Guest Post | Dancehall and Reggae to the World! But in Jamaica…?

Dancehall in Italy

EDITOR’S NOTE: For some time now I’ve watched with dismay the decline and rejection of Dancehall culture in Jamaica.  Middle and upper class sensibilities, along with the drive for “law and order,” seem intent on squashing the vibrant and important parts of our culture that don’t toe the line…whatever that line is and however arbitrarily it’s drawn.  In my opinion Dancehall has always been unapologetic in its excesses and braggadocio, and while I don’t view it uncritically, I have always recognized, understood,  and appreciated its important role in Jamaica’s society.  Sometimes I lusted after it and I’ve always been in love with it.  After all, for many years I nurtured dreams of becoming a Dancehall Queen.  Where others saw (see) lots of skin and jiggling body parts, I saw (see) comfort, control, and power (especially over their bodies) and I envied and longed for that.  When I emigrated to the U.S. I began to appreciate the reach and impact of Dancehall and Reggae even more; the inkling I’d had before paled in comparison to reality.  My first two years here I survived because of cassette mixes.  In college I happily displayed as much of Jamaica’s culture as I could as a student leader…and when necessary pushed back against opposition to it.  Besides, Sean Paul, Elephant Man, Tanto Metro & Devonte, and others preserved my and others’ mental health many a cold night stuck in the middle of a New England state; at least we could retreat from studies and other campus politics for a few hours of sweaty, grinding Thunderclapping, boat rowing, Shellybellying bliss.  So I understand Dancehall and Reggae as a refuge.  Recently I’ve seen comments flying across my Twitter timeline about whether Dancehall dance is accepted by Jamaica’s dance establishments.  So I was glad that the post below that was sent to me anonymously was coming together.  Timing.  Do we truly love, understand, support, and appreciate this gift that we have birthed? Better yet, do we control its use and earning?  How much longer are we going to depend on Mr. Marley and his kin to literally and figuratively carry the Jamaican culture flag?  Some of this is addressed below…comments certainly welcome.

The picture above is a shot from a video of a 2010 Summer dance performance in Italy.  You may view the entire video here.

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After traveling to many countries over the years it amazes me how others have adopted Jamaican culture and made it their own, while, in Jamaica, there are certain aspects of our culture we almost refuse to acknowledge.  These are the aspects that the world absolutely loves about Jamaica. Two such aspects are Jamaica’s dance and music.

Let’s focus on dance for a moment. For the uninitiated reader of this post do a quick search on YouTube for dancehall dances and pick a random country to add to the search term.  I bet you will be surprised at the search results. Who would have thought people from countries such as Italy, Sweden, Russia, and Poland would be doing the Wacky Dip and the Cow Foot? Meanwhile in Jamaica most people who live above Half Way Tree don’t have a clue what those dances are. I know people who have been to Weddy Wednesdays and noted that 30% or more of the patrons are from other countries. My question is, why isn’t the Jamaican government noting such things and capitalizing on the untapped revenue steam of music & dance tourism? It seems that Jamaicans who are in positions to make decisions are either not aware of said revenue stream or are afraid to embrace what is essentially a “street” culture.  There are a few Jamaican dancers that have toured the world as Ambassadors of the art form. These Ambassadors have tried to bring structure and recognition to dance in Jamaica only to either be ignored by the powers that be or be forced to rename Dancehall classes to other names to make them more palatable to the “uptowners.” Meanwhile counties such as Sweden and Poland regularly organize dance trips to Jamaica with groups of 5 or more people, each of whom comes to study a part of our culture that we reject.

The Jamaican government continues to clamp down on street dances leaving only clubs such as Fiction (where people don’t really dance) as the only options for entertainment. Furthermore, neither Dancehall nor Reggae music is the featured genre in these clubs (you’re lucky if you hear 20% of Dancehall in any given night). What the Jamaican government doesn’t realize is that by clamping down on outdoor or street dances they are effectively killing the economies of local communities. If you’ve ever been to an outdoor dance you know you’ll have your pan chicken vendor, the guy who goes around the dance  selling cigarettes, gum etc and last but not least the weed man.  Selectors host dance competitions for the female patrons, which are funded by cash received from “money pull-ups.” The Jamaican dancehall has its own micro economy that is systematically being destroyed by our government.  

In the heyday of Passa Passa, Tivoli Gardens, notorious for its crime and violence, was the safest place you could be in Kingston on a Wednesday night. The residents knew that if they caused trouble they would receive a tap on the shoulder and be summoned to the don of all Dons. I fail to understand how the Jamaican government hasn’t put 2+2 together and figured out that crime has increased since they started locking off dances. Is it ignorance? Or they just don’t care?     

