The Great Dancehall Freeze-Out of 2010

Why are many of Jamaica's biggest acts now barred from entering the U.S.?

Show receipts are crucial to any musician's revenue, especially nowadays. But in singles-driven dancehall—which has seen CD sales diminish at an even greater rate than the wider music industry—they're even more important. "I'd say maybe 70 to 80 percent of dancehall artists' funds come from America," Lawrence says. "Some, I'd even say 90 percent." Aaron Talbert, head of sales for Queens-based VP Records—home to the vast majority of touring dancehall acts—puts the U.S. share of the reggae/dancehall market at about 40 percent. "Shows are going to be the primary income for any dancehall or reggae artist in any market," Talbert says. "If they cannot travel here to do shows, we're all affected." With relations between the countries still seemingly cool, trips to U.S. airports have become nerve-wracking experiences for visa-holding Jamaican acts as well, says Nathaniel Watkins, VP's director of publicity: "They're on edge about being turned away and the uncertainty of getting through."

Back in Jamaica, where culture (and music, in particular) has long been a chief export, the loss of income for entertainers stands to have a broader economic effect than it might elsewhere. "I think a lot of people are not eating, a lot of jobs have been lost," Irie Jam's Clarke says. "Where Beenie Man lives, he feeds the churches, he feeds the schools. He's a part of everything. So is Bounty Killer. So is everybody else." As artists and their agents search abroad for new opportunities, New York—with its network of Caribbean DJs, radio stations, and music venues—stands to lose as well. "You have promotions departments for radio stations that are not being utilized—they have no use for street teams," says Clarke, whose company also broadcasts Caribbean programming on New York's WVIP-FM. "It feels like we're being targeted for extinction."

Mavado, not appearing near you
Mavado, not appearing near you

Amid the gloom, though, some observers see a future opportunity. Dahved Levy, veteran promoter and host of WBLS-FM's Caribbean Fever, is already anticipating the hype generated when artists re-obtain their visas: "When your fanbase doesn't have the opportunity to see you, they want you more and more," he says. "Whoever brings a Vybz Kartel or a Beenie here first is going to be paid."

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