring in overseas artistes when there is a full compliment of local artistes who have large repertoires of songs and who are capable of bringing in large crowds. Deane threw his corn and Ferguson picked.

Ferguson responded by saying that the quality of the music produced by locals, in general, is just not good enough to bring people through the gates but that H&J was doing what it could within the various constraints to promote locals who showed some promise. Entertainer Rawle (formerly DJ Rawle) said that the few locals who had produced good enough music - of course in the estimation of H&J - were in fact booked on various shows. At later stages the H&J boys (Ferguson plus his partner Entertainer Kerwin Bollers) challenged anyone to prove that there has been any H&J show which did not include at least three local artistes in the line up. No one has yet been able to disprove their claim.

Deane then fired back, saying that in his view, H&J was not doing enough to promote local music and local artistes by not booking enough of them on their shows and were not giving them enough airtime on their radio programmes and television station. He charged that H&J has never promoted a major show (with the requisite pervasive advertising and marketing) with exclusively local artistes and that there is enough talent in Guyana for them to so do. The passionate Deane, popularly known as Kester D, said that H&J were only interested in money as opposed to promoting local artistes and local music and they were conspiring to export money through booking various overseas artistes while the struggling locals were left to pick up crumbs.

Part II

After the initial exchanges between Deane and Ferguson, Ian Johnson, aka Mr. Dynamix of Dynamix Studios, took up the mantle and broadened the discourse on his What’s Hot Guyana show on HBTV. As guests, he had Kester Deane, music producer and music video director Bonny Alves of Signal Studios and journalist Gordon Moseley, who is also producer of the Entertainment Reel (which reviews and previews artistes and the local entertainment scene and is part of his HJTV In Da Mix programme).

The late night programme was perhaps the most contentious seen on local television. In one corner was Moseley and in the other corner Alves with Deane as his back up as Johnson moderated or perhaps, more accurately, refereed.

Moseley fired first. He uncompromisingly chastised local artistes for not being serious about their chosen profession. The journalist/producer accused them of being lazy and lacking a proactive/go getting approach and that they were largely content with mediocrity.

Alves responded by saying that resources, particularly financial, were limited or not available and that the lack of copyright laws in Guyana was a huge bugbear. Alves pointed out that Guyanese artistes had done well overseas yet they were not being accorded respect locally by promoters such as H&J (though he did not identify them by name). He gave the example of Charmaine Blackman having topped the charts in Guam.

Moseley dismissed Alves with contempt, saying that Blackman’s chart topping in ‘little’ Guam was meaningless and irrelevant, that Guam was essentially a musical non-entity that no one cared about. This incensed Alves (who is Blackman’s producer) and he flew into a rage, condemning Moseley in no uncertain terms.

All the callers to the programme supported Moseley’s views. One caller spoke frankly about the quality of Blackman’s singing and music videos (all of which were produced and directed by Alves) which she described as a ‘joke’. Many others, both calling in to the programme, and elsewhere have expressed the view that Blackman’s singing is atrocious and that her music videos belong in the trash, a view that one would find difficult to oppose.

Deane supported Alves for the most part and went on to call for national legislation to stipulate that local promoters must have at least five local artistes in their line up for every show. Moseley derisively rubbished Deane’s suggestion as discriminatory and being a laughable proposal. Moseley repeated his thoughts on Deane’s suggestion on ER which he subsequently uploaded to Facebook and which has elicited a firestorm of comments.

Part III

In the interim Bonny Alves, who hosts a Music Industry Association of Guyana (MIAG) programme on NCN television, lashed out once again and was supported by Malcolm Ferreira who is a radio personality. Alves continued to repeat that local artistes do not have the finances to allow them to produce quality work to compare to international artistes and that the technical support for them locally left much to be desired. This point is somewhat flawed as locals such as First Born, Fojo, Timeka Marshall, Celeste David, Shelly G and others have all recorded songs which can compare favourably with works recorded regionally and internationally. Alves should have clarified that the studios which he uses locally have inferior equipment but not all local studios can be so described.

