“If Reggae and Dancehall and other genres want more representation, more nominations, for a variety of people, more performances on the (live Grammy Awards) show, more trophies, more services, I think membership is where it all starts.”
That’s the word from Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy of Arts and Sciences, regarding where the focus of the Jamaican Reggae/Dancehall music fraternity should be as it relates to the Grammy Awards.
According to Mason, it is imperative that qualified members of Jamaica’s Reggae/Dancehall community register to become members of the Academy in order to be a part of decision-making, including determining the outcome of the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album.
In stressing the importance of membership in an interview with World Music Views, Mason pointed out that “voting is done entirely by members” after interviewer J.R. Watkis questioned whether the outcomes are at times based on voters making their selections on ‘big names’, as opposed to the music quality itself.
“For me, I would like to see more Reggae and Dancehall music makers, creators, being a part of our organization. That would have a direct impact co-relating exactly to what nominations were made and who would ultimately win…,” Mason said.
“So to your point, if I don’t know Reggae extremely well, I look for name that I recognize. If I work in Reggae and I make Reggae, and I am around Dancehall music and I am in the studio or in the creative space with Dancehall artistes, or producers or songwriters arrangers or engineers, I am going to be more educated about that genre of music,” he hypothesized.
Added Mason: “So the Academy needs to ensure that there are people from each genre involved in membership, so we need to make sure we are talking to the Reggae/Dancehall community; make sure we are inviting them to be part of the organization”.
Bob Marley’s family members have copped 13 of the 37 Reggae Grammys awarded since 1985, but this has come with a barrage of complaints of bias.
Following the 2022 Grammy Awards, where American band SOJA upstaged Jamaican artists Spice, Jesse Royal, Sean Paul, Gramps Morgan and Etana, to win the Best Reggae Album Grammy Award for their album Beauty In The Silence, there was a flurry of accusations aimed at the Recording Academy—including those of bias and race-based favoritism, when in fact not many Jamaicans have registered to become voting members.
Mason went on to point out that the Academy had ditched its former laissez faire approach and was being proactive as it seeks to ensure there is greater inclusion.
“We used to sit as an organization in the back and just say: ‘well, we are the Academy, if you would like to join’. Now we are doing it another way.
“We are going to the areas that we think we need improvement saying Dancehall reggae community listen to what it is we do, this is the value of being a member. Understand what it is we are doing, if that resonates with you, please join us. And please make our voting membership more reflective of the music of your genre, more understanding of the music of your genre, and then when it comes to time to vote, you have an impact on who are nominated, who are winners… that’s something we are trying to do with every genre,” he said.
Added Mason: “This goes to every category we have. You have to understand that voting is done entirely by members. So think about our membership; think about what the makeup of that membership is. Then think about the music that they know and are experts in. And this is why diversifying our membership is so important”.
According to Mason, there Reggae and Dancehall has enough power in its numbers of vocalists, musicians, producers and engineers who are all qualified to become members, to give them a huge voice within the Academy, whose membership fee is a mere US$100.
“Just think: you are one percent. If you had everyone in the Reggae community signing up as a member; if we had all the people in that community join the organization, they would have a hand in what the proposals were, what the categories were, they would have a hand in voting for the right people. They would have a hand in deciding who’s on the show,” he said.
Like Mason, in December 2020, Dancehall megastar Shaggy had to reiterate his call for qualified entertainers to become members of the Recording Academy in order to make their ballots count, in the aftermath of the outcry by some members of the Dancehall fraternity about what they claimed was the continued snubbing of the genre by the Grammy Awards.
His comments came after Popcaan had bashed the Recording Academy for not considering his FIXTAPE album for nomination in the list of Best Reggae Album contenders for 2021, claiming the Academy had snubbed Dancehall while accusing the organization of being corrupt.
However, Shaggy maintained that the Recording Academy was not to be blamed and that artists themselves ought to play their role by registering with the organization so that they could cast votes.
“Every year that the Grammys come out people are disgruntled about it and this one is no different. It is what it is. I always tell people if you want to make a change, register and get involved and be a part… You caan just stay pon di side and seh di Grammy dem a dis and di Grammy dem a dat. If you are not registered then you are not a part of it. Get on board if you want a different outcome,” Shaggy had said.