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Reggae Grammys - The misconceptions addressed Pt. 2

The following is the second of a 2 part interview conducted by Angus Taylor with Cristi Barber, President of Ghetto Youths International extracted from a publication on reggaeville earlier this month on Reggae Grammys.  Informative news can never grow old which is why we choose to share this interview here with you. In this final part of the interview, Cristy Barber address misconception, issues and concerns discussed in the industry.

"People are always saying "It's the Marley Grammy, whenever they release something they always win."  That isn't true..." more from Cristy Barber

So how can this be fixed?
I have to consistently remind the boys "re-up your dues", so Ziggy is always paid up, Damian is paid up, Stephen is, Julian is - but there's a lot of times that I have to remind them. Shaggy had his paid up and Gramps Morgan did. There's a whole lot of people that didn't, so this year a whole lot of people that should be voting - they were not voting. So if my whole industry isn't voting, what's going to happen? For example the white reggae bands, Rebelution and SOJA and all that, have been raising their hands recently going "We're selling the most records in the United States of America and we're not getting any nods. What's going on?" I work with ElliotSOJA's manager and Paul from their label. I sat them down last year and said "You guys got a gazillion people in your band, you've got a bunch of people working on your records that have creative credentials to vote. Register them to vote. Make sure they're voting."

That's why in orchestras it's crazy because you've got like a hundred people in an orchestra and all those people have the creative credentials to vote. So imagine you have their album up for Classical and you've got a hundred votes right there. So SOJA this year they actually made leeway because they got a nomination. They didn't win but they got nominated because Paul and Elliot did what they needed to do to make sure people voted for them.

You recently took to Facebook to post about people's misconceptions - especially about the selection committee. You signed off by quoting Puff Daddy "Vote or die!"

I finally got so angry about it that I posted something. "If this infuriates you then go and f*%#*ing vote" Every time the Grammys happen the phone starts to ring again. Everybody wants to know, everybody's talking about it. Again, once the Grammys are over and everybody's forgotten about it, I go back to the same thing again. I'm going to keep fighting, because I care so much about the genre, been in the reggae industry 215 years, I've obviously spent my whole adult life doing this.

It infuriates me that Beres Hammond doesn't have a statue. It infuriates me that Morgan Heritage has never been nominated. I'm angry that She's Royal didn't get a nod. I'm angry that Busy Signal's Reggae Music Again, which was a great album, for a deejay to do something like that, didn't even get a nod. There's people that deserve at least a nod. There are people in our genre that deserve a Grammy.

One of the most common complaints about the Grammy is that a Marley always wins.
You work with some of the Marleys at Ghetto Youths International. Shouldn't you be happy with the way things are?
Now here's the thing that upsets me. The Marley name, yes it is a recognised name, but nobody can debate when Damian Marley won with Welcome to Jamrock that was the biggest record of the year. There are times whey they are nominated and they win and it's cornered. Stephen Marley, whether I work for him or I don't, I consider one of the best producers in reggae music, definitely. I've been in the reggae industry for almost 25 years. I haven't worked with many better.

People are always saying "It's the Marley Grammy, whenever they release something they always win."  That isn't true, because I actually had a Marley that made it through this year that didn't even get a nod and that nod and that was Stephen's son Jo Mersa. He didn't get nominated. And Julian hasn't won a Grammy - he's got a couple of nods but he didn't win. Ky-Mani, he put out great records, he's never been nominated.

Now, the bottom line is they really went into uproar this year because of ZiggyZiggy does tend to run the more pop reggae route, like the white reggae bands do. That is kind of his lane. He kind of found a niche there but Ziggy is a registered voter with the Academy. Ziggy also does Grammy-U which is the Grammy University thing where during his sound-check he'll have these students that are part of Grammy-U come in and answer questions. He gets involved with the Academy, so he makes sure he lets the voters know "I've got a record coming". All artists can do that as well, so you can't get any angry that somebody's out there promoting and making sure people know.  

I work for the Marley family, everybody knows that. My point in these interviews is to say "I'm tired of the Marleys always getting the brunt of this name-recognition thing." I fight this problem, and my problem isn't the Marleys- it's across the board. That's why I say, if it's really the "Marley Grammy" or a Marley gets it every time, what about Julian and Jo and Ky-Mani?

That comment doesn't stand any longer. You have to come with a new argument, that's the point I'm making. I know that every record I did with the Marleys deserved a Grammy, they won. Period. You know what I mean? Because like I said, none of us can debate Welcome to Jamrock. And Angus, you've been in the industry for a while, you know the same people I know - do you not respect Stephen Marley as a producer?