Alves and Kester Deane are of the view that the general public and promoters and producers in particular must support local more. They believe that we have to be more receptive to the work of our own even if it is lacking a little in quality. Because it is local, they say, we must be proud. This is a view that I vehemently oppose as it subscribes to the school of thought which suggests that we must settle for mediocrity. That is unadulterated nonsense. We should support quality music regardless of where it emanates from. If it happens to be local, then we will all be proud. Those local artistes who have produced quality have been heralded and have received rewards, financial and otherwise. The Guyanese listening public has matured and has demonstrated that it has become unafraid of embracing local music with the only stipulation being that it must be of a certain acceptable quality. Shelly G has recently achieved the benchmark and her song is receiving non-stop airplay both on television and radio. Those who continue to fall below par will continue to struggle a la Blackman and Alves.

For persons to argue that Guyanese, being Guyanese, must settle for less than the best is an insult to the nation. For them to argue that some obviously third rate songs, videos and artistes are better than they are (which Alves has consistently done) and thus be supported when the vast majority of the listening, viewing and paying public rejects them is being preposterous and hypocritical.

However Alves’ point that Guyana should have modern copyright laws which are stringently enforced and until such a time there will continue to be underdevelopment in the Guyanese music industry is one which must not be treated flippantly - as has been the case - by Gordon Moseley, Rawle Ferguson and Kerwin Bollers.

Part IV

Ian Johnson then continued the debate by having Rawle Ferguson and Kerwin Bollers appear on a subsequent What’s Hot Guyana programme. Ferguson repeated earlier comments, including that for Kester Deane and others to suggest that H&J and other producers are deliberately ‘keeping down’ local artistes makes no practical sense. He detailed the enormous economic benefits which would be accrued from booking local artistes. He said that if a promoter could be guaranteed a large turnout for a show which featured exclusively local artistes then promoters would rush for that option as they would have no airfares, hotel charges, per diems etc to cover thus their investments would be smaller and returns larger. He said that the only reason all the larger Guyanese promoters bring in overseas artistes is economic - that the overseas artistes are the ones who pull the crowds.

Ferguson, always making a conscious effort to appear graceful and not bearing malice, said that overall he respects Deane, Bonny Alves and Charmaine Blackman as they are all pioneers who have their hearts in the right place. He however advised that Alves and Blackman discontinue pursuing careers in certain aspects of the music industry and take up other areas which will be more rewarding to their skills and collective zeal. Ferguson, during a discourse with one of his callers, also said Deane is “ignorant” of many aspects of the music business.

In arguing that H&J decisions are based on business in the first instance, as opposed to patriotism, Ferguson said that one local artiste submitted a music video to HJTV which was played by the station and they received a deluge of phone calls from viewers saying it was of poor quality and ought to be removed. He said that since they were fearful of losing viewership they were forced to discontinue showing the video. He did not name the artiste but it would not take someone of advanced intellect to surmise that it was Blackman and thus the video was directed by Alves who is notorious for producing music videos of appalling quality.

Part V

Among several points, Kerwin Bollers, who is also manager and producer of the modestly talented but stunningly beautiful Timeka Marshall, said that too many local artistes have poor attitudes. He said that many of them have one hit song and behave as though they have arrived, they do not interact with fans and feel that they are obligated to be repeatedly booked on shows even long after their one hit would have lost popularity. Noting that volume of content is a problem Bollers urged them to produce more songs but acknowledged the financial challenges in so doing. I could not help thinking that he was referring to artistes - such as Typheon and Gialiani* - out of Jonathan Beepat’s Wildfire camp.

Perhaps this is just my overactive mind even though it is commonly known that the H&J and Wildfire camps have been unable to get along on any level and there were several rumours and accusations flying around after international R&B artiste TPain pulled out of an H&J promotion saying that he had received credible information from a promotions group in Guyana that if he traveled to this country he would be kidnapped and killed (H&J is currently suing TPain in the US for breach of contract).

Bollers repeated several of Gordon Moseley’s comments that some of the artistes are unprofessional and gave the example of one local artiste who was booked to appear on a H&J show featuring Akon, yet he did not turn up nor did he call to inform the promoters that he would be unavailable and only apologised months after. Johnson then accused Bollers and Ferguson of penalizing the artiste (who he suggested to be Fojo) by not showing his videos extensively on HJTV.

