Jamaica Observer By Desmond Allen — Eight of the biggest European reggae festivals have warned of a dim future for the Jamaican music, citing a huge 50 per cent drop in audiences combining with skyrocketing artiste fees, up to three times previous rates, in the face of a growing preference for other genres of music on the continent.
A staunch ally of reggae — the music that was spawned in the sprawling slums of western Kingston — Europe stages 15 reggae festivals annually since the 1970s, emerging as a staple for every major act from Jamaica who can depend on the usually well-attended concerts for critical earnings.
“We can’t ignore the elephant in the room: Audience attendance at dedicated reggae festivals is declining. Outside the festival season, there are fewer venue shows played by reggae artistes. They don’t tour as intensively as they used to,” the eight said in an unprecedented joint statement Saturday.
“At the same time, the fees proposed have skyrocketed and don’t reflect the potential audience attraction artistes generate. As a result, promoters are obligated to pay fees that are not proportionate to ticket sales, resulting in exploding artistic budgets and increased operational costs,” they said.
Among the most telling findings by the festival organisers is that, “Since the pandemic, new styles like Afrobeat, trap, and urban are conquering the new generation audience with strong marketing campaigns and replacing in most countries’ spots historically belonging to reggae and dancehall”.
The reggae promoters met 18 days ago in Benicassim, Spain, home of one of the biggest reggae festivals, to assess the future of the music and search for solutions, in order to craft “a common approach to safeguard the future of reggae music on the European continent”.
The eight organisations at the meeting were: Rototom Sunsplash (Spain); Summerjam Festival (Germany); Reggae Geel (Belgium); No Logo BZH (France); Reggae Sundance (the Netherlands); Uppsala Reggae Festival (Sweden); Reggae Lake Festival (the Netherlands) and Uprising Festival (Slovakia).
“We’re all in this together; we’re working hard to promote the music we love dearly, and we are sure addressing these issues is the way forward in the years to come. We’re confident that other reggae festivals in Europe will be ready to join in,” the joint statement said.
The dispatch was issued over the signature of Danielle Pater, artistic director of Reggae Geel, who is no stranger to Jamaica, taking the trek annually to the island to recruit for her festival, described as the closest in resemblance to a Jamaican event.
Named after the city in which it is held, Reggae Geel itself marked its 45th anniversary last month when it announced as the featured artistes the likes of Burning Spear, Tarrus Riley, Marcia Griffiths, Lone Ranger, Tanya Stephens, Kabaka Pyramid, Micah Shemaiah, Yaksta, Johnny Osbourne, Mr Vegas, Chi Ching Ching, Richie Spice, and Jesse Royal.
Queried by the Jamaica Observer, Pater said festivals which usually drew between 7,000 and 20,000 patrons per day had seen their numbers plummet by an average of 50 per cent per day, compared to the previous editions.
“Without going into details, we can easily say that after COVID, the fees from numerous artistes doubled or, in some cases, even tripled,” she told the Observer.
The festival organisers described their deliberations as “lively, productive, and positive discussions rooted in a joint commitment to build a European reggae scene for the future”, noting that they had launched the idea of starting a European Reggae Festival Association.
Reggae action at the Rototom Sunsplash in Spain (Photo: Ranieri Furlan)
International Reggae Superstar Marcia Griffiths
The statement said: “This association could be an idea-sharing platform, focusing on shared challenges:
• promoting dialogue between festivals and artistes on the current market situation.
• facilitating collaborations between Europe’s reggae festivals.
• help artistes to build their live audience more actively instead of only their online following, by joint support.
• design specific joint actions to support reggae music.
•find agreements, settlements, and regulations with major principles with artistes/management and festival/promoters, based on professionalism, quality, and liability, and to share the principles of unity, solidarity, and respect.”
It added: “Better organisational capabilities, working together more closely, and professionalising our cherished scene are crucial for future success. By coming together, reasoning on our shared challenges and future, and stipulating plans of approach, we want to set a higher bar and give reggae music the future and audience attendance it deserves.”
Over the years, other top draws for the festivals have included Bunny Wailer; Desmond Dekker and the Aces; Freddie McGregor; Ziggy Marley; Barrington Levy; Third World; Sugar Minott; Stone Love; Max Romeo; U-Roy; Lady Saw, as well as big reggae names from other countries which have embraced the music.
Top Feature Photo Reggae Festival at Geel, Belgium