It may come as a surprise to many, but I am satisfied that here are forces at play in Jamaica that believes that the best way of keeping ghetto people in check is to kill that one thing that speaks the loudest for them -Dancehall! JAMAICA -A DIVIDED SOCIETY Let us face it, Jamaican society has always been demarcated by the hard divisions that exists among its population. This phenomenon has been a hold-over from the immediate post slavery period where the more than 90 percent Black (former slave) population were still seen as a source of labour necessary for keeping the plantation economy in production mode, while all the time being mindful of the penchant of the natives towards revolt. Historically, the colonial authorities did everything in its power to keep the natives in check. It prohibited any unnecessary gatherings of large numbers of Black people except perhaps for attending church. It raised up a police force specifically for maintaining the status quo and developed vagrancy laws to control movement of people while suppressing any form of creative expression under the guise of National Security.
It should surprise no one therefore, that with the turn of the century, these measures were maintained. In the process, the system did its best to suppress the rise of Marcus Mosiah Garvey in the 1920s. It greeted the rise of the labour movement with venom, resulting in the Labour Riots of the 1930s. It persecuted the early Rastafarian movement, treating its members as pariahs, all the time these actions being part of the very same plan to keep Black people in their prescribed place as an underclass. The destruction of the Rastafarian settlement at Pinnacle in St. Catherine and the forced dispersal of its members across the country were significant markers. EARLY DANCEHALL WAS A SPACE
In the early 1950s, the dancehall was primarily a space dedicated to providing inexpensive entertainment for working-class Jamaicans. Its requirements were simple enough, a couple of speaker cabinets, a turntable, an amplifier, an individual to select the records and armed with a microphone. It did not matter the day of the week, as the music filled the entertainment void. Most could not attend the big band venues such as the Sheraton Hotel, Bournemouth Club, the Ward Theatre, or the Glass Bucket Clubs in Kingston. The rise of spaces such as Chocomo Lawn, Club Havana, Forrester’s Hall would open a crack in the door of entertainment for poor people, and as the sound system grew, its flourishing coinciding with the recording of music by youths living on the fringes in downtown Kingston, providing sound systems such as Tom the Great Sebastain, Duke “The Trojan” Reid, Coxsone’s Downbeat, V-Rocket, and Nick the Champ, with expanded local content to thrill dance fans.
DANCEHALL'S ECONOMIC & CULTURAL VALUE
Together the Dancehall and the sound systems went beyond providing entertainment and became the proving ground for artiste and producer alike. The dancehall became the place where records were released to get the market’s response. The dancehall became a major component of the Jamaican music industry around which a raft of support services developed. The expansion of these services were themselves critical to the development of Jamaican music and established the dancehall as the bulwark of the island’s music industry. It was also the space in which the newest artistes works were previewed, and where latest dance-steps as well as the latest fashions were presented.
TECHNOLOGY TRANSFORMED DANCEHALL
In the last half a century, the music as we knew it shifted. Jamaica sped through more than half a dozen music genres and in the process captured the attention of the rest of the world. Fed by the twin combination of travel and technological developments, not only was Jamaica’s music in demand elsewhere, but so too the culture that surrounded it. Wayne Smith experimentation with the pre-recorded chords in a Casio M-T40 led to the Sleng Teng Rhythm and the creation of Dancehall as a music genre. The sound was fresh, and it ignited the creativity of Jamaican youths everywhere. Nowhere was more impacted than Waterhouse in Kingston, Jamaica, where music producer King Jammy’s has led the genre from the get-go, producing some of the biggest names in the genre including Shabba Ranks, and Admiral Bailey.
JAMAICA DANCEHALL - A GLOBAL CULTURE
The infectiousness of the sound was matched by the flamboyance of the artistes and their presentations. The Jamaican society has seen some positive aspects of dancehall music, such as: it acts as a relief of stress for those suffering from poverty, it is a medium for economic advancement, it helps people to see what is happening in the inner city, and it helps people to feel free. It transformed the arenas and the way the patrons attended. The stage was still the platform for social commentary, the artiste the Griot, and microphone the griot’s lectern. Their communities provided the storyboards for their compositions and no topic was off-limits. The dancehall became more than just a space but a sound that echoed the experiences within their communities. That notwithstanding, the elements that drove the genre found traction in communities elsewhere. From the USA to Latin America, from the UK, to Europe, from Asia to Africa, the Dancehall beat migrated around the world like its forerunner Reggae, and not only did it find traction in those markets, but it also influenced the culture well as the music in those markets. In the Latin America, it spawned Reggaeton. In West Africa it rekindled with the drum to provide a newer iteration of Afro Beats.
In Japan, dancehall reggae is serious sub-culture. The country boasts more than 300 sound systems (more than the number is Jamaica itself) and the enthusiasts are hyper-committed to performing dancehall the way it’s done in Jamaica, down to the slightest detail. In 1999, Dancehall’s popularity skyrocketed in Japan when the Japanese dancehall selectors Mighty Crown beat Jamaica’s top sound systems to win the World Sound Clash dancehall competition in New York City.
JAMAICA'S CRIME CULTURE
Given the spread and impact of Dancehall around the world, how then do we explain the current negative attitude towards Dancehall in Jamaica? According to the pundits, Dancehall has a major influence on crime in the island. Only this past week the Gleaner published the results of a poll that asked a single leading question: Do you believe there is a connection between dancehall music and the level of criminality in the country? According to the survey’s reading, 84% of respondents agreed. This level of response is hardly surprising in a country with a tally of 1400 murders per year for more than the last 30 years and managed by a political system that is drowning in corruption and incompetence. It begs the question as to why then does dancehall not produce the same levels of violence in Japan, and other countries where the genre has taken deep roots?
SCAPEGOATING JAMAICA'S DANCEHALL CULTURE
It is a crying shame that successive political administrations in Jamaica having done very little to address criminality in the country is allowed to pin this tail on Dancehall as its blameworthy donkey. Such an attitude only succeeds in stigmatizing young Jamaicans and to stifle their communities. Neither political gang has committed to making any investment in rehabilitating these at-risk communities. Instead, the system as represented by both has bred the political gunman of the 1970s who is now replaced by the scammers, gunrunners, and drug smugglers. Their system has locked off the music in the inner-city communities under a noise abatement statute. They succeeded in killing the entertainment events at the community levels, stunting elements of community entrepreneurship. Their pointing of fingers on dancehall harkens back to maintaining the status quo that says that no good can come from ghetto communities, leaving them unwittingly to the mercy of undesirables who uses the music to launder the proceeds of their underhand activities. And all the time the body count continues to rise. Thanks for reading but before you go, pleas share this story with your friends. Please also, take a few minutes to visit our online store at: Shop | YAAWD MEDIA INC and pick up a few pieces of our merchandise. It helps us to stay online.