Historically the Jamaican music industry has always done things its own way. It's taken the parts of what was happening internationally that it wanted and put its own spin on it. Is that a psychological barrier for this self-reliant industry - to getting involved in some larger entity like the Grammys?

No. Education is power, right? Anything that we do in the past does not hinder us from anything we do in the future, if we choose to educate ourselves. You know, we had a big publishing problem in Jamaica, the copyright laws and all that. Yes, we do kind of beat our own drum in the way that we do business, which is not the way that business is done on the world platform.

But Jamaica's come a long way, and again education is power and that's why people like you and me who've done this for so long, that's our job - to make sure that we educate the newer artists that are out there, what not to do. It has been a hindrance in the past but there are a lot of great and intelligent artists and people in the industry, up and coming, the younger generation. There's not a lot of people in our industry that are stupid. As long as you give them the education, none of that I feel hinders us from rectifying this problem with the Recording Academy.

It was a very interesting point you made about orchestras - the bigger the band, the more potential voters. is there a clear indication to the reggae industry that more live instruments should be used, more horn sections, larger bands - therefore getting more voters on each album?

Well, I mean no, because let's put it this way; let's say you're a deejay and you use a Don Corleon, a Tony Kelly and a Lenky or whatever. Even all those guys are voters. I guess, yeah, the more people with creative credentials on your album, if you rally them together to vote, that's more votes you would get. I don't think necessarily it just means just have a bunch of live musicians, because dancehall is definitely my favourite genre of reggae.
I mean yeah, it helps. I'm musically electic, so my favourite music is from England from the 80s - Spandau Ballet's my all-time favourite band, so I love a horn section. But do I want to hear that in a Supercat track? No, probably not! When I listen to Super Cat there's a reason I'm listening to that, when I listen to Spandau Ballet, there's a reason I'm listening to that, you know what I mean? So I don't really think that there's....well, yeah, the more creative people you can have on your record, the more votes you can get if you're making sure that everybody's doing it, but that was the one thing with the orchestras, I mean it's a big stretch from what we do, there's like a zillion of them!

Why should we care about the Reggae Grammy? No award shows really get it right. Selma didn't get a Best Picture Oscar nomination, Taxi Driver was beaten in 1976 by Rocky, and then years later they gave a Best Director Oscar to Martin Scorsese for The Departed by way of an apology. A lot of people are quite cynical about awards in general. Why should we care about them?

Because when an actor can say "Academy Award Nominee" or "Academy Award Winner" their price goes up by $10,000,000 a picture. I mean it doesn't happen the same with the Grammys but it is the pinnacle of the music industry of the world. People can say "I don't want to win a Grammy. I don't care". They do care about it. I just think people say that because they think that it's out of their reach. I have been watching the Grammy Awards since I was ten years old. I knew I wanted to be a producer and I knew I wanted to work for Columbia Records, because that's where Wham! was and George Michael is my all-time favourite. And I did Both.

The bottom line is we all aspire for that larger platform. Whether you're Mr. Vegas or Kanye West or Tom Jones. Tom is my icon, who I met and he signed my Grammy medal, and the only words I could get out of mouth were "congratulations on winning Best New Artist in 1965" and he was like "yeah that was my only Grammy."  Tom would love more. Everybody wants a Grammy. You can say you don't but you do. Trust me.

Look at John Legend and Common, he apparently slept with his Academy Award. Oprah and her team they won for the song, there's certain things they did'nt win at but that picture made its mark. Stephen has a shelf in the studio that the Grammys are on - there are some of Damian's and Ziggy has one because a lot of the boys record in that studio. Trust me, when you get it, you care. It's only when you feel like you can't get it that say "Oh, I don't give a sh**t about it." Because trust me, if I can get nominated, there's not a person in reggae that can't do it. You've just got want it.

No doubt people who work in the industry want it. But imagine somebody who's not in the industry, they're just a reggae fan, maybe they're a teenager, they're rebellious - from their perspective they might say "Isn't the lack of participation in the Reggae Grammy a good thing? It's like a corporate industry event that's antithetical to the outsider ethos of reggae". What would you say to that?
But it's not a corporate thing. The Recording Academy is a Foundation. It's a charity. It's a non-profit. All the money that they get goes back into music schools. I mean we know the stats on kids that play instruments or kids that are exposed to music in schools, and how that develops them in their later years. I am like case in point - I mean middle America, didn't love school, couldn't stand it, but I was obsessed with music, I mean freakishly obsessed with music. When I was 18 years old I moved to New York with $20 in my pocket, knowing no-one - no family, no nothing. Hustled my way in the music industry, started as a writer - I worked for Word Up magazine for ten years. I eventually knew I needed to become a producer. I wanted a Grammy. That was the whole reason I did this. It's not a corporate thing - If I can do it, they can do it. Why wouldn't you?