Instead of locking off dances, why doesn’t the government charge promoters extra for permits that allow dances to go past 2 am? I guarantee a majority of promoters would have no problems paying extra especially since parties generally don’t get started until 1:30-2am anyway. Why can’t our government take the initiative and set up hostels or at the least help facilitate the setting up of hostels, and organize or help organize tour guides for travellers who want to experience our Jamaican culture? Many visitors surely don’t want to stay in the Hilton or the Pegasus. Many visitors can’t afford to stay in the Hilton or Pegasus.  Why not help organize trips to dances in different parishes and work with promoters who are willing to accommodate these tourists and show them what our country is all about? The government would make money either through having direct control of these ventures or through licensing fees and taxes imposed on said ventures.  More importantly it would be involved in structuring and packaging our biggest export, Jamaican Culture. These are just a couple of things I think can be done. A more enterprising mind can and will probably come up with more and better ideas.

Dancehall music itself has become such a global phenomenon that two of the genre’s biggest hits in the last two years, “Summertime” and  “Ravin’ were produced by a European producer. Recent albums by Hip-Hop artists Jay Z & Kanye West both sampled Dancehall songs, and the latter’s album had a fresh verse from Assassin. Go anywhere in the world and you’re almost guaranteed to find some version of a dance or Sound System culture. Sound clashes are one of my favorite things about Dancehall culture. How many clashes are kept in Jamaica these days? In contrast go to countries like The Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and Austria. Clashes take place VERY regularly and are VERY well attended. Heck, even the clash scene In New York is starting to make a come back. Where is the birthplace of this clash culture, Jamaica, in all of this? P Diddy, Puff Daddy, Diddy or whatever he calls himself these days put on a sound clash in Kingston this past December (and the winner took home US$20,000) just because he always wanted to experience a sound clash in Kingston. Imagine that? And though the clash was set up quickly, he got value for his money in my opinion as some of Jamaica’s best stepped up to compete with the winner being Tony Matterhorn (up for debate but that’s my opinion as a longtime clash fan).

 

Major acts such as Major Lazer have taken our Dancehall and Reggae sound and culture and packaged it and resold it to us.  They shot videos for two of their singles “Get Free” and “Watch Out For This (Bumaye)” the latter of which was specific to Kingston Jamaica circa 1993.  Look at how well they were received earlier this year in Kingston. Did any of the patrons of this concert even realize what they were listening to? If Johnny Osbourne were to give a concert in Kingston I’m almost certain he wouldn’t have half the turn out Major Lazer did. Oh, by the way Johnny’s voice is sampled on their latest album on the song “Jah No Partial.” 

“Protect The Culture” a Spragga Benz tune off his last album Shotta Culture echoes my sentiments. Ownership needs to be taken of what is OURS.  It’s not an uptown or a downtown thing. It’s a JAMAICAN thing and we need to treat it as such. 

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Comments
8 Responses to “Guest Post | Dancehall and Reggae to the World! But in Jamaica…?”
  1. Emma Lewis says:

    What do you suggest Jamaicans do to “take ownership”? And why do you think it is rejected?

    I am not sure dancehall is such a big genre globally. Sure, it is hugely popular in certain niche markets – just like many other types of music. But it is not exactly mainstream. There are large audiences for many types of music in Europe, etc. (have you seen the massive audiences that a good rock or blues festival can pull together for example?)

    In my view that doesn’t make dancehall in particular a “global phenomenon.” It is just a small part of the musical mosaic, which is incredibly diverse in Europe and the U.S. I stayed in London for 6 weeks last year and heard occasional snatches of dancehall on the street, mixed up with techno, R&B, rock, all kinds of music from Pakistan, India etc., and all the other stuff. My young cousin works with a hip music company in London and could only name one dancehall artiste when I asked him (perhaps because he is on a murder charge). So I think you may be exaggerating its popularity abroad.

    I guess you could look at the actual dance aspect of it separately though – dancing per se is very much in vogue. But again, ALL kinds of dance. My point is that the “music scene” overseas is MUCH bigger and MUCH more diverse obviously, so it will indeed look as if dancehall is hugely popular overseas. I truly don’t know what direction it’s going in, in Jamaica. It seems to me its popularity has waned somewhat, but why is the question?

    Just my thoughts for what they are worth!

    • CJ Anonymous Guest Poster says:

      Emma,

      Your way of thinking about OUR music & culture is my point EXACTLY. You obviously have read my post. Have you gone and done a YouTube search as I suggested? Have you recently been to Weddy Wednesdays or any “street” party in Kingston? When was the last time you’ve traveled through Europe not just London? I PERSONALLY have been to Dancehall parties all over Europe & Asia and seen how Jamaican culture has been adopted and as a Jamaican, it angers me when people doubt how accepted and loved our music is, both Reggae & Dancehall.

