by Howard Campbell
[LAS VEGAS] – SOJA created GRAMMY history on April 3 when they became the first American act to win the Best Reggae Album category. The groundbreaking event took place in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Their victory stunned many pundits who thought it was a straight fight between former winners Sean Paul with Live N Livin and Gramps Morgan’s Positive Vibration, respectively.
Chris Schlarb, principal of DubShot Records, credits solid marketing and disciplined management for the success of SOJA and other American reggae bands.
“There is a growing community of non-Jamaican reggae companies in the US that are focused on promoting established acts and growing new talent. These include labels, production facilities, touring promoters, booking agents, merchandising partners, corporate sponsors, and management companies who are all vertically focused and integrated,” Schlarb explained. “Management even spoke on behalf of the band in their acceptance speech, which struck me as odd, but shows you how integral they are to the direction of these bands.”
The Virginia-based SOJA did the independent record company rounds before attracting ATO Records, a label owned by rock star Dave Matthews. It has major distribution through Virgin Music Label which is owned by Universal Music.
Easy Star Records
Another ‘indie’ that has made a significant impact on the US reggae landscape is Easy Star Records which released and marketed Royal by roots singer Jesse Royal. Royal was also nominated for Best Reggae Album this year.
Easy Star Records has released some of the best-selling reggae albums in the US in the past five years. They include Falling Into Place and Free Rein by Rebelution.
Schlarb, a music industry veteran who has worked with reggae companies like VP Records, also hailed the old school approach of bands such as SOJA, Rebelution and Stick Figure.
“These groups have created a community that is insulated and independently focused. Bands who have proven themselves within this community have spent years on the road developing fan bases and taking advantage of the absence of Jamaican acts in those markets,” he said.
Touring with the backing of independent record companies helped put reggae artists like Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Culture, Toots and The Maytals, Israel Vibration and The Gladiators on the map.
Island Records, Heartbeat Records, RAS Records and Nighthawk Records were some of the ‘indies’ which preceded Easy Star Records.