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Dancehall is a genre of Jamaican popular music that developed in the late 1970s, initially as a more sparse and less political and religious variant o...
Dancehall is a genre of Jamaican popular music that developed in the late 1970s, initially as a more sparse and less political and religious variant of reggae than the roots style that had dominated much of the 1970s.
In the mid-1980s, digital instrumentation became more prevalent, changing the sound considerably, with digital dancehall (or "ragga") becoming increasingly characterized by faster rhythms with little connection to earlier reggae rhythms.
Dancehall owes its moniker to the spaces in which popular Jamaican recordings were aired by local sound systems and readily consumed by its "set-to-party" patronage; commonly referred to as "dance halls". Social and political changes in late-1970s Jamaica 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 for some time when sound systems performed live.Michael Manley's socialist PNP government had been replaced with Edward Seaga's right wing JLP. Themes of social injustice, repatriation, and Rastafari were overtaken by lyrics about dancing, violence, and explicit 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 Palmer, while more established names such as Gregory Isaacs and Bunny Wailer successfully adapted.
Music of Jamaica
Kumina - Niyabinghi - Mento - Ska - Rocksteady - Reggae - Sound systems - Lovers rock - Dub - Dancehall - Dub poetry - Toasting - Raggamuffin - Roots reggae - Reggae fusion
Anglophone Caribbean music
Anguilla - Antigua and Barbuda - Bahamas - Barbados - Bermuda - Caymans - Grenada - Jamaica - Montserrat - St. Kitts and Nevis - St. Vincent and the Grenadines - Trinidad and Tobago - Turks and Caicos - Virgin Islands
Other Caribbean music
Aruba and the Dutch Antilles - Cuba - Dominica - Dominican Republic - Haiti - Hawaii - Martinique and Guadeloupe - Puerto Rico - St. Lucia - United States - United Kingdom
Sound systems soon capitalized on the new sound, with the likes of Killimanjaro, Black Scorpio, Gemini Disco, Virgo Hi-Fi, Volcano Hi-Power, and Aces International also introducing 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, with deejay's often voicing over new rhythms before singers. A further reflection of the live experience was the trend towards "sound clash" albums, featuring rival deejays and/or sound systems going head to head in competition for the appreciation of a live audience, with underground sound clash cassettes often documenting the violence that would come with such rivalries.
Two of the biggest deejay stars of the early dancehall era, Yellowman and Eek-a-Mouse, chose humour rather than violence, with both becoming huge stars, and Yellowman the first Jamaican deejay ever to be signed to a major American label, and for a time enjoying a level of popularity in Jamaica to rival Bob Marley's peak.The early 1980s also saw the emergence of female deejays, with Lady Saw, Sister Nancy, and Shelly Thunder bringing a new dimension to the dancehalls.
Dancehall also brought a new generation of producers to the fore. Junjo Lawes, Linval Thompson, Gussie Clarke, and Jah Thomas took over from the producers who had dominated in the 1970s.
Digital dancehall and reggae
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, utilizing a rhythm from a Casio MT-40 keyboard, leading to the modern digital dancehall, or ragga, era. However this is not entirely correct since there are earlier examples of digital productions; Horace Ferguson's single "Sensi Addict" (Ujama) produced by Prince Jazzbo in 1984 is one. 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 maintained, "if 1970s reggae was red, green and gold, then in the next decade it was gold chains". It was far removed from its gentle roots and culture, and there was furious debate among purists as to whether it should be considered some sort of extension of reggae music.
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, and 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 and more slack and focussed on violence, with Bounty Killer, Cobra, Ninjaman, and Buju Banton becoming major figures in the genre.
To compliment 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 90s, 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 U.S. and abroad. Various 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 years 1990-1994 saw the entry of artists like Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Lady Saw, Shaggy, Diana King, Spragga Benz, Capleton, Beenie Man and a major shift in the sound of dancehall, brought on by the introduction of a new generation of producers and for better or for worse, the end of Steely & Clevie's stranglehold on riddim production.
The early 2000s saw the success of newer charting acts such as Elephant Man and Sean Paul.
Currently, Sean Paul has achieved mainstream success within the United States and has produced several Top 10 Billboard hits, including "We Be Burnin'", "Get Busy", "Temperature" and the 2006 single "Give It Up To Me".