And it doesn't make it like I sold out to the big corporations because, I could have done that the whole time. I started at the major labels and used to have an office right next to Jay Z. I kicked Puffy out of a party. We all came up together. I could have gone to any other genre and probably been much richer and much more successful. But I stuck with reggae because i believed in it, and it opened its doors to me and gave me the opportunity to have this platform.

So it's not a corporate thing. The Grammys are not that. This is about the celebration of music in no matter what genre you're in. Everybody want to be famous. You think Usain Bolt started run down there like "I'm going to the Olympics. I don't give a shit about corporate? That's not even about corporate. That's like world celebration. You could say the Olympics are corporate. But that's about standing on the world stage, representing your country. How great a person could you be? And it's the same in the music industry. Does that make sense?
A lot of people who like to complain about the Reggae Grammys online - I kind of think some of them almost enjoy it. It's like a perennial sport to some people. Pile in, show you care about reggae, achieve nothing - see you next year.
I agree. Because the bottom line is, as much as I love my genre, we are like crabs in a barrel. It frustrates me a lot because we love to see our people go up but we'll be the first ones to drag our people down. The part that really upset me was watching how influential Jamaica is, how influential they were with Tessanne and The Voice, how influential they just were when Kaci was in Miss Universe pageant, but we won't rally behind the biggest export out of Jamaica, which is our genre. And more people to the party, the more authenticity. 
The Grammys thing has to start from the root. I love the trees, I love the flowers, I love the branches, I love the leaves, I love everything that has bloomed from this, but it has to start from the root.

There is a perception that the internet has changed the industry. That only a very small percentage of people at the very top strike it rich and the rest can't make a living. So in ten years, will we even have genres at all? Will we have a Reggae Grammy or will it all be just kind of soul/pop, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Adele trying to appeal to as many people as possible?
I wouldn't say so. I mean, this is something I tell people all the time. The first internet radio station was Radio Margaritaville, which was owned and started by Jimmy Buffet. Jimmy Buffet sold it to Sirius and XM. The gentleman who was running it for Jimmy went up to New York and they were doing the deal.

One thing that Sirius and XM started to do in the very beginning was put different people in a room and play music for them. They'd put like a twelve year old Asian girl, maybe an African-American 33 year old male, a 65 year old white woman - different people, nationalities, races in a room, play different music for them and they'd have them tick off like a questionnaire form. The gentleman said, "Is there ever a time, when you put these people in the room, that they never say anything negative? Is there ever a time when you play music and they always like it? and they said the only time that happens is when they play reggae.

Reggae music to me is the biggest music in the world. Everybody wants to do a version of it; everybody has an influence from it. I don't think we're ever going to lose our category because of how influential and how big it is. This is not my opinion, it is a fact. We have people like Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, but there's only one artist who no matter where you go in the world, whatever rock you turn over, forest you're in or mountain you're on top of, everybody knows - Bob Marley.

You might watch the Grammys and you're not televised. but there's a lot of us that aren't televised. There's like 90 categories and you only see eight live on TV because it's all about the ratings, that's true about that part. But the pre-show is amazing and you can stream online and it's actually even more exciting than what you see on TV. I just think people in the reggae industry may not remember and need to be reminded, that it's a very, very big deal. A big responsibility if you're a part of it.

You've been campaigning on this for quite a long time. Do you ever just feel like saying "I can't be bothered to do this anymore?"
No, I don't care! As long as people want to hear me talk nonsense I'm willing to. You could book me at the Pegasus and put every new artist from every parish in that room and I'll answer any question and tell them anything they want to know for twelve hours. Then I'll tell them "Don't believe anything I just said to you. go and research it, because when you do, you're going to come back and realise what I told you was the truth". I'm all about education and honesty in this industry. The more people I educate, the more people in the know, and the more people being successful, just makes us all successful. It doesn't make any sense for me to be that crab in the barrel pulling them down. I'm the one that puts somebody on my back and somebody on their back so we can get out the barrel.