The US music market is the largest in the world, with live music revenues more than triple, and recorded music revenues almost double the revenues of any other country. I often hear the suggestion that foreign reggae artists who represent Rastafari should look to other markets to travel and work as performers, because the US music industry is representative of the “Babylon System”. There may however be additional reasons encourage foreign reggae artists to look to other markets for employment. The economic and political dynamics of the American reggae festival scene makes the above statements that more interesting.
Over the past ten years the reggae festival circuit in the U.S. has grown with the emergence of several new and successful events. In 2009 Reggae On The Mountain was started in Topanga California, California Roots was started in Monterey California in 2010, Reggae Rise Up in St. Petersburg Florida in 2015, and the Marley Brothers staged the first Kaya Fest in Miami in 2017. With older events such as Reggae On The River, now run by High Times Media, the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, and the Austin Reggae Festival, the US market is clearly demonstrating increased demand for live Reggae performers.
The laws of America require foreign artists and entertainers who intend to work in the USA to apply through the office of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Foreign guest artists must normally obtain one of the following types of working Visas:
- O-1 or O-2 Visas for Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement;
- P-1B Visa for a Member of an Internationally Recognized Entertainment Group;
- P-2 Visa for an Individual Performer or Part of a Group Entering to Perform Under a Reciprocal Exchange Program; or
- P-3 Visa for an Artist or Entertainer Coming to be part of a Culturally Unique Program.
Each of these temporary work Visas is appropriate in different situations, and filing for the wrong type of Visa can significantly delay an entertainer’s entrance into the country.
Despite a long tradition of live performances and touring in the U.S. by Jamaican and other foreign Reggae artists, some performers, artist managers, booking agents and event promoters remain ignorant when it comes to compliance with the law that governs foreign entertainment workers. In order to secure a U.S. working Visa, performers must be able to qualify under one of the four categories mentioned above. The application process typically originates inside the U.S., and is normally initiated by a U.S. based booking agency or promoter. The booking agent or promoter is required to file an application which includes documentary proof of performance engagement commitments, as well as the foreign performer’s eligibility under one of the above stated Visa categories. The application process can take as long as 10 to 12 weeks, unless additional expedition fees are paid upon filing. Fees and costs for each application can easily run into several thousand dollars, which is prohibitive for most foreign performers. There is also the need for professional expert representation of both the foreign performer and the USA based booking agent or promoter in order to se-cure working Visas in a timely manner.
The upsurge in American reggae music festivals in the past ten years is a welcomed sign. In my opinion one of the key factors contributing to the growth of the U.S. reggae festival market is the rising popularity of several very successful home-grown American bands that play reggae, and whose singers and musicians are U.S. Citi-zens. Bands such as Matisyahu, SOJA, Rebelution, Tribal Seeds, Iration, J Boog, The Green and Slightly Stooped are regularly featured at reggae festivals in the United States. Proficiency and popularity as a live reggae performer is no longer exclusive to Jamaicans and other foreigners. US Citizens who do not require work Visas to perform and tour in the USA, and who play Reggae, now make up a significant percentage of the artists on the line-up of reggae festivals on the American circuit. Another very important contributing factor to the growth of the reggae festival market in America, is the often misunderstood and criticized “Reggae Revival” movement that introduced artists like Chronixx, Raging Fyah, Protoje, Jesse Royal, Jah9, Kabaka Pyramid and others to new American audiences.
The impact on the US reggae festival circuit of foreign reggae artists, such as Alborosie, Gentleman, Mellow Mood from Europe, and Australian musician and singer Natalli Rize, should also be taken into consideration.
Ignorance about the legal requirements and implications for foreign artists working in the U.S.A., and the expense involved in making appropriately prepared Visa applications, have resulted in many foreign artists per-forming illegally in the U.S.A. Entering and operating in-side the U.S. in breach of immigration law is a major risk under “normal conditions”, but even more so risky today in light of the policies of the current American government administration. The topic of immigration to the U.S.A. has always been one to cause heated debates and the expression of diverse opinions. American immigration policy under Donald Trump has taken on an extreme nationalistic tone, where the emphasis, according to Trump, is to put America first and protect American workers. In Donald Trump’s America the American live reggae performer is a protected specie. It should therefore not be surprising to find that as the reggae festival circuit grows in the U.S.A., there will be more and more home grown reggae bands performing. While opportunities for foreign reggae performers increase in a growing festival market, the ability of foreign artists to take advantage of these opportunities may get less and less.
So, yes the U.S.A. has the largest market in the world for live music, but live reggae is also in demand in a wide range of other countries around the world. Many countries have restrictive immigration laws and regulations regarding the entry of foreign performers for work. The U.K. and European countries such as Germany, France, and the Netherlands have their own rules and guidelines regarding entry of foreign artists to work. Countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, where demand for live reggae is also on the rise, are far less stringent with their Visa entry requirements for foreign performers. The reality is reggae fans in the U.S.A., and foreign reggae performers who cant meet stringent work Visa requirements, may have to explore other options to present and enjoy live reggae music. How about a Love & Harmony Cruise in the Caribbean, or Welcome to Jamrock? Big ships sailing on the ocean, we don’t need no commotion.
This article was first published in the Reggae Festival Guide