Chasing the pot of gold: Tessanne to the world?

It’s far too early to talk about much else than Tessanne Chin’s victory in NBC’s The Voice. We are entitled to bask a little longer in the warm afterglow of that event, as we move towards Christmas and all of our thoughts of goodwill to all men.

We have much to think about in terms of what opportunities have been opened for this wonderful singer and what opportunities have been opened for this country. We yearn for such opportunities, and they come along rarely, and often without our really having been part of them. With this victory–and it was a contest–many of us can say that we played a part, helped, brought home the prize, etc. by our votes and our purchases of music. That’s a new feel-good aspect. It is really about us, too. We can really say that we carried our hopes on our shoulders. But, now we are likely to be out of the process, at least in such a direct way. Yet, we will want to be part of the continued success that we hope will come.

Already, politicians are looking to hitch their wagons to the ‘Tessanne effect’. That’s natural, and as a country that has based much of its modern development on tourism, we have to see what natural and cultural attractions we have for foreigners to want to come and enjoy. We have a new brand image that is breaking into one of our major markets for foreign travelers. That can build on what people already like about Jamaica.

Some people are also showing concerns–legitimate–about how things will go post-The Voice. That should not be seen as the all-too-common pulling down at which we are very good. Successes are not guaranteed. My karate coach once said that a black belt (expert) is just a white belt (beginner) who never gave up. Can Tessanne’s win be leveraged into a fabulous international career as she wants? There’s no answer that can be given now. However, I mentioned to one of our excellent journalists yesterday that it would be good to recall some of Malcolm Gladwell’s arguments about what was behind many successes. Both of his books, Outliers and The Tipping Point, have salient points, not least his pointing to the so-called ‘10,000 hours’ rule. We know that the adage ‘Success before work? Only in a dictionary’ has much sense. We know that Tessanne has been putting in her hours, so maybe she will get the success that often follows much hard work. Things have a way of being attracted to the right place at the right time. But, we know that leeches and scorpions and snakes and other kinds of predators are always lurking.

Since her win, Tessanne Chin has been on the usual media whirlwind of appearing on TV talk shows and interviews. People are now getting the chance to see and hear the artiste again without focusing on her singing. For many, it may be the first sighting and hearing of this budding star. How will they react? She needs them to be attracted because good words and smiles will not buy her any more ‘bread and butter’. She can build her image as being genuine and humble. Many will seek to present her as otherwise. It’s a competitive world out there, and dog eating dog is the order of the day. Last night, she was on with Jay Leno. This morning, she’s on NBC’s Today. Americans will get a longer look at her for the next few days, and so will the rest of the world through access to cable and satellite broadcasts and the Internet. The clips will be circulated. She’ll go viral, or nearly. Good for her. I wish her and those who will help her build on her success all the very best.

However, we tend to view any questioning of ourselves as ‘betrayal’? Does thinking aloud about Tessanne’s future walk that thin line? Maybe. I get the impression that many people in Jamaica–and elsewhere, for sure–do not understand what it takes to become big successes outside Jamaica, or that being well-regarded in Jamaica translates naturally into accolades and plaudits abroad. We see our national stars succeed once and then think that the celestial stars are the limit and will be reached naturally, as night follows day. The many factors that have to come into play to make things work out well are probably not known or understand. We perhaps think that it’s enough to be popular amongst ourselves. We fail to understand that other countries and cultures see us differently and have to be convinced that we should be in their hearts. We sometimes bridle when people focus on our accents, but that is often all that they can do to place us in their world.

We have stereotypes to overcome. Tessanne fits a certain stereotype for Jamaicans: she’s a singer. But, she is not stereotypical in other ways: she’s married, in her late 20s, and clearly of Chinese descent. The world has managed to put that into a package that they like–so far. But, it’s a real part of her and has to be built upon. How the image managers do that may surprise and annoy us, even divide us. I don’t know how that will be done, but I can imagine some ways. It’s not out of the realm of possibilites that her Chinese characteristics become a major selling point: China means a lot to Jamaica and has an enormous market that is waiting to be entered by any doorway possible. Would Jamaicans feel slighted by that? Tessanne is not reggae, or dance hall. She is not pop. She is not gospel or country. She’s transcending several genres. That’s good and may be bad too. By having no easy bracket she may appeal to many, but she may also fail to get enough traction with any major group of buyers.

It’s all complicated and interesting.

Tessanne’s success will be looked at for what it may teach or tell us about what we do and don’t do to nurture talent. Let’s not forget that in every activity there are many more failures than successes. All I know, without knowing much, is that a lot of sacrifices have had to be made. Grind has been the norm. Nothing comes easy. Are we ready to be like that?

Tipping Points. Is Jamaica ready to change?

One of my favourite people of Jamaican heritage is Malcolm Gladwell, whose mother was born in Jamaica, but who’s classed as British-Canadian. He’s written some bestselling books, which would really fall gladly into the term ‘nerdy’. One of those books is The Tipping Point, tipping-ptwhich explores how ideas spread. If one could identify tipping points before they are reached, then betting would be a great sport. The important elements of Gladwell’s arguments centre on the importance of a ‘few’ people, how an idea becomes memorable, and the context or social conditions. Put simply, you need the right people to spread a message; it has to have something special to help it take hold; the time must be right (or ripe). I have a feeling that Jamaica is nearing some important tipping points.

