The annual Grammy Awards dates back to 1959, but a Reggae category – at what is arguably music’s most prestigious awards ceremony – did not exist until 1985. That year, a foundation reggae band, Black Uhuru, took home the golden gramophone for their album, Anthem. The following year, Jimmy Cliff won the second-ever Reggae Grammy Award, and in 1987, Steel Pulse won the third. As the Recording Academy gets ready to this week announce the nominees for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards, Steel Pulse members lead singer David Hinds and bassist Amlak Tafari say that despite some giant leaps made in the category, one thing remains consistently the same. That is the Recording Academy’s inability to diversify the category to reflect all types of music coming out of Jamaica.
“Reggae music is diverse in style. It’s diverse in subject matter, and it’s diverse in the calibre of artistes that it produces, and so yuh have roots reggae artiste that chant down Babylon, yuh have artistes that sing lover’s rock all day long, and I don’t believe that they should be competing with each other when it comes to the Grammy Award. There are different genres within the reggae music itself,” said Hinds. “I mean, how exactly can you compare Maxi Priest with a Burning Spear or a Shabba Ranks with a Steel Pulse? The music each of us produce is different. Yuh have dancehall people who want to win a Grammy but, basically, call it game over if their album gets nominated with a Marley for the Reggae Grammy, and I don’t think that is fair. The category needs to expand so these other acts outside of roots rock reggae get their fair share of opportunities.”
Tafari explained that although he wasn’t with the band in 1987 when they won, he was part of the crew nominated last year via their critically acclaimed project, Mass Manipulation. He said last year’s win by young reggae sensation Koffee is proof that the Reggae Grammy is evolving. He said that her becoming the youngest and the first female to win the award is testament to the fact that those at the helm of the Recording Academy are keeping abreast of recent developments in the genre. Still, like Hinds, Tafari believes that there is more work to be done to get the category to be a true reflection of what is happening in the world of reggae.
DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF REGGAE
“For some reason, they (the Grammys) always seem to just cast music from Jamaica into one category. Dancehall does contribute to reggae, lover’s rock does contribute to reggae. There are a variety of things that could come under the component of the reggae genre,” he said. “That is what I personally would love to see changed. I want the category to reflect the different aspects of reggae coming out of Jamaica and the diaspora because some people listen to dancehall, some people listen to roots, some people listen to lover’s rock, and they are not the same thing. They have a different nature, and they reflect different topics. They have different compositions, and they all deserve some recognition at that Grammy level. To not have that diversification in the category is a little bit unjust.”
“To truly represent right across the board, you have to have the award include not only the genre, but the subgenres as well. We have Stephen Marley winning a number of Grammys and rightly so because it’s good music, conscious music, but at the same time, there is more reggae, more artistes, more music that should all be represented by a broader scope, “ he continued.
Well aware that the type of change they speak of may not materialise for years to come, Hinds and Tafari said that maybe the change ought to start on the ground in Jamaica first. Both band members say it is becoming more and more evident that despite calls for local industry players to become more involved in the Grammy process, the latter is not happening at a fast enough pace to effect real change.
“I had this same conversation with some members of the Recording Academy about a year and a half ago, and they stated that honestly, they were glad for the input I had to offer because they find that when it comes to the reggae side of things, they cannot get no input from the artistes to make any adjustments,” said Hinds. “When it comes to the Jamaican side of things, we’re not that much involved as we should be, unfortunately. And that is holding us back more than we think. We have to get educated about the Grammy process, know who the key players are, what it takes to make your mark and get noticed and then make those moves. And maybe we need something like a music union to teach the artistes these things and how to get involved. I think the Recording Academy would pay attention to the changes we need made in the category if there was a governing body coming out of Jamaica instilling that consciousness in them and insisting this is the direction you need to take regarding the category.”
Tafari agreed. “To affect change, yuh have to be the change you want to see. You have to get involved in what’s going on. It comes down to becoming more educated. There is a process to this thing. It’s more than just you making some songs and putting out an album. You have to know how the entire thing works and how to get it to work for you. You can make an album and it nice and thing, but yuh affi become more familiar with the Recording Academy process. Knowledge and timing is key in this Grammy race.”