The Jamaica 50 song controversy and the rise of the Template Era

Lisa Hanna is a fucking idiot. Of course, no one should be surprised by that she is a fucking idiot, as most people who are attracted to power are stupid, mediocre and venal, Hanna being no different. Why then, are people shocked at the duplicity and mismanagement of the Jamaica 50 project, when institutional incompetence is part and parcel of post-1992 Jamaican government. What has Hanna done to prove that she is a qualified statesman other than look pretty and debate nicely? No, matter, in a democracy, people generally get the government they deserve, so we deserve what we get.

The latest nontroversy to grip the Jamaican public has to do with the sudden and unexpected change of the Official Jamaica 50 song from the original “Find the Flag” to the new “On a Mission.” The difference between the songs should be obvious, but the songs themselves are not the point – what they say about Jamaican culture over the last 50 years is.

A little techno, a little dancehall. a little electronica, a little hip-hop, but not much of anything. Just like the songs Lady Gaga, Nikki Minaj, Justin Bieber and every other mass produced pop song, it uses templates.You get your standard issue music sequencer (FL Studio, Reason, Ableton Live) and using a predefined set of musical notes, you create your song by drag-and-dropping your drums and synths from a (usually massive) library of musical instruments. All that is required is a decent Internet connections in order to access one of the many websites that host the thousands of templates. No creativity required.

But this is not just a feature of modern music composition. Our entire middle class economy and workplaces are affected by templates.

  • Microsoft Office templates that give us a predetermined set of resumes, memos, databases and flyers.
  • Adobe Photoshop templates for our programmes, menus and flyers.
  • Vehicle diagnostic tools that are used by mechanics also rely on the use templates on which to base their diagnosis.
  • SAP ERP templates that sit at the heart of modern business and industry

All of the above examples use templates to automate repetitive tasks, as well as to enhance the skill of user, who would normally use an artist or a massive reference book. But when such templates and techniques are used in the arts and especially music, it can result in dull, mechanical music that is a generic, shallow parody of the genre that it tries to emulate. It is an unimaginative and derivative sound, like when you hear a news report of a murder that you know is just a cut-and-paste with the names and places changed.

The mass production of Jamaican popular music is not something that we should despise, as long as producers realize that that mass production and templates are merely labour saving means, not the musical ends. The producer may use software to introduce templates, a tracker interface to easy drum composition or a piano roll to ease string composition, but he is able to use them because he already understands reggae basslines, 4/4, 3+3+2, nyahbinghi and traditional mento drum patterns, and how to manipulate reggae synth and guitar patterns. In other words, he merely uses the software as tool. Or, that is how it should work.

The vast majority of Jamaican music produced nowadays, is devoid of ingenuity or any musical craftsmanship. They hardly approach the level of skill or talent that is seen in a Dave or Tony Kelly, an Augustus Pablo, a Sly and Robbie, or any of the superb musicians whose compositions represent the artistic zenith of Jamaican music.

And it is the same with our politicians, and our managerial class in general. They can only follow a select set of techniques that they have swatted either from their textbooks or some foreign school. They do not know how to govern, and are devoid of new ideas and solutions for the myriad unique problems of Jamaica.That is the main flaw of the Template system – it is mass produced by a set of people, usually foreigners,  who have no interest or knowledge of local situations or culture. Anyone would have realized that “On a Mission” would have had been wholeheartedly rejected by the Jamaican people, but only a fucking idiot like Lisa Hanna could have failed to realize that.

“Find the Flag”, however, is just another side of the same coin.

Lets say tat a Jamaican music lover living in 1972 had a time machine that allowed him to get music from the future. He dials in 2012 and gets the Mikey Bennett song. I have a feeling that he would almost immediately check to see if his machine was working right. And he would have every right to, as it , just like 90 percent of what comes on on IRIE-FM, sounds like it could have had been made 40 years ago. Ours must be the first era in history where music has remained so stagnant. It was just about 11 years from ska to rocksteady to reggae. 10 years from The Beatles to first rap song. Yt Jamaican music has been stuck in a 40 year creative rut.

During the 1980s, the neo-liberal programs that were instituted on recommendation if the International Monetary Fund gutted the educational and health sector of the Jamaican government. Music programs at our schools were slashed, affecting the quality of musical talent that our nation would put out for years to come. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like its just our musicians that were affected by the breakdown of our educational system.


One thought on “The Jamaica 50 song controversy and the rise of the Template Era”

  1. Satan:

    Sadly this is commonplace in all genres of entertainment now. Gone are the days of Marley and Cliff where music gave a damn, made sense and stood for freedom and justice. Money rules. Executives need to make as much cash as possible with senseless tunes and fake lyrics about pseudo unity.

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