|Cultural origins||Late 1970s Jamaica, especially Kingston|
Dancehall is a genre of Jamaican popular music that originated in the late 1970s. Initially dancehall was a more sparse version of reggae than the roots style, which had dominated much of the 1970s. Two of the biggest stars of the early dancehall era were Yellowman and Eek-a-Mouse. Dancehall brought a new generation of producers, including Linval Thompson, Gussie Clarke and Jah Thomas. In the mid-1980s, digital instrumentation became more prevalent, changing the sound considerably, with digital dancehall (or "ragga") becoming increasingly characterized by faster rhythms. (The word "bashment", a term originating in the 1990s, was used to describe a particularly good dance; for example "to go to a bashment dance". In the Dancehall vernacular, "bashment" is therefore an adjective instead of a noun.)
Chaka Demus and Pliers were the first dancehall megahits in the US and abroad. Other varieties of dancehall achieved crossover success outside of Jamaica during the mid-to-late 1990s. After the popularizing of Buju Banton's dancehall song "Boom Bye Bye" in the early 1990s, dancehall music came under criticism over anti-gay lyrics in a few songs. The early 2000s saw the success of newer charting acts such as Rihanna, Elephant Man and Sean Paul. Dancehall made a resurgence within the pop market in the late 2000s, with songs by Konshens, Busy Signal, Mr. Vegas, Alkaline, Mavado, Vybz Kartel, Beenie Man among others. Vybz kartel who is popularly known as the "worldboss" has dominated most of the music as the front runner in the 2000s.
Dancehall is named after Jamaican dance halls in which popular Jamaican recordings were played by local sound systems. They began in the late 1940s among people from the inner city of Kingston such as Trench Town, Rose Town and Denham Town, Jamaicans who were not able to participate in dances uptown. Social and political changes in late-1970s Jamaica, including the change from the socialist government of Michael Manley (People's National Party) to Edward Seaga (Jamaica Labour Party), were reflected in the shift away from the more internationally oriented roots reggae towards a style geared more towards local consumption and in tune with the music that Jamaicans had experienced when sound systems performed live. Themes of social injustice, repatriation and the Rastafari movement were overtaken by lyrics about dancing, violence and sexuality.
Musically, older rhythms from the late 1960s were recycled, with Sugar Minott credited as the originator of this trend when he voiced new lyrics over old Studio One rhythms between sessions at the studio, where he was working as a session musician. Around the same time, producer Don Mais was reworking old rhythms at Channel One Studios, using the Roots Radics band. The Roots Radics would go on to work with Henry "Junjo" Lawes on some of the key early dancehall recordings, including those that established Barrington Levy, Frankie Paul, and Junior Reid as major reggae stars. Other singers to emerge in the early dancehall era as major stars included Don Carlos, Al Campbell, and Triston Palma, while more established names such as Gregory Isaacs and Bunny Wailer successfully adapted.
|Music of Jamaica|
|Nationalistic and patriotic songs|
|National anthem||Jamaica, Land We Love|
Sound systems such as Killimanjaro, Black Scorpio, Gemini Disco, Virgo Hi-Fi, Volcano Hi-Power and Aces International soon capitalized on the new sound and introduced a new wave of deejays. The older toasters were overtaken by new stars such as Captain Sinbad, Ranking Joe, Clint Eastwood, Lone Ranger, Josey Wales, Charlie Chaplin, General Echo and Yellowman — a change reflected by the 1981 Junjo Lawes-produced album A Whole New Generation of DJs, although many went back to U-Roy for inspiration. Deejay records became, for the first time, more important than records featuring singers. Another trend was sound clash albums, featuring rival deejays /or sound systems competing head-to-head for the appreciation of a live audience, with underground sound clash cassettes often documenting the violence that came with such rivalries.
Two of the biggest deejay stars of the early dancehall era, Yellowman and Eek-a-Mouse, chose humour rather than violence. Yellowman became the first Jamaican deejay to be signed to a major American record label, and for a time enjoyed a level of popularity in Jamaica to rival Bob Marley's peak. The early 1980s also saw the emergence of female deejays in dancehall music, including: Sister Charmaine, Lady G, Lady Junie, Junie Ranks, Lady Saw, Sister Nancy and Shelly Thunder. Other female dancehall stars include artistes like Diana King and in the late 90's to the 2000's Ce' Cile, Spice, Macka Diamond and more.
