Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Copyright laws in Guyana are long overdue

Within the music industry in the Caribbean and the wider world, Guyanese musicians have always represented their Country, keeping the Golden Arrowhead flying proudly with the works they perform. The most outstanding Guyanese artiste to date remains Eddy Grant. However, within the past decade a few notable acts arose from Guyana and are presently blazing a trail in the Caribbean. They are First Born, Natural Black, Tameka Marshall, Adrian Dutchin and Jumo.

First Born emerged during the late nineties and since then has become a formidable force with which to reckon in the genre of Reggae. They have even taken their music to Europe where they were well received.

While the Caribbean people were warming up to First Born, another Guyanese artiste was in the wings waiting to take the world by storm. Mortimer Softley known to most of us as Natural Black literally exploded on the Reggae scene as we entered the new millennium and since then has not shown any signs of burning out anytime soon. He is one of the most respected Reggae artistes in the business today. With his incredible vocal range he has touched the hearts and minds of many with his positive lyrics and haunting melody lines.

After a somewhat indifferent start, and also after serious dedication and commitment to hard work, Tameka Marshall is indeed showing us Guyanese that she truly has what it takes to be a star. She made a very serious statement last year with her song entitled Hush released on the Indiscretion Riddim produced by Shane C Brown for Jukebox Productions. Working along with Peter Morgan from Morgan Heritage and some other renowned Jamaican producers, Tameka is proving that she could indeed hold her own in the industry. When Donovan Germaine from Penthouse Records decides to work with an artiste, it sends a strong message about the quality of that artiste. Tameka is doing work for Penthouse Records presently.

Adrian Dutchin did work with Krosfyah which is arguably the biggest band coming out of Barbados. To be fronting for Krosfyah is no easy feat. His recordings are known throughout the Caribbean and in some other parts of the world. Dutchin came from the boy group Seven that was once a household name in Guyana. His recent tracks gets major airplay in Guyana, several Caribbean islands, the US and Canada.

Jumo came out of EC Connection, a Guyanese band that played the local dance circuits in the late nineties. He joined the elite roster of well respected singers to lead the legendary Byron Lee and the Dragonaires Band from Jamaica. His recordings and his rubber waist are known both locally and internationally. Together with Dutchin they have the X2 collaboration.

As Guyanese I know that we are proud of these relatively new trail blazers in the music industry who are representing our Country in fine style.

However, there is something common about all the artistes this Country has ever produced that went on to make it big in the music business. They all had to leave these shores for other Countries to ply their trade. Why is that so? Let’s examine some of the acts being discussed in this letter. Why did First Born have to go to Jamaica to become famous? Why did Natural Black have to go to Jamaica to make his name? Why is Tameka Marshall doing so well in Jamaica? Why did Adrian Dutchin have to look to Krosfyah of Barbados? Why do all these artistes have to literally live outside of Guyana in order to ‘make it’? The answers to those questions could be many, but one main reason for the migration of our musical talent is that there is little or no reward being offered for this gift at home here in Guyana. Artistes live on the income they receive for the work they do. So, if there are no means of which to receive income for the work they are doing then they might as well do it for charity or head to places where that income would be guaranteed.

At this time internationally the world is looking at tweaking copyright laws to accommodate the mp3 generation who prefer to digitally download music instead of physically visiting a music store to purchase Compact Discs (CDs). These laws are intended to ensure that artistes benefit from the iPod generation. Just recently a Pirate Bay file sharing website was closed and its owners sent to jail and ordered to pay royalties to a few music companies. In a landmark ruling, the Stockholm District Court sentenced Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij and Carl Lundstrom to one year in prison and they were also ordered to pay damages of 30 million kronor (£2.4 million) to a series of entertainment companies, including Warner Bros, Sony Music Entertainment, EMI and Columbia Pictures. With an estimated 22 million users, the Pirate Bay had become the entertainment industry's No. 1 enemy after successful court actions against file-swapping sites such as Grokster Kazaa, Napster and Audio Galaxy. Sadly in Guyana we still do not even have the most basic of copyright laws existing. And, what is worst is that the local musicians are not even bothering to lobby for this law. Local musicians need to ensure that the right pressure is applied in the right areas where action would be taken at introducing copyright legislation. If not, they might as well pack up their instruments and head for the cruise ships and hotels in other countries where they can ‘hustle’ their trade.

It is high time Guyana introduces copyright laws and focuses on making music profitable in Guyana for Guyanese. We talk of enhancing the tourism industry and making tourism profitable. What about music? In Countries like Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad music plays a big part in their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures. And that is not by chance it is because they have chosen to invest in the industry and to protect its profitability.

