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DESPITE ITS SCAPEGOATING, DANCEHALL TELLS JAMAICA’S STORY

Updated: Sep 5, 2022


Painting: Street Dance - Richard Hugh Blackford (C) 2008 Jamaica is often described by tourism and other travel interests as “the Pearl of the Caribbean,” a label earned from the islands-built reputation as a major tourist destination, promoted with its idyllic white-sand beaches, exotic gastronomy, and its world impacting Reggae and Dancehall music. Just about three million people in residence on the island and an estimated two million in the Diaspora, calls the island home. To these five million people and another three to four million who visit the island for a taste of its tourism, the music of the island provides a major magnetic pull. Reggae had carved a path across the world between 1969 and 1980 and was followed over the 1980s to 1990s period by its immediate offspring-dancehall. Like reggae, dancehall is the music of the Jamaican streets and like reggae, dancehall music has provided a fair share of influence on global popular music, spawning Reggaeton in the Latin American and Hispanic countries, and in Africa and its huge Diaspora, Dancehall has been subsumed into Afro Beats to produce a fresh iteration of the popular African music genre. THE RISE OF AND IMPACT OF DANCEHALL It is generally accepted that in the last half a century, Jamaica’s dancehall music shifted dramatically. In the early 1980s Sugar Minott released two seminal tunes “Give dem eena dancehall style,” and “Eena dancehall we deh, we a play reggae,” two songs which effectively birthed the modern dancehall culture. Implicit in its emergence was the power of its expression, and in some circles, dancehall was declared as the most powerful vehicle of expression for the Jamaican youth, especially the dispossessed. Dancehall’s change was further cemented by rapidly changing technology especially with the 1984/85 Wayne Smith experimentation with the pre-recorded chords in a Casio M-T40 that led to the Sleng Teng rhythm and the entrenchment 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 Lloyd James, better known as King Jammy’s led the genre from the get-go, producing some of the biggest names in dancehall including Shabba Ranks, Admiral Bailey, Frankie Paul and Johnny Osbourne. JAMAICA WAS ALWAYS CRIME-PLAGUED SOCIETY It is worth noting that during this pre-eminent period of the introduction of dancehall, Jamaica had been grappling with a growing crime problem largely influenced by a wide range of factors, including politics, social, economic, ideological, psychological, cultural, and administrative factors including the breakdown of the country’s law and order maintenance apparatus. These factors are all inter-related, and although the problem in the 1980s were exacerbated by the growing narcotic drugs trafficking of the period, it is equally worth noting that the general framework of the Jamaican society had always supported a culture of crime and violence. In fact, any assessment of the Jamaican society between 1957 and 1977, would reveal the pervasive “rude-bwoy” culture of the late 1950s and 1960s which provided lyrical material for the early local musical recordings of that period and capitalized on by music producers Duke Reid, Clement Dodd, Prince Buster and Leslie Kong of Beverley’s Records. As the nation’s crime problem worsened over the past three or four decades, our failed leadership has made increasing attempts to hang the blame for this on the island’s music generally and on dancehall and its culture specifically. For my part, I refuse to buy into the argument that dancehall music influences or promotes crime and violence. In my opinion, people who commit crimes usually have a predisposition towards criminal behavior, and in Jamaica, their criminal behavior is exacerbated by the deficiencies in our policing, our legal and other social systems.

DANCEHALL TELLS JAMAICA’S STORY

Despite the concerted attempts by the Jamaican elites to taint dancehall music and its attendant culture, dancehall has had far more positive impacts on Jamaica than the projected negatives. Dancehall music provides a relief of stress for those suffering from poverty, and for the inner-city youths it is a medium for economic advancement. Dancehall and its culture provide a lens through which those who are prepared to look, can see what is happening in the inner-city communities, how it transformed the arenas and stages on which the music is performed and the way the patrons attended. The dancehall stage is 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 as dancehall artistes echoed the experiences within their communities. It begs the question that if dancehall music is as dangerously influential as the pundits in Jamaica suggests, why then is the genre not producing the same levels of criminality in international markets such as Japan, Africa, North America, as well as in Central and South America? 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.

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