Digital dancehall and ragga
In the mid-1980s, French Caribbean group Kassav, the first in the Caribbean to use MIDI technology, took Caribbean music to another level by recording in a digital format. King Jammy's 1985 hit, "(Under Me) Sleng Teng" by Wayne Smith, with an entirely-digital rhythm hook took the dancehall reggae world by storm. Many credit this song as being the first digital rhythm in reggae, featuring a rhythm from a Casio MT-40 keyboard. However, this is not entirely correct since there are earlier examples of digital productions, such as Horace Ferguson's single "Sensi Addict" (Ujama) produced by Prince Jazzbo in 1984. The "Sleng Teng" rhythm was used in over 200 subsequent recordings. This deejay-led, largely synthesized chanting with musical accompaniment departed from traditional conceptions of Jamaican popular musical entertainment.
Dub poet Mutabaruka said, "if 1970s reggae was red, green and gold, then in the next decade it was gold chains". It was far removed from reggae's gentle roots and culture, and there was much debate among purists as to whether it should be considered an extension of reggae.
This shift in style again saw the emergence of a new generation of artists, such as Buccaneer, Capleton and Shabba Ranks, who became the biggest ragga star in the world. A new set of producers also came to prominence: Philip "Fatis" Burrell, Dave "Rude Boy" Kelly, George Phang, Hugh "Redman" James, Donovan Germain, Bobby Digital, Wycliffe "Steely" Johnson and Cleveland "Clevie" Brown (aka Steely & Clevie) rose to challenge Sly & Robbie's position as Jamaica's leading rhythm section. The deejays became more focused on violence, with Bounty Killer, Mad Cobra, Ninjaman and Buju Banton becoming major figures in the genre.
To complement the harsher deejay sound, a "sweet sing" vocal style evolved out of roots reggae and R&B, marked by its falsetto and almost feminine intonation, with proponents like Pinchers, Cocoa Tea, Sanchez, Admiral Tibet, Frankie Paul, Half Pint, Conroy Smith, Courtney Melody, Carl Meeks and Barrington Levy.
In the early 1990s songs like Dawn Penn's "No, No, No", Shabba Ranks's "Mr. Loverman", Patra's "Worker Man" and Chaka Demus and Pliers' "Murder She Wrote" became some of the first dancehall megahits in the US and abroad. Other varieties of dancehall achieved crossover success outside of Jamaica during the mid-to-late 1990s. Tanya Stephens gave a unique female voice to the genre during the 1990s.
The early 2000s saw the success of newer charting acts such as Rihanna, Elephant Man and Sean Paul, who has achieved mainstream success in the US and has produced several top 10 Billboard hits, including "Gimme the Light", "We Be Burnin'", "Give It Up to Me", "Pon De Replay" and "Break It Off".
Dancehall seems to be making a resurgence within the pop market in the late 2000s with such artists as Konshens, Mr. Vegas, Popcaan, Mavado, Vybz Kartel, Beenie Man among others. VP Records dominates the dancehall music market with Sean Paul, Elephant Man, and Buju Banton. VP often has partnered with major record labels like Atlantic and Island in an attempt to further expand their distribution potential particularly in the US market.
In 1992, the international backlash to Banton's violently anti-homosexual "Boom Bye-Bye", and the reality of Kingston's violence which saw the deaths of deejays Pan Head and Dirtsman saw another shift, this time back towards Rastafari and cultural themes, with several of the hardcore slack ragga artists finding religion, and the "conscious ragga" scene becoming an increasingly popular movement. A new generation of singers and deejays emerged that harked back to the roots reggae era, notably Garnett Silk, Tony Rebel, Sanchez, Luciano, Anthony B and Sizzla. Some popular deejays, most prominently Buju Banton and Capleton, began to cite Rastafari and turn their lyrics and music in a more conscious, rootsy direction. Many modern dancehall Rasta artists identify with Bobo Ashanti.
Reggae fusion is a mixture of reggae or dancehall with elements of other genres, such as hip hop, R&B, jazz, rock and roll, Indian music/Bollywood, Latin music, drum and bass, punk rock or polka. It is closely related to ragga music. The term is also used to describe artists who frequently switch between the dancehall and reggae genres and other genres, mainly rap and R&B. It originated in Jamaica, North America and Europe, and first became popular in the late 1990s.