Can Jamaican get out of its economic malaise? On a good day, if you ask me what I am, I’ll say “An economist.” If you ask me where do I work, I’ll say “I’m retired. I used to work for the International Monetary Fund.” In Jamaica, that last statement could be the excuse used for people to hail a handful of rocks at a person. So far, it hasn’t happened to me. I do not believe that Jamaica has made a dramatic change of heart and fallen in love with the IMF, but I think people have begun to better understand that the IMF tends to get blamed for things governments need to do but find difficult–the blame is often put on the messenger. Ultimately, the IMF does nothing but dispense advice and dole out some money for what it feels is the right things being done. Governments have to act, and citizens need to get used to taking governments and politicians to task for policy failures.

In coming weeks, the IMF will have a team of economists assess formally how the government has performed under the current arrangement with the IMF (stiffly termed the ‘quarterly test under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) Agreement’). I have not seen any figures or internal reports of policy actions, but clearly the government is very confident. Within days of the test date (June 30), officials went official saying they were confident the tests would be passed. That message has been repeated at very high levels for a good month. Now, you generally don’t blast out such impressions unless you’re locked into them being true: the cost of failure is high, but the cost of false promise is worse.

One of my bosses at the IMF once told me that one of his bosses only ever needed to see three numbers to know how an economy was doing, so he did not relish sitting in meetings with his team members poring over reams of data. In the same way, some people (me, for instance) believe that you can sense when people are going about things differently. That may not show up in figures we like to consider, not least because the changes are subtle and widespread and are represented in attitudes and behaviour, which don’t lend themselves to clear measurement.

People often lament that certain things didn’t happen when they should have. They then rail that things would be better if action had been taken earlier. I wont disagree with that sentiment. I just say that sometimes the time is not quite right and things have a habit of happening when conditions are right. That’s Gladwellian, but I thought that way long before reading Gladwell’s book.

Jamaica is on the cusp of pulling itself out of its economic malaise. I will look at the three numbers but have nothing else that can prove that. I feel it in my bones.dog_with_a_seriously_large_bone I wont be proved right within the next weeks, nor will I be proved wrong by year-end. This process takes time, but I sense the process is working. Like Usain Bolt, putting his finger to his lips when winning the 200 metres final in last year’s Olympics as a way of silencing the critics, I have an inkling that Jamaican officials feel they can walk the walk. About time!

Is Jamaica ready to get up and stand up for (their) rights? I believe that there is a limit to the degree of self-delusion. No doubt, the light bulb may not go off for a long while, but it usually does. Jamaicans readily cry and wail when their fellow citizens fall foul of some heinous deed by another citizens. Look at the regular outpouring of grief as innocent people lose their lives when gangs or criminals of another stripe have a shoot-out and a stray bullet takes a life, especially that of a child. We are living that now as Denham Town in west Kingston mourns an 11 year-old girl who was shot and killed as a hail of bullets sought some other target. The local MP, Desmond Mackenzie, came out publicly against this latest tragedy and his constituency office has offered a J$300,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the shooters. (He’s also paying the funeral expenses.) Local residents are crying “Enough!” Will this be the straw that breaks the back of the camel of gang violence? Which will be stronger, the disgust that people feel that some come into their midst and have no respect for life and limb or the sentiment that “Infomer fi dead!” You can’t have it both way.

Don’t even think that the homophobia that is part of Jamaica’s image is going to disappear. Things like that are so deeply ingrained into the fabric of this country that it has to take generations to move to another state. But, I sense that the public comments condemning the recent brutal killing by party goers of a young man who was dressed in women’s clothes at a dance. Reason is not going to affect immediately those who were involved in the beating, chopping and dumping of the body. The person who exposed the cross-dresser has to live with their role–proudly, of course. Reason is not what matters in such cases. It’s passion, as in rage. You cannot reason with a crazy person, and for sure, not with crazed people. While you may leave a two-year old, who gets into a tantrum over custard spilled onto a favourite toy, to cry itself to sleep, when you’re dealing with much older people, you have to take some clear actions to make them understand that ‘this foolishness’ has to stop. Religious organizations have a sorry role to play in the lack of understanding of the rights of homosexuals, and no amount of twisting and scripture-turning can excuse the abuses of logic that come from accepting one kind of ‘sin‘ and condemning what are deemed to be others. For sure, we do not have the means to bring back a life taken, but we have the means to use that loss in positive ways. The Justice Minister openly condemned the killing. Other ‘opinion makers’ are joining their voices. Are they the important ‘few’? But, so-called ordinary people need to lift their voices and their heads to say whether they condone or condemn–they need to make the message stick. No more sitting comfortably on the fence and merely tut-tutting. Some have called for a show of public disobedience on this issue. Is the social environment better positioned? The time may well be right.