Mr. Dave Martins of the Tradewinds who himself resides on the Cayman Islands has decided to work closely with the Ministry of Culture Youth and Sport. I hope that he uses some of his time to lobby for the drafting and implementation of copyright laws that can ensure that local musicians can earn adequately for the work they produce. It is time for some regulation of the music industry in Guyana.

We boast of having recording studios that can produce good quality tracks, but what is the use of those if there are no laws that govern how the studios and artistes can benefit from all the hard work they would have put in to produce their music. We want to hear form the Kross Kolor Krew, Brutal Recordings, and Platinum Records. They all must rise up and lobby seriously for copyrights laws to be passed in Parliament.

Copyright laws in Guyana are long overdue. Musicians in Guyana must all sing one tune to the Government to ensure that they table in Parliament Copyright Laws to protect the work they do.

Dancehall Reggae Artistes need to clean up their acts

Change is inevitable. Everything changes over time; even music. And so we would have seen that within all the genres of music, there are changes in composition and delivery. This does not necessarily mean that the foundations of the different genres of music has changed, but just that subtle changes would have been made probably to phrasing, timing, harmony, or lyrical composition. This can be seen in Jazz, Rhythm and Blues (R&B), Soul, Hip-Hop, Rap, Reggae, Calypso, Indian-Bollywood, Country and even Dancehall Reggae, just to name a few.

I would just like to examine a few of the genres listed above to highlight areas in which the music has changed and where its audience had either changed with it, adapted to the new sound or just moved away all together. Personally I wished that I could have gone through them all in greater detail, but the constraint of space in a letter column will force me to keep my analysis brief.

Let’s examine Jazz. After celebrating 100 years of Jazz a few years ago, the sound of Jazz today has changed considerably from what it used to be in the early and mid 1900s. Jazz as a genre had several sub genres back in the day like most music today. And even today Jazz still remains sub divided. In the past the composition of Jazz revolved around a variety of subgenres, from New Orleans Dixieland dating from the early 1910s to the Big Band-Style Swing from the 1930s and 1940s, Bebop from the mid-1940s, a variety of Latin Jazz Fusions such as Afro-Cuban and Brazilian jazz from the 1950s and 1960s, Jazz-Rock Fusion from the 1970s and late 1980s developments such as Acid Jazz, which blended Jazz influences into Funk and Hip-Hop. These are just a few sub genres of Jazz. They are many more. Today Urban Smooth Jazz is a sub genre that is widely sought after by both the young and mature Jazz fan.

The genre of Jazz evolved through time and is still widely accepted as pleasing to the trained musical ear and the not so trained ear.

Reggae is a musical genre which was created here in the Caribbean in Jamaica and is one which has evolved and which continues to evolve. Reggae by right originated out of two other genres known as Ska and Rocksteady. Tempo wise it fits snugly in the middle of the two for it is slower than Ska and faster than Rocksteady.

Lyrically Reggae deals with a plethora of issues ranging from love, religion, drugs, poverty, colonialism, racism, and general third world politics. The genre also covers a lot of Pop music coming out of the United States and Europe.

But just the way Reggae evolved from Ska, Reggae gave birth to Dancehall Reggae.

Discovered more or less by accident in the late 1970s Dancehall Reggae or Dub as it is popularly known began simply with Disc Jockeys (DJs) chanting over the B side of Reggae 45 rpm records at Dances.

The lyrics for Dancehall were far less serious than those used in Reggae. A lot of emphasis was placed on the more socially appealing themes at that time like the everyday Rude Bwoy, Area Dons or Donman, and a whole host of reverence for good sexual dexterity in men and women.

In the 1980s with producers like King Jammy and Coxsone Dodd seriously in the business Dancehall Reggae further evolved into a more rhythmical art form with computer digitization heavily being utilized in track composition. This led to what I like to refer to as the golden decade of Dancehall; the 1990s. In the 90s with producers like Dave Kelly, Sly and Robbie and Donovan Germain entering the business and new DJs like Shabba Ranks, Buju Banton, Ninja Man, Cobra, General Degree, Beenie Man and the list goes on and on; the 90s was indeed the Dancehall Decade.

The audience for Dancehall Reggae like Jazz and Reggae comprised of both the young and the young at heart.

Even though interspersed were some songs that glorified and promoted violence and also exposed the vulgar side of some artistes it was not enough to taint the entire genre. People still rocked on to the Pepper Seed, Action, Medicine, Bogle, World Dance and the Stink Riddims to name a few. Who never got up and danced when Second Class Love came on with Carol Gonzalez and Buju Banton. That remains an all-time Dancehall classic!

