SOJA’s Grammy wins a wake-up call for the Jamaican music industry
Although many Jamaicans reacted with surprise to the Reggae Grammy awarded to predominantly white American band SOJA, players in the reggae arena believe the win is a fitting snapshot of an industry in tatters and believe the band deserves the gramophone Golden.
“I have no problem with SOJA winning. The Grammys have been out for 37 years, Steel Pulse, the British band won. They come from Jamaican families, so I didn’t see a problem with them and I don’t ‘I don’t have a problem with SOJA either,’ said Frankie Campbell, president of the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artists and Affiliates (JAVAA). Loop News Tuesday.
“We’ve been sliding down the totem pole for 20 years, our standards have been falling in terms of reggae, and dancehall doesn’t have the impact that reggae had in the 70s, 80s and 90s,” he said. added. “Jamaican music has been so successful, ‘My Boy Lollipop’ was recorded in England so I don’t see it as a starting point, but ever since Desmond Dekker and the Israelites hit the charts we’ve had so much success as an industry; moral victories against the apartheid regime in South Africa, so much success, so many messages of unity and solidarity that I’m just disappointed with the last 20 years.”
Campbell has complained about the content and production quality of what is currently masquerading as Jamaican music.
“Remember what reggae did for the world? We’re raising awareness in the world; reggae is protest music, it’s not fun. It does a lot for black people, [and] for whites; it is teaching them and telling them things. There’s room for dancehall and fun music, but look at the quality and what you’re saying. Even some of the finalists this year, I don’t want anyone to hear their songs. I don’t want to hear what people are doing in their rooms, but they announce it to the world; I guess it’s a different era,” he lamented.
He said SOJA’s victory is a wake-up call.
“It’s a wake-up call. I’m glad people are protesting. I saw Copeland Forbes on TV and he said he’s been preaching for years that we need to get back to the roots; go ahead! doesn’t have to be Bob Marley or Jimmy Cliff music, but at least have some lyrical consistency and standards counts for something Listen to any Bob Marley song and the song sounds fresh, they rise after more than 40 years,” Campbell reflected.
The Bob Marley family holds 13 of the 37 Reggae Grammys awarded since 1985.
There’s a good reason old school reggae has stood the test of time.
“You hear the old reggae music in movies and commercials. The younger ones, since Sean and Shaggy, stagnated. Omi didn’t identify as Jamaican; we stagnated. Every year we had someone in the UK charts, Koffee did exceptionally well, but, overall, our star performer Shenseea only sold 4,000 copies. What does that mean?” Campbell said.
Publicist Ralston Barrett echoed his sentiment.
“Soja winning the Grammy is a big wake-up call for the Jamaican music industry, it’s time for us to pull ourselves together, especially when it comes to reggae music. No one in Jamaica should be upset because a band white reggae band from the United States won the Reggae Grammy, because we give so little importance to reggae music in this country.
“Reggae is almost a lost art form in this country. Don’t get me wrong, we still have some good reggae bands in Jamaica making good music, but for some reason none of them is popular. Honestly, I can’t remember any popular reggae band in Jamaica since Morgan Heritage emerged in the late 90s,” he said.
Barrett, who is also a producer, linked the decline of reggae to the death of Dennis Brown.
“It continued with the loss of other great icons such as Delroy Wilson, Garnett Silk, Alton Ellis, Joseph Hill (Culture), Gregory Isaacs, John Holt, Bunny Rugs of Third World, and more recently we lost Toots Hibbert and U-Roy.
“Unfortunately when these reggae giants died we didn’t have a crop of young reggae stars waiting in the wings to take their place, so over time dancehall became the most dominant genre at home, most local music fans started paying more attention to dancehall and ignoring reggae,” Barrett said.
Julian Jones-Griffith, manager of dancehall star Mavado, was caustic in his assessment of SOJA’s victory.
He tweeted: “My perspective – out of respect/tribute to the music and culture that inspired them and compensates them well, once nominated why not say ‘We are truly honored with the nod but please take us out of Grammy consideration and let him go see a Jamaican artist.
However, SOJA more than earned their nomination with nearly 25 years of experience as a reggae band, surpassing the sales and tours of many local reggae bands.
SOJA has over 1.4 million subscribers on Spotify and generated over 106 million streams worldwide last year. SOJA’s fourth studio album, “Strength to Survive”, is her best-selling project to date. Released in 2012, it has sold over 70,000 copies in the United States.
A video for one of the album’s singles, “Not Done Yet”, has over 88 million views on YouTube.
The group consistently racks up impressive numbers. SOJA’s single “Rest of My Life” from their 2009 album “Born in Babylon” has visuals that have racked up over 178 million views on YouTube. Another single, “You and Me”, featuring Chris Boomer from the same “Born in Babylon” album, has a video with over 103 million views on YouTube.
Ethno-musicologist Dr Dennis Howard said Virginia, US-based band SOJA, while relatively unknown in Jamaica, is a big deal in the international music space.
“SOJA is not a minor matter,” he said.
“On Spotify alone, in 2021, they had 106.5 million streams and 7.7 million listeners in 178 countries. Their live shows are generally sold out, where they do well with merchandising and selling their music.
“The Grammys are about the American music scene, which includes the various US-based bands including Rebelution, Common King, Collie Buddz, Konkarah, J Boogs and the Elovaters,” Dr Howard added.
According to the category description guide for the 52nd Grammy Awards, eligible works are vocal or instrumental reggae albums “containing at least 51% newly recorded music playing time”, including roots reggae, dancehall and ska music. Using these criteria, SOJA more than qualified for a nomination in the Reggae Grammy category.
Barrett believes SOJA’s victory provides an opportunity to introduce structure and organization to the reggae industry.
“Obviously we can’t stop outsiders from participating in our music, but we mustn’t give away what’s ours. Reggae comes from Jamaica, and we mustn’t let the world forget that.
“Therefore, we need to help in the development of the next generation of reggae stars. We also need more structure and organization in our music industry; it’s time to push Jamaican music forward and step out of the dark ages. If we fail to do this, we will perish,” Barrett said.
He also had a sobering parting word for industry practitioners to pull themselves together or be condemned to the dustbin of history.
“Ska is a genre that originated right here in Jamaica, and although there are ska bands today in various parts of the world, we have no known ska bands in this country. The same will happen to reggae if we don’t get our act together,” Barrett said.