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Reggae conference jams for Jamaica

Published 02/07/2015

Jamaican reggae star Jimmy Cliff performs at the Brixton Academy, south London
Jamaican reggae star Jimmy Cliff performs at the Brixton Academy, south London

Jamaican government officials, lawyers and artists have held a conference to discuss ways of giving the country a competitive advantage from reggae, the home-grown music that long ago went global.

Industry minister Anthony Hylton described reggae as "part of the heart and soul" of Jamaica but acknowledged that the island's struggling music industry needed to be better protected and monetised.

"Reggae has given Jamaica much in the way of international prestige but there remains more that we can achieve on the economic side of things," Mr Hylton told the "international reggae day" gathering.

Starting in the late 1960s, Jamaica's exuberant music scene helped transform the Caribbean island into a cultural powerhouse. Reggae's global popularity exploded in the 1970s with the rise of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and other charismatic Rastafarian reggae stars.

But in recent years, international music festivals celebrating sounds developed in Jamaica are more likely to be headlined by bands from places like California or France than by native-born Jamaicans.

Aside from albums by the late Marley or his progeny, few of the top-selling reggae CDs or downloads come from Jamaican artists.

Mr Hylton says Jamaica's government is increasingly viewing the music and other cultural enterprises as a potential economic engine for the island.

In recent days parliament authorised amendments to extend local copyright terms from 50 to 95 years. The government has also applied to UNESCO to add reggae to a global list of "intangible cultural heritage" to potentially help defend Jamaican music. It is also seeking to amend an act to allow the registration of Jamaican trademarks in other countries.

But some reggae insiders say the government has achieved little to protect the local music industry.

"Truth be told, the Jamaican music industry has not been fortunate as elsewhere in the world" with getting government help, said Haldane Browne, chairman of the Jamaica Music Society.

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