Monday, October 12, 2009

Leaders of The New School

"We are the leaders in taking Reggae
to the next level on a worldwide basis
into the new digital age"
Aaron Mahfeldt - President of Zojak World Wide

Watch this.

Natty King. Warrior King. Lutan Fyah. Stevie Face. Delly Ranks. Spanner Banner. Lady G. Chezidek. Perfect. Linval Thompson. The Itals. Cocoa Tea. Prezident Brown. Ce’cile. SOJA. Teflon. Marlon Asher. The catalogue of the best Roots Reggae producer on the planet. The catalogue for very solid labels such as TAD’S, Henfield, Computer Paul’s Boot Camp, Free Willy, Arrows, Truckback, Stingray and the biggest claim of the year, Bunny Wailer and that’s only a bit of it.

All of that (is RIDICULOUS) just within the last year or so and almost ALL of that in 2009. Were you to have told me on October 12, 2008 that that’s exactly what would await within the next year or so, I would have been one very very happy Reggae fan. The over analyzer and over thinker in me would have then attempted to rationalized what type of infrastructure would have to pop up just to make such a thing happen, but I would have been completely wrong with whatever I came up with, because such a thing already existed.

Reggae music, if it is to continue to thrive across the world (and it is) and if it is to continue to grow (and it is) has to stay with the times, it cannot afford not to. And it’s very unfortunate that you can ask any DEEP Reggae fan about some album which he/she REALLY wants to get their hands on but just cannot do it for some reason, they can’t track it down and unlike a fan of a genre such as Hip-Hop or R&B, who may have one or two, the Reggae fan will inevitably have somewhere in the neighbourhood of a dozen or so. They may even have stories of how they almost tracked it down or the day it walked up and out of their collections, never to return again. Well, with the nature of the world’s economy and CD sales today, the rationale behind reprinting and redistributing some of these old (and not so old in some cases) pieces just doesn’t make sense, but the rationale behind placing said release, digitally at the fingertips of such a fan, wherever he/she may live or be at a give time is downright mouthwatering. And as our music continues to move itself into the modern age and in a VERY modern way, as a Reggae fan I have to say that ten years ago when I had just graduated from high school and was busy wasting my time (and my money) in the fantastically STUPID six months I had before I began college, were you to essentially tell me that each and every new Reggae album and nearly each and every old one that I had every wanted wasn’t available in the Reggae BARREN community where I lived at the time, but were instead, a few vowel, consonant and number clicks away, again I would have been one very happy Reggae fan.

Now, you go back to that obese list I began this piece with and take into account that not only has all of that material been released within the last year or so, but it’s ALL also been made digitally possible by one Florida, US based company, Zojak World Wide, BY FAR the leaders of the digital Reggae ‘Movement’. Yes. If you haven’t noticed and you semi-regularly buy digital music, iTunes, Amazon, Juno or Emusic style, you’ve probably already ran into ZWW and probably have on more than one occasion. And not only that but, if you read this blog with any type of consistency, you’ve UNDOUBTEDLY ran into their work here and do so at the rate of at least once a week. The same company brought you EAGERLY anticipated singles from the likes of Vybz Kartel, Mr. Vegas, Erup, Spice and others and their network of labels for whom they make digital releases (even beyond the ones who I mentioned) is almost COMICALLY large, unbelievable and by the time you finish reading this article, they would have almost certainly signed up someone else. Just examining their schedule recently, I look at artists like Natty King, Warrior King, Stevie Face and ESPECIALLY Linval Thompson and think that, in terms of albums, all of these artists have a strong case for comeback of the year with the amount of time between their last studio releases and their latest projects having reached a point now where you’re dealing in the range of several years. And particularly in the case of Warrior King, Natty King and Stevie Face, when you’re a young(er) and up and coming artist, such a thing as having an album released is TRULY a big deal as it effectively becomes your calling card for fans worldwide and not having an avenue to do such a thing, despite the fact that the demand CLEARLY exists (big artists, all of them) is potentially a severe detriment. Thompson, on the other hand, represents both artist and a VERY long list of outstanding producers. “When you say you’re gonna do something, you do it”, the legendary Thompson said of Zojak’s performance and he is perhaps the historically most recognizable face of the cache of producers whose work you’ll find digitally on ZWW. Other FINE imprints include the previously mentioned Boot Camp Records from unheralded industry veteran Computer Paul who said, “Thank you Zojak for righting a wrong with M-16 and Dutty Boot albums,
as it has been long overdue” (in reference two of his older riddims which are notoriously difficult to find at this point and, thanks to Zojak, are just a few clicks away). Paul, more importantly, recently helmed the WICKED album, Tell It Like It Is, from Stevie Face which marked the singer’s return to prominence and such a level of stardom (and potential stardom) which he has yet to experience. Along with Thompson and Computer Paul, Zojak also handles digital releasing for two of my very personal favourite labels, Das Vibes (who simply proclaims of Zojak, “You guys truly are the best in distribution of Reggae music”) and, as I alluded to, the recent addition of the greatest Roots Reggae producer on the planet, Kemar ‘Flava’ McGregor, whose No Doubt Records is nothing but a living, breathing hit factory these days. Zojak is pushing several NEW, previously unreleased, hard to find pieces and re-releases for No Doubt Records and that, in and of itself, is a HUGE deal and as a fan of both producer and label, this is a big deal for me personally and if you love Reggae music, whether you know it or not, it’s also a big deal for you.