Entertainer Kerwin also said that Kross Kolor Studios managed by Burchmore Simon is of a high standard which can compare to anything regionally and encouraged locals to utilize the services but called on all studios to have more flexible opening hours. He went on to plead with the local artistes, as did Moseley, to use the internet to promote themselves more widely, noting that such an avenue is available to them for free. That though, is not altogether true. While signing up and hosting videos and other information with websites such as MySpace, YouTube and Facebook (the ones he and Moseley identified) are all free, one still has to have a computer and access to the internet, all of which cost money.

From the reports I have had the vast majority of local artistes do not own their own computers, do not have personal access to the internet, are not internet savvy and in many instances are not even computer literate and are only semi-literate on the whole. Of course they can ask persons to assist them or they can seek the services of one of the many internet cafes but this will cost money albeit not an exorbitant sum. However it cannot be claimed that it is ‘free’ as Bollers and Moseley have both suggested.

*Gialiani is no longer with Wildfire.

Part VI

Kerwin Bollers said he was mystified as to why various stakeholders within the industry were avoiding mentioning publicly that there are major divisions in the industry to the extent that artistes are unable to record in one studio or another. He said this was a significant problem which needs to be addressed as the cliquish behaviour was not helping the industry.

The former DJ further said that the local studios need to fashion themselves after the Jamaican model where artistes do not always have to foot the bill for recording songs. Bollers suggested that studios should work out arrangements with the various artistes so that they can record for free and the studios take a cut of whatever profits are forthcoming. There is a major loophole in his argument though. He failed to address how studios should recoup costs in the event, as is more often the case in Guyana, artistes make no or negligible profits. While in theory his proposal seem plausible, in practice it is far from feasible for the studios in particular.

In responding to the accusations leveled by some that he is not supporting local as he is utilizing almost exclusively Jamaican resources in recording Timeka Marshall’s music and shooting her videos, Bollers said it was a strict business decision. He reasoned that if he records in local studios and uses local music video producers (in my estimation, none of whom can produce high quality work) once the works are complete he still has to spend much time and resources to promote it regionally and internationally. Whereupon if he records in internationally acclaimed Jamaican studios and utilizes the services of notable music video directors such as Jay Will once the song and videos are complete radio and television stations need no convincing to play it. In fact they clamour for it.

Bollers confessed to relying heavily on the Jamaican model as it is the one he is most familiar with but some of his suggestions seem not to have been well thought through. While the Jamaican studios can survive on partnering with various artistes that is not at all practical here in Guyana.

What he failed to explain was that there are dozens of the major artistes in Jamaica who utilize the services of the studios but who prefer not to enter into a business arrangement with said studio with regard to profits from their songs. The artistes pay the studios upfront for services and they hold on to whatever profits are had. Of course they have the financial resources of backing to so do. The studios are therefore in a financially stable position to partner with lesser known artistes to assist in the blossoming of their careers.

Secondly the artistes who do record in Jamaican studios for free operate in a larger and more lucrative market where their chances of ‘making it’ are much higher than their counterparts in Guyana. While there might be a 50% chance of making a decent profit in Jamaica, there is only a 5% chance of making a significantly lesser profit in Guyana so the both the risk is higher for the studio in Guyana and the return on investment lower. Economically it will not work in the current environment.

And the third fact that Bollers skillfully neglected to mention is that there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of artistes who studios in Jamaica simply refuse to enter into agreements with leaving those artistes to find the money to pay the studio for any services they wish to acquire. He painted the picture as if anyone off the street with a few lyrics can walk into any studio and record for free once they agree to give the studio a cut of the profits. That is simple not the case. Very, very few artistes in Jamaica are fortunate enough to convince a studio to enter into an arrangement with them. So on this point Bollers was being cunningly duplicitous.

The debate now requires Ian Johnson (or some other host) to do the natural thing and put Rawle Ferguson and Bollers alongside Bonny Alves and Kester Deane on the same panel and let them face off against each other. Both sides can put their respective arguments to each other and the other side can rebut and debunk whatever they feel is not worthy. This will not bring an end to the debate but it will enliven it further and both sides will show maturity in participating rather than them sitting on their own programmes and mouthing off and appearing to the public as if they are afraid of talking face to face and man to man. Both sides believe they have valid points and that the other side has indefensible positions. Let them discuss it in person.

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