Thu | Sep 24, 2020

Virtual productions keeping entertainment industry afloat

Published:Sunday | August 2, 2020 | 12:00 AM
Always looking to exceed expectations, Digicel Unplugged went on to almost ‘break the Internet’ in its third week by enlisting dancehall legends Beenie Man and Bounty Killer for a special concert.
Sevana warms up with legendary reggae artiste Freddie McGregor before the start of the Digicel Unplugged virtual concert - Mother’s Day Edition.
Donovan Watkis

Key players in the local music industry have refused to let the country’s strong musical foundation wither away. Making the transition from onstage to on-screen performances has not been easy, but the industry has adjusted seamlessly enough to deliver high-quality online productions over the past few months. These virtual events have gained so much international attention that if there were ever any doubts about Jamaica being the entertainment capital of the world, they have been laid to rest consistently over the past few months.

Speaking with The Sunday Gleaner about Jamaica’s strong online presence during the pandemic, senior strategist in the Ministry of Tourism Delano Seiveright said that the country has not only managed to keep the industry afloat during these COVID times, but has kept the culture on the world’s radar. He says that the latter could prove critical to the tourism industry post-COVID. “In this world of lockdowns, travel restrictions, social distancing, limiting numbers of people in gatherings, and generally mitigating as much as possible person-to-person physical contact, and so on, we are keen on ensuring that Jamaica’s tourism product is not ‘out of sight and out of mind.’ The recent Reggae Sumfest live social media events and others were a boon for the product and keep Jamaica and our wonderful culture out there,” he said. “It certainly appeals to some critical tourism segments and especially our diaspora in the US, Canada, the UK, and elsewhere, who are keen on travelling to Jamaica when things improve globally.”

Seiveright said that in a time when the world has experienced so much turmoil and trauma, reggae and dancehall music have undoubtedly helped to ease people’s pain. He said that when things return to normal, this won’t be forgotten by the world. “A number of global tourism partners are firmly of the view that reggae music is one of the ideal genres to release the stress and anxiety caused by COVID-19. Jamaica being the root of reggae is in a unique position to benefit from this. Hence, Sumfesf and others have hit the right notes by angling this way,” he said. “There is a lot more to be done as we are just getting off the ground, but we will continue to work closely as a joined-up Government with Entertainment and Culture Minister Babsy Grange and also the private sector so as to continue to make an impact globally.”

In an interview with the US Embassy on Friday morning about the culture going viral, Minister of Entertainment and Culture Babsy Grange shared similar sentiments. She said that with events such as the Verzuz clash, the Festival Song Competition, the benefit telethon hosted by her ministry, and, of course, Reggae Sumfest, Jamaica has done well to maximise on the unique opportunities created in the online space. She says that she believesthat the industry and, by extension, the country, will serve to benefit greatly from its ability to adjust in the face of adversity. “In adversity, opportunities are created, and so in spite of the challenges of COVID, what is happening now is that we’re able to maximise the benefits of the virtual stage, and that speaks volumes to how much our culture can impact the world. At this time, the Jamaican culture is being beamed to the world. We are in a very special position to bring hope to everyone, and we have been doing that,” she said. “In a space where there was so much pain, so much death, so much illness and sadness, and we were able to take our music to the world to give hope, and I think we will be seeing the long-term benefits of that soon.”

But while Seiveright and Grange are optimistic that Jamaica will reap big from the online productions the country’s entertainment industry has been part of, music analystand host of World Music Views Donovan Watkis is not quite sold. Although he heaped praises on the Reggae Sumfest team for what he describes as the “the best display of our culture online”, he says that he doesn’t see the ‘eyes’ who were watching translating into any major returns for the island. He says that for the latter to happen, Jamaica’s culture needs to be propelled on huge music platforms. “I’m not hopeful that the attention will translate into more patrons of the culture than already existed. For that to happen, the culture would need a major platform showcasing like BET did for hip hop. Big platforms that do more collaborations and partnerships will make the culture grow,” he said, pointing out that even if the online events did generate more visitor interest, it will take some time before the country sees those benefits. “Even if more visitors did come to Jamaica now or in the near future, there isn’t much going on now. There are limits on parties, etc. It will take some time to reintegrate back into travel norms.”