Sadly the Dancehall arena has now changed drastically for the worst. Today the King Jammys and the Sly and Robbies of old have been replaced by producers like Stephen ‘Di Genius’ Mc Greggor, Not Nice and Daseca Productions. Beenie Man and Buju are still present, but they are now over shadowed by the likes of Movado, Vybz Kartel, Bugle, Demarco and Busy Signal just to name a few. Beautiful rhythmical Dancehall Reggae has been replaced by robotic heavily syncopated break beats and copious overdoses of synthesized keyboards. The poetic deliverance of messages of sexual grandeur and the often funny lines that dealt with strategies on how to get and keep a man or woman have all been replaced with hardcore verbal pornography! Just put in the latest Movado CD and press play and get ready to have an orgasm. Many Dancehall artistes today have taken the themes of sex and violence way over board. Absolutely nothing is left to the imagination.

The depiction of violence in modern Dancehall Reggae is as gruesome as it gets. And people go to parties to listen to this sewage of lyrics and actually claim to have fun. I’m sorry for the generation of youth growing up on this filth called Dancehall Reggae. I shudder to wonder what they would play for their children as music from their time.

Dancehall artiste need to be more responsible for the lyrics they sing. They cannot continue to sing vicious, cruel, derogatory lyrics and expect to bring international recognition to Dancehall, nor expect to get airplay. The handful of dancehall artistes of international repute, don’t sing trash. Recently Serani’s She Loves Me was re-released during this summer in the US on Urban Radio Play CDs and he sang very different lyrics on the song. This goes to show that these artistes know better. Imagine the persons who listen to Night Shift and One More Night the two covers done recently by Busy Signal goes out and purchase a collection of his songs only to find that he also sings lyrics that are terribly offensive to the senses.

The producers and artistes in the Dancehall Reggae arena need to clean up their acts, be more responsible and ultimately bring back the authenticity of Dancehall Reggae. This genre has changed drastically and so has its audience. Sadly a lot of persons have fallen out of favor with Dancehall Reggae. Persons opt for the scarcely held Old School Dancehall Reggae Parties so they can relive an era of dancehall that was filled with strictly party vibes.

But all is not lost. Reggae even though it never quite went away during the 90s when Dancehall reigned, has come back with a bang thanks to the likes of Tarrus Riley, Richie Spice, Morgan Heritage, Etana, Tameka Marshall, First Born, Natural Black and the host of new generation Reggae messengers. I feel good when I see a Beres Hammond being played and people young and old throw their heads back with eyes closed and rock and sway to sounds of sweet reggae music.

Reggae like Jazz has shown that the changes it went through did not have a negative impact on its audience. If anything happened it was that the changes seem to have sought to expand its listening audience. Sadly the genre of Dancehall Reggae does not share that same fate; not with the vulgar murder music that is being packaged as Dancehall Reggae!

Chanderpaul is a national figure

Shivnarine Chanderpaul is an outstanding Guyanese and West Indian cricketer. His contributions to the game of cricket on the national and international level have been recognized and publicized both nationally and internationally.

In 2008, the International Cricket Council (ICC) named our very own Shivnarine Chanderpaul as its Cricketer of the Year; a significant achievement that will forever remain in the mind and heart of this brilliant batsman. He copped this award after scoring 819 Test runs at an average of 91.00 with three hundreds and six fifties within the voting period. And in the 13 One Day Internationals (ODIs) that he had played during the voting period, Chaderpaul had also scored 598 runs at an average of 74.75. He had scored a century and six fifties out of those 598 ODI runs.

Last year in recognition of his sterling contribution to sports in Guyana, President Bharrat Jagdeo presented Shiv with the third highest national award: the Cacique Crown of Honor.

Currently, Chaderpaul is the second highest West Indian run scorer in international cricket with a total of 8,669 runs. The only West Indian ahead of him is none other than Brian Charles Lara.

Guyanese and West Indians alike are very proud of his contributions to the game of cricket through the determination and extremely professional sportsmanship and discipline he displays on and off the field. Therefore I find it extremely sinister that the Indian Arrival Committee (IAC) is deciding to recognize Chaderpaul’s achievements and his contributions to Guyanese of East Indian decent. I believe that the recipient of a National Award has demonstrated in no uncertain terms that he or she has earned a country’s appreciation for outstanding contribution.

One has to ask why the IAC has decided to use this international sporting ambassador as easy bait to lure a section of the Guyanese society into further highlighting the racial divide that is already clearly drawn and runs through every conceivable section of our interracial and multicultural society.

Freddie Kissoon is right when he wrote in his Kaieteur News Article on April 30 calling for Shivnarine Chanderpaul to refuse this clandestine award. As a man who has built an outstanding international cricketing career on hard work and dedication, he should not tarnish that which he has worked so hard to achieve by stooping to the IAC and contributing to the deepening of the racial divide that has brought this country to its knees. When he scores runs, all Guyanese people rise to their feet and collectively uplift their voices to demonstrate their gratification and pleasure in his every play. Yes, as Guyanese, we acknowledge that this is one of our very own out there representing us.