Furthermore, the digital venue is one which essentially removes the ‘middle man’ from the equation. Typically, what you’ll have is a production company who’ll take their project/artist to a distributor to go about manufacturing the product (and, of course, that costs money), promotion (more money), photos for further promotion and the actual cover of the album (??? Yep. That costs money also) (and in some cases do so with multiple companies) and you STILL have to actually DISTRIBUTE the product (even more money). AND, sometimes you’ll get situations where this needs to occur in multiple countries/territories. Now, given the fact that the very BEST and most well reputed of our artists and their albums don’t sell like those in more popular genres (where you’re talking about millions), combine that with the fact that CD sales, in general, are on the sharp decline and the digital avenue becomes a far more appealing route. Not only that, but of your album, Zojak World Wide will promote, distribute (across the globe) and not take a bit of rights to your music. Oh. And they’ll even make you a damn cover if you want them to! Zojak World Wide’s President Aaron Mahlfeldt (good luck pronouncing that one) says:

“A lot of artists and producers come to us asking for help with their new releases because they were unhappy with other distributors and we turned things for them and they a drastic change in promotion, service and sales. Our main success was due to a serious gap in the market of Reggae music”

And while certainly Zojak isn’t the ONLY show in town in the digital market for Reggae, go back and look at that lineup and see if it’s even POSSIBLE to compete with such a thing. Also, in terms of the future: were I an up and coming artist (or manager more likely) right now and looking at my options, I would DEFINITELY love to have something like Erup or Spice, both of whom, via Truckback, had EP’s released with their music which was otherwise almost COMPLETELY unavailable to them. Now, just like that, someone in Guam or some country I’ve never heard of who have loved my music online for how long can download their favourite song and almost IMMEDIATELY have them. No ‘will deliver in 6-8 weeks’. IMMEDIATELY! And, as I said, Truckback’s releases (which also includes the MASSIVE Gearbox riddim album) all come through Zojak. On Top of that, were I a young an up and coming production label, or just one who wanted my music to reach further and didn’t want to deal with the hassle, why wouldn’t I go to Zojak? Such things have happened recently with labels like Kickoff Records (who released the new Lutan Fyah album Rising Up) and the extremely busy House Of Hits who have opted to push their music (and their artists) through Zojak, giving an international foundation for artists such as Empress Robertha, Marley Campbell, Emmanuel Stain and Lady Stream, which they may otherwise NEVER have been afforded (big artists, all of them). If you, as a fan, are going to buy an album now, particularly a compilation, it now becomes noteworthy (just as it did for me) to look forward to a new tune from Marley Campbell, which is the type of promotion you just don’t get worldwide, in any other way because these artists aren’t likely to appear on the project if you take it to a more terrestrial and more controlling medium. How many times have you picked up a riddim album only to find that the ONE tune you were looking for is NOWHERE to be found? It used to happen to me quite often, but when a label retains control and push what they want to push, the fan/customer now gets even more, as it is quite difficult to put twenty+ tunes on a disc and it may cost a great deal more, no such an issue exists in the digital market, where Zojak World Wide calls the shots.

And I know I get excited about such a thing and I go on and on, but even if you don’t give a damn about labels and you just want to hear good music, then, even more so, Zojak is doing you a mighty large favour. Whether you know it or not. Now if I could only get them to do the same thing for Soca. . .

Zojak albums reviewed on this blog

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