(Jamaica Observer) Jamaica’s foremost ceremonial and protocol expert Merrick Needham yesterday added to the debate on whether or not American rapper Kanye West blundered in his use of the national emblems and symbols for profit, following his ‘Sunday Service’ pop-up concert at Emancipation Park in Kingston on Friday.
West, whose wife Kim Kardashian and family have for years made a fortune out of the promotion and sale of various merchandise, including make-up, globally, moved his Sunday Service for the first time outside of the United States.
The event, which was live streamed through his Sunday Service website, attracted scores of Jamaicans.
Clothing items branded with the Coat of Arms of Jamaica, National Flag of Jamaica, as well as the swallow tail hummingbird, among other logos unique to Jamaica, went on sale sometime during the live streaming of the two-hour gospel concert.
The move evoked criticism from some Jamaicans on social media, with several expressing their disgust at “a foreigner profiting off brand Jamaica”.
Needham, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer, noted that it was important for people to understand the difference between national emblems and symbols.
The national emblems are the Coat of Arms of Jamaica (more correctly known as the State Arms of Jamaica), the National Flag of Jamaica, and the national anthem.
The four national symbols are the ackee fruit; the swallow tail hummingbird; the Blue Mahoe tree; and the Lignum Vitae flower.
The emblems and symbols can be utilised for official, commercial (in trademarks) and personal use, according to the Jamaica Information Service.
Needham said while West did not err in his use of at least one of the national symbols, it was arguably in poor taste to do so.
“There’s a fundamental difference between emblems and symbols. Emblems are things that officially represent the country. A symbol allows much more freedom of use. I don’t see anything officially wrong in [him] selling clothing with representations of the hummingbird, although you could argue that it’s not in very good taste for him to be doing that, but it’s probably not illegal,” Needham stated.
At the same time, he said successive administrations have not been as rigid as they ought to be with the use of national emblems.
“I’m appalled at the misuse of one of the emblems — The Coat of Arms [of Jamaica]. For this foreign artiste to be selling the emblem it should be illegal. In Britain, you can put the Union Flag on your sports blazer and that sort of thing, although it’s an emblem, but you trying doing that with the arms and you will be taken to court right away and that should be the case with our coat of arms,” he stated.
“As a country, we do not show sufficient respect for the Coat of Arms. We should have firm regulations about the Coat of Arms as the United Kingdom, the United States and many other countries do. With the national flag, many countries allow a bit more freedom, although I think there should be respect shown in many instances,” he added.
On Saturday, Culture and Entertainment Minister Olivia Grange said the Government had demanded, with success, that the American rapper remove some of the items.
“It has come to my attention that items of clothing printed with national symbols and emblems are being offered for sale online. I noticed Kanye West and members of his choir wearing similarly emblazoned items during their special performance in Kingston last night, but I was not aware at the time that the costumes were being sold online,” Grange said in a statement issued to the media.
“We neither received a request for, nor did we give permission for our national symbols and emblems to be used for a commercial manner or otherwise. I have since requested that the items be withdrawn and the vendor has agreed to do so,” she continued.
The minister said a committee set up several years ago when she previously served as culture minister to review and devise a strategy for dealing with the proper use of our emblems and symbols, was shelved when there was a change of Government.
However, with the issue coming to the fore again, she said the committee will be re-established to include the Office of the Prime Minister, the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office and the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport and others.
Yesterday, the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) called for clarification on the sale of the clothing items.
The PNP, in a statement, said: “There are still questions to be answered about their use and the approval process for such utilisation.”
According to the party’s spokesman for youth and entertainment, Dwayne Vaz, the Coat of Arms of Jamaica was evident on the shirts worn by West and members of his choir during their performance at his Sunday Service show.
Vaz is raising concerns about the use of the national symbols as part of a “for-profit” commercial enterprise and said it should not be tolerated, as it is not in compliance with existing regulations.
“The PNP looks forward to the clarification from the Government on the issue and would participate in any constructive discussion aimed at finding a solution for the proper use and handling of all national emblems and symbols associated with our heritage,” Vaz said.