Donna P. Hope defines dancehall culture as a "space for the cultural creation and dissemination of symbols and ideologies that reflect the lived realities of its adherents, particularly those from the inner cities of Jamaica." Dancehall culture actively creates a space for its "affectors" (creators of dancehall culture) and its "affectees" (consumers of dancehall culture) to take control of their own representation, contest conventional relationships of power, and exercise some level of cultural, social and even political autonomy.
Kingsley Stewart outlines ten of the major cultural imperatives or principles that constitute the dancehall worldview. They are:
- It involves the dynamic interweaving of God and Haile Selassie
- It acts as a form of stress release or psycho-physiological relief
- It acts as a medium for economic advancement
- The quickest way to an object is the preferred way (i.e., the speed imperative)
- The end justifies the means
- It strives to make the unseen visible
- Objects and events that are external to the body are more important than internal processes; what is seen is more important than what is thought (i.e., the pre-eminence of the external)
- The importance of the external self; the self is consciously publicly constructed and validated
- The ideal self is shifting, fluid, adaptive, and malleable, and
- It involves the socioexistential imperative to transcend the normal (i.e., there is an emphasis on not being normal).
Such a drastic change in the popular music of the region generated an equally radical transformation in fashion trends, specifically those of its female faction. In lieu of traditional, modest "rootsy" styles, as dictated by Rastafari-inspired gender roles; women began donning flashy, revealing – sometimes X-rated outfits. This transformation is said to coincide with the influx of slack lyrics within dancehall, which objectified women as apparatuses of pleasure. These women would team up with others to form "modeling posses", or "dancehall model" groups, and informally compete with their rivals.
This newfound materialism and conspicuity was not, however, exclusive to women or manner of dress. Appearance at dance halls was exceedingly important to acceptance by peers and encompassed everything from clothing and jewelry, to the types of vehicles driven, to the sizes of each respective gang or "crew", and was equally important to both sexes.
One major theme behind dancehall is that of space. Sonjah Stanley-Niaah, in her article "Mapping Black Atlantic Performance Geographies", says
Dancehall occupies multiple spatial dimensions (urban, street, police, marginal, gendered, performance, liminal, memorializing, communal), which are revealed through the nature and type of events and venues, and their use and function. Most notable is the way in which dancehall occupies a liminal space between what is celebrated and at the same time denigrated in Jamaica and how it moves from private community to public and commercial enterprise.
In Kingston's Dancehall: A Story of Space and Celebration, she writes:
Dancehall is ultimately a celebration of the disenfranchised selves in postcolonial Jamaica that occupy and creatively sustain that space. Structured by the urban, a space that is limited, limiting, and marginal yet central to communal, even national, identity, dancehall's identity is as contradictory and competitive as it is sacred. Some of Jamaica's significant memories of itself are inscribed in the dancehall space, and therefore dancehall can be seen as a site of collective memory that functions as ritualized memorializing, a memory bank of the old, new, and dynamic bodily movements, spaces, performers, and performance aesthetics of the New World and Jamaica in particular.
These same notions of dancehall as a cultural space are echoed in Norman Stolzoff's Wake the Town and Tell the People. He notes that dancehall is not merely a sphere of passive consumerism, but rather is an alternative sphere of active cultural production that acts as a means through which black lower-class youth articulate and project a distinct identity in local, national, and global contexts. Through dancehall, ghetto youths attempt to deal with the endemic problems of poverty, racism, and violence, and in this sense the dancehall acts as a communication center, a relay station, a site where black lower-class culture attains its deepest expression. Thus, dancehall in Jamaica is yet another example of the way that the music and dance cultures of the African diaspora have challenged the passive consumerism of mass cultural forms, such as recorded music, by creating a sphere of active cultural production that potentially may transform the prevailing hegemony of society.