Shiv is referred to by sports commentators, analysts and critics as a West Indian Batsman of Guyanese origin. It is time we remove the weights that have been placed on our national identity by misguided leaders of the past and present. We are all descendants of immigrants to this land from a dark time in history. Together we fought hard for our independence. Let us celebrate independence and our arrival days in reflection on the history that brought us all together. Further ethnocentric actions will only result in further division, marginalization and disharmony.

The time has come for deregulation of Radio in Guyana

The Stabroek News on Tuesday January 5th, 2010 reported in an article Draft Bill under Review that the Honorable Prime Minister Mr. Samuel Hinds appeared on a popular talk show and discussed among other things that his Government is currently in the process of reviewing the final draft of the Broadcast Bill. To the inattentive ear this indeed sounds splendid. But to the many Guyanese who pay careful attention to the many developments or lack thereof in Guyana will know that this particular Bill and its not too distant relative that deals with the enactment of Copyright Laws seem to have found themselves on the shelves of the Guyanese Parliament gathering dust as time passes.

A few days ago the first decade of the millennium ended. It’s almost a decade since work began on creating broadcast legislation for Guyana. Seven years have passed since the first official draft of the Broadcast Bill was made available on 25th July, 2003. An examination of the draft broadcast legislation would reveal a logical, carefully constructed piece of legislation that provides a solid foundation on which the guidelines for broadcasting in Guyana can emanate.

Because of the limitations of space in a Letter Column, I will not provide explicit details on what resides in the bill but will, in brevity, share some of what the seven sections of the bill proposes.

The draft broadcast bill that was circulated begins with a Preliminary section that deals with the Definition of Terms to be used in the bill along with the perceived interpretations of concepts as deemed necessary. The second section is labeled Broadcasting Authority in which there is sufficient information about how to set up such an authority, its responsibilities, functions and the policies that will govern it. General Provisions for Licensing make up the third and fourth section of this draft bill and outlines quite clearly the general and other requirements that applicants need to possess should they think of applying for a license to broadcast. This second part of this section clearly provides an outline of eligibility and Issuance of License. It also deals with the issue of License transfer, rules for programming, rules for advertising, ministerial role in licensing services and a host of other stringent guidelines.

Payment and Recovery of Fees is the heading of the fifth section and focuses on the guidelines for the payment of fees, and other financial guidelines regarding how the established broadcast authority treats with applicants and fees. The sixth section deals with Penalties. This section states categorically the penalties for broadcasting without a license and penalties for other offenses which I believe should read as [any other related offences]. The seventh and final section is labeled Miscellaneous and deals with a number of contingency issues ranging from Broadcasting of corrections and apologies, etc, production of documents and inspection to general regulations.

This draft received much scrutiny by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), concerned citizens and even the Opposition Parties. Pertinent recommendations have been made and still there seems to be reluctance by the government to have this Bill properly amended, tabled, debated and passed in Parliament. The time that the Honorable Prime Minister indicated that is still needed to put things in place smacks of political bureaucratic plodding.

There have been a number of bills that have flown through the Guyanese Parliament with dizzying speed that one wonders why very serious legislations like the Broadcast Bill which will ensure ground breaking deregulation in the commercial radio sector in Guyana and Copyright Laws which will guarantee our artists and people of talent protection for their work seem to find the insolence of the powers that be.

Let me remind readers of a few Bills that were passed in the Guyanese Parliament with great expediency. They are the Appropriation Bill in 2005, the Regional Health Authorities Bill, the Valuation for Rating Purposes (Amendment) Bill, the Valued-Added Tax Bill 2005, the Excise Tax Bill 2005, Guyana Energy Agency (Amendment) Bill 2005, CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards and Quality Bill 2005, the National Registration (Amendment) Bill 2005 and the Geographical Indications Bill 2005 and who can forget the contentious Gambling Prevention (Amendment) Bill of 2006 which literally legalizes Casino gambling in Guyana. It is indeed strange that such an important bill such as the broadcast legislation is not being attended to with a higher degree of expediency.

Deregulation occurred in the Newspaper sector just about 24 years ago when the Stabroek News began printing as the first private commercially available newspaper in Guyana. The Kaieteur News and the Guyana Times have all entered into a deregulated industry. Why a decade after the new millennium, Guyana still has one radio station? This is unacceptable in a Democracy!

The government has had more than enough time to iron out all the issues concerning broadcast legislation in Guyana. There ought to be no more excuses with regard to the passage of this legislation in Parliament.

The time for deregulation of radio has come!