Updated: Aug 26, 2022
I was 11 years old when I started secondary school at Kingston College in 1969 and by that time, I had developed more than a passing interest in Jamaican music. Around that same time the earlier acoustic infused Mento and the belligerent Ska sounds had taken a back seat and the Rock Steady era had begun to make room for Reggae. Artistes of the ilk of Toots & the Maytals, The Wailing Wailers (later to become Bob Marley and The Wailers), The Burning Spear, Jimmy Cliff, Alton Ellis and the Flames, Derrick Harriot, Dennis Brown, The Heptones, Delroy Wilson, The Paragons, U-Roy and numerous were establishing themselves on the Jamaican musical scene. Much of the output from these artistes at that time had been influenced by the Rhythm and Blues and Soul sounds from Detroit’s Motown, the sounds from Philadelphia and Chicago in America. Reggae though was different. It was Jamaica’s sound, the sound of a people who had not only taken control of their music but also the task of framing the country’s cultural identity. In time it would birth Jamaica Dancehall. CULTURAL ADVOCACY ROLE
It was against this background that my own cultural influences were forged and in the years that have since ensued, I have embraced the role of a kind of Jamaican cultural advocate here in the Diaspora, determined to set the record straight on many of the misconceptions that have been put out by others pretending to be aficionados of Jamaican culture although never having had the experience of living that culture. So it was that I lived my first 50 years of life on the Rock, growing up in inner-city Kingston in the Jarrett Lane area, nestled at the foot of the Wareika Hills which became a haven for the dispossessed from Dungle in West Kingston, an area which had given way to the construction of Jamaica's second political garrison, Tivoli Gardens (the first being Rema or Wilton Gardens). In the ensuing period I have worked at building a business, dabbled in the music, authored a couple of books on the inner-city experience, all the time with a focus on the music and its importance to the ethos of being Jamaican. It is these experiences that has birthed my Yaawd Media Incorporated, and the Sunday Scoops program offered on our website at www.yaawdmedia.com. MUSIC IS THE CORE OF BEING JAMAICAN
I make no apology that music is connected to the core of being Jamaican. Forged from the ranks of the majority Black population, this music made it from the sugarcane fields and banana walks and into the side streets of the downtown areas of the capital city Kingston. The music’s potency was drawn from the fact that it spoke to the everyday experiences of the people who strung the lyrics together and stood in the broiling sun on a Sunday morning at Brentford Road to attend Coxsone’s auditions under the mango tree. No less than current experiences, at the time they all hoped for a “buss” and the opportunities to make a living from their efforts. If they were lucky enough, they would perhaps be able to see the world. This was the Jamaica that I came of age in by the end of the 1970s. By the mid -1980s I had taken onto myself a wife and started a family. Not dissimilar to my own experiences, the music, like my own life, also started to change. Sugar Minott in the second half of the 1970s had begun to re-sample tracks from the Coxsone catalogue, giving Jamaica its first taste of what would become Dancehall music. KING YELLOWMAN AND THE BIRTH OF THE DANCEHALL GENRE By 1982, Winston Foster aka Yellowman burst onto the scene. An albino, Yellowman poked fun at his condition in his lyrics while at the same time immersing himself into the consciousness of his audience with his carefully positioned risqué lyrics, and his audience lapped it up. Yellowman’s quick wit, his capacity to address social issues even as he let fly his accompanying risqué material, earned him the title the King of Dancehall. Then in 1985, Wayne Smith made the discovery of a set of pre-programmed chords on a Casio MT-40 which he modified to produce the Sleng Teng rhythm. This simple technological development sent Dancehall into the stratosphere as it opened the door to a quadrant of the industry that has changed the lives of too many Jamaicans than could be listed. HOW DANCEHALL OPENED UP JA'S MUSIC INDUSTRY Dancehall literally reoriented the music business in Jamaica and made the music not only more easily exportable, but the required technology also made it easier to enter the music business, as the technical equipment required to produce the dancehall sounds was less expensive. The result was an explosion of producers coming into the business along with an even greater explosion of sound system operators. This created the subsidiary dancehall industry which served to provide economic opportunities for a broader swath of Jamaicans, many as hair stylists, fashion designers, clothiers, dance promoters, vendors, and others. Dancehall attraction has seen to its spread and acceptance in multiple global markets including the Far East (specifically Japan), as well as the African Continent, and in Brazil.
According to Professor Donna Hope, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Caribbean Studies and the Reggae Studies Unit of the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, “Dancehall has created, and continues to create kings and queens and superstars. So, as we found in the dancehall violence research conducted in 2010, many young people aspire to work in the dancehall industry to be an artiste or a manager because they clearly understand the importance and value of this culture and music. Many young men, spanning several generations, have drummed out beats on the backs of chairs and desks at primary and high school as they articulate their desires to be the next dancehall artiste to buss. The critical connections between Jamaican music and society remain stronger than ever. Dancehall culture carries the hopes and dreams, the fears and fantasies and the unfulfilled desires of many young and not so young Jamaicans.” DANCEHALL GETS A BAD RAP Over the years, there has been varying levels of criticisms levelled at the genre with deepening criticism from our Prime Minister Andrew Holness who all but (falsely) blames Dancehall for corrupting the country’s youth with lewd derogatory lyrics, and for being part of the cause of the runaway crime and violence on the island. What Holness and his cheerleaders fail to recognize is that no different from what has obtained with Jamaican music over the past six decades, Dancehall music, no less than the music of the earlier period, is largely a reflection of what obtains in the experiences of the music’s creators. Songwriters and lyricists write and sing about the experiences that they have within their communities. If criminality and lascivious behaviors are the experiences that forms the order of the day, that is what will become the lyrics. It follows that if we want to change the lyrics, the country and its leadership must work at changing the experiences of the youth in those communities. We live in a community where sex sells. America markets guns and ammunition openly in its exports of violent movies consumed by our population and the ubiquitous nature of technology means that these images coupled with the experiences of social media influencers are beamed into our spaces, promoting the fast lane living and bling lifestyles. Art always imitates life, and, in this regard, Jamaica and its Dancehall culture is not spared. Rather than condemn this hugely popular and profitable element of our music culture, I recommend greater study for better understanding, and even more, I recommend greater and more fulsome investment. I may not be thrilled by some of the lyrics that are currently being produced, but artistes of the ilk of Spice, Shensea, Shabba, Bounty Killa, and Beenie Man et al, are ours. They are part of our success stories, and I am never going to condemn Dancehall. After all, this too is us. Thanks for reading. Please share this article within your circles and personal networks. We invite you too, to support our efforts by purchasing our Reggae merchandise. Visit our online stores at: Shop | YAAWD MEDIA INC or at http://www.yardabraawd.com/t/reggae-clothing