Contradictions in dancehall culture
Despite dancehall culture's ability to challenge social inequality, it is a hybridization of American aesthetics and the hardships of Kingston, Jamaica. Kingsley Stewart writes that the "Jamaican cultural model or worldview" has been very influenced by that which it was arguably created to oppose, namely Babylon or the Western influence. This is seen, in the more obvious sense, in the use of gun talk by artists like Buju Banton and Capleton, or the sporting of bling-bling by "Gangsta Ras" artists like Mavado and Munga. The term Gangsta Ras, which seeks to reconcile thuggish imagery with Rastafari is an example of how in dancehall, "the misuse of Rastafari culture has diluted and marginalised the central tenets and creed of the Rastafari philosophy and way of life".
What Kingsley regards as the "socioexistential imperative to transcend the normal" is exemplified by artists like Elephant Man and Bounty Killer doing things to stand out, such as putting on a synthetic cartoonish voice or donning pink highlights while constantly re-asserting one's hypermasculine attributes. Donna P. Hope argues that this trend is related to the rise of market capitalism as a dominant feature of life in Jamaica, coupled with the role of new media and a liberalized media landscape, where images become of increasing importance in the lives of ordinary Jamaicans who strive for celebrity and superstar status on the stages of dancehall and Jamaican popular culture.
Another point of dissension of dancehall from reggae, and from its non-western roots in Jamaica, is on the focus on materialism. Dancehall has also became popular in regions such as Ghana and Panama. Prominent males in the dancehall scene are expected to dress in very expensive casual wear, indicative of European urban styling and high fashion that suggest wealth and status. Since the late 1990s, males in the dancehall culture have rivalled their female counterparts to look fashioned and styled. The female dancehall divas are all scantily clad, or dressed in spandex outfits that accentuate more than cover one's nakedness. In the documentary It's All About Dancing, prominent dancehall artist Beenie Man argues that one could be the best DJ or the smoothest dancer, but if one wears clothing that reflects the economic realities of the majority of the partygoers, one will be ignored.
After the popularizing of Buju Banton's dancehall song "Boom Bye Bye" in the early 1990s, dancehall music came under criticism from international organizations and individuals over anti-gay lyrics in a few songs though in recent years these attitudes have changed. In some cases, dancehall artists whose music featured anti-gay lyrics have had their concerts canceled. Various singers were investigated by international law enforcement agencies such as Scotland Yard, on the grounds that the lyrics incited the audience to assault homosexuals. Buju Banton's 1993 hit "Boom Bye Bye" advocates the murder of homosexuals by shooting or burning, or both ("like an old tire wheel"). Many of the affected singers believed that legal or commercial sanctions were essentially an attack against freedom of speech. Some artists agreed not to use anti-gay lyrics during their concerts in Europe and the United States, although some artists, such as Capleton, continue to have their concerts canceled due to the Stop Murder Music campaign.
Donna P. Hope argues that dancehall culture's anti-homosexual lyrics formed part of a macho discussion that advanced the interest of the heterosexual male in Jamaica, which is a Christian society with strong Rastafari movement influence as well. Even while dancehall culture in Jamaica sported images of men in pseudo-gay poses and costumes, the cultural, religious, social and gendered imperatives of the society advanced and promoted the ideal man as macho and heterosexual and men who are homosexual were identified as inadequate and impure portraits of true masculinity. Dancehall music has played into and with this divide in an extreme and lyrically graphic fashion that has been rendered politically incorrect in many places globally but remains culturally relevant in Jamaica.
The popularity of dancehall has spawned dance moves that help to make parties and stage performances more energetic. Many dance moves seen in hip hop videos are actually variations of dancehall dances. Examples of such dances are: "Like Glue", "Bogle", "Whine & Dip", "Tek Weh Yuhself", "Whine Up" (a mix of various genres), "Boosie Bounce", "Drive By", "Shovel It", "To Di World", "Dutty Wine", "Sweep", "Nuh Behavior", "Nuh Linga", "Skip to My Lou", "Gully Creepa", "Bad Man Forward Bad Man Pull Up", "Keeping it Jiggy", "Pon Di River","One Drop", "Whine & Kotch", "Bubbling (Similar to twerking) ", "Tic Toc", "Willie Bounce", "Wacky Dip", "Screetchie", "One Vice" (an underground dance) and "Daggering".
- Niaah, Sonjah Stanley (July 10, 2010). DanceHall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press. ISBN 9780776607368.
- Wake the town & tell the people: dancehall culture in Jamaica By Norman C. Stolzoff
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- Dancehall's new steps
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