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 U.S. market.
then you have the other Dancehall Artists such s Vybz Kartel, Mavado, Chase Cross, Black Rhyno, Shawn Storm, Wayne Wonder, Leftside (otherwise known as Mr.Evil), who are more well known to the country, the Caribbean and Jamaican diaspora
In 1992, the international backlash to Banton's violently anti-homosexual "Boom Bye-Bye", and the reality of Kingston's violence that 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 Garnet Silk, Rocker T, 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.
Reggae fusion is a mixture of reggae and/or dancehall with different influential elements of other genres whether it be hip-hop reggae, R&B reggae, jazz reggae, rock 'n roll reggae, Indian reggae, Latin reggae, drum and bass reggae, punk reggae, polka reggae, etc. It is recognized as a subgenre or fusiongenre of reggae and dancehall music and is closely related to ragga music. It is also used to describe artists who frequently switch between the dancehall and reggae genres and other genres, mainly rap and r&b. It first became popular in the late 1990s and originated in Jamaica, North America and Europe.
The culture of dancehall
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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 is more important than 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.". "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 (or perhaps influenced by) 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 youth 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 ideals
Conversely, despite Dancehall's ability to challenge social inequality, it must be said that Dancehall ideology itself, is a hybridization of American aesthetics and hardships of Kingston, Jamaica. It is ironic that what author Kingsley Stewart regards as the "[Jamaican cultural model or worldview]" has been so distinctly influenced by that which it was arguably created to oppose, namely Babylon or the Western influence. This paradoxical paradigm is further teased out when one scrutinizes the relationship between Jamaican-ness and dancehall. Key figures in dancehall often, whether by choice or by necessity, frequently identify Jamaican nationalism with a Babylonian aesthetic. This is seen, in the more obvious sense, in the use of gun talk by conscious artists like Buju and Capleton or the sporting of bling-bling by “Gangsta Ras” artists like Movado and Munga. The term Gangsta Ras which seeks to reconcile more thuggish imagery with Rastafarian roots and ideology is a contradiction in itself. The creation of such a term is an example (albeit the most extreme 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” plays itself out, with artists like Elephant Man and Bounty Killer, for example, doing anything to stand out - whether it consists of putting on a synthetic cartoonish voice or donning pink highlights while constantly re-asserting one's hypermasculine attributes. On a broader scale it is this need to stand out, to be individually successful and accomplished that is the basis for Capitalism, an obvious western system of belief. The need for one to be “different” and to be a superstar, as opposed to merely being talented, is a relatively new phenomenon which can be said to have started with western celebrities and rock stars. Another point of dissension of Dancehall from Reggae and from, more generally speaking, its non-western roots in Jamaica is on the focus on materialism. Guys in the dancehall are expected to dress in ridiculously expensive casual wear, indicative of European urban styling. The dancehall "Divas" are all scantily clad in pieces of cloth that can hardly be called garments or spandex outfits that accentuate more than cover one’s nakedness. In Dancehall video director Jay Will's dance-umentary "It's All About Dancing", prominent artist Beenie Man is noted as making an explicit connection between materialism, specifically fashion, to recognition in dancehall's "liminal space". To paraphrase, Beenie states that one could be the illest DJ or the smoothest dancer but if one comes in clothing that, ironically enough reflects the economic realities of the majority of the partygoers, they will be promptly ignored.
Homophobia in dancehall music
Main article: Stop Murder Music
Modern dancehall music has come under criticism from Jamaican and international organizations and Jamaican journalists, like Ian Boyne,for anti-gay lyrics.
In some rare cases, dancehall artists whose music features anti-gay lyrics have had their concerts canceled. Various singers have had international travel restrictions placed on them, and have been investigated by international law enforcement agencies such as Scotland Yard on the grounds that the lyrics incite the audience to assault homosexuals. In 2003, the British LGBT rights group OutRage! called for the arrest of Elephant Man for allegedly inciting the killing of gay men in his song lyrics. He was not arrested. In January, 2006, Buju Banton, whose 1993 hit "Boom Bye Bye" advocates the murder of homosexuals by shooting and/or burning ("like an old tire wheel") was acquitted of assaulting a group of allegedly gay men in a house on Carlisle Avenue in Kingston. Many of the affected singers believe that legal or commercial sanctions are essentially an attack against freedom of speech. Some artists eventually agreed not to use offensive lyrics during their concerts in Europe andthe US.