      Just because your cousin couldn’t name more than one Dancehall artist doesn’t mean it’s not popular, especially in London of all places. I am also willing to wager that whatever scene your cousin is based in has some kind of connection or roots to Dancehall & Reggae. Many artist who are considered global phenomenons have collaborated with Dancehall artist in recent years. Go back to the examples listed in my post. Further examples include Electronic Dance Music sensation Skrillex’s collaboration with Damian Marley last year, Bob Sinclar (House/Dance Music producer & DJ) was one of the first in his genre to include Dancehall artists in his music (Shabba appears on one of his earlier projects). Oh and by the way, he was nominated for a Reggae GRAMMY. Can you imagine that? French dance music producer nominated for a Reggae Grammy.

      Do you know who Major Lazer is? Please do some research into who they are and what their product is. Have you ever heard of Mixpak records? If Dancehall isn’t a global phenomenon why are major artist like Kanye & Jay -Z (who incidentally hates Reggae/Dancehall) sampling Dancehall artist? Why does an international artist like Drake want to do a Dancehall album? Why was R&B artist Ne-Yo in Jamaica a few years back searching for artist? Why did Snoop do an album which features Dancehall artist? Why do all the dancers and selectors from other countries come to Jamaica to experience the culture first hand when they could learn from YouTube videos and do business via email?

      There was a point during the 90s where several of our Dancehall artist had major label deals and were doing collaboration with Hip-Hop stars and headlining major non-Reggae & Dancehall venues all over the world. Surely major labels wouldn’t sign niche artist. That’s what indie labels are for.

      Now back to the first question you asked, how do I suggest Jamaican’s take ownership. First step is to realize what goes on outside of Jamaica, which most, not all Jamaicans haven no clue about. I’ve traveled enough to tell you firsthand that Dancehall is more than a niche and the sooner people such as yourself realize that we can begin to capitalize on what is ours. Let’s not repeat history and have the world accept our culture just as the world accepted Bob Marley before we did.

  2. Annie Paul says:

    The staying power and influence of Dancehall is something Jamaicans, particularly older Jamaicans–read policy-makers–are in deep denial about. The wanton destruction of the street dance economy is only outdone by the foolish slashing and burning of our ganja economy. One day 50 years from now when the country is booming from these economies being exploited rather than eradicated Jamaicans will shake their heads at the ignorance of their forebears.

    • CJ Anonymous Guest Poster says:

      Thank you Annie Paul! Didn’t want to get into the discussion of our ganja economy but that is also a very valuable revenue stream we are destroying. I’m hoping our future leaders are a little more worldly and business savvy and will be able to recognize what the world has a LONG time ago.

  3. petchary says:

    I am not “in denial” about anything; and I do not appreciate your tone. I am clearly not the expert that you are. But I do travel regularly and don’t SEE this widespread love of dancehall that your article suggests. You ignored the main point I made – that this genre of music is just a part of the incredibly diverse music scene out there (I did not use the word “niche,” by the way). Perhaps because you are a bit of a “purist” (nothing wrong with that). But do Americans worry about “ownership” of jazz music or hip hop, for example? Do Australians get upset about the use of aboriginal music in collaborations, chill out music? etc etc I don’t think so. It is all “mixed up” these days (as you suggest, with all your examples of collaborations, sampling etc). So I don’t see this as a big issue.

    • CJ Anonymous Guest Poster says:

      What about my tone don’t you appreciate exactly? This I’m curious about. Also, were you born in Jamaica?

      Once again just because YOU don’t see it does not mean it doesn’t exist. How many of the countries I’ve listed have you visited in the past 2 years? Furthermore when you visit other countries how much do you really pay attention to the musical landscape of a region? Do you go out to a variety of clubs and bars and hear what is being played? Have you been involved in any way with the dance culture in the counties I’ve listed?

      I’m not in any way a purist. I think you’re missing the point of my post. I love the fact that you can find Dancehall anywhere & everywhere in the world. I love the fact that it’s nurtured and spread throughout the globe. Makes me proud to be a Jamaican when I travel. My point is that Dancehall Music and Dance is not recognized and supported as it should be in it’s own birthplace.

      All those genre’s you’ve named above are taught in schools (some public) in countries all around the world. There are people who travel from all around the world to learn Hip-Hop & Jazz dance in the US (as well as Dancehall).There are schools that teach people how to produce various types of music all over the world. Now to Jamaica, where are our schools that teach the youth how to produce music? What constitutes a “dancehall sound” versus a “Hip-Hop” sound? Where are the schools that teach Dancehall dance? It’s history? Where what started? Genres such as Hip-Hop & Jazz don’t need to worry about ownership because their history is well documented and the rest of the world still looks to the US as trendsetters (This is slowly changing but is still the case for urban music).There are Hip-Hop children’s books detailing the history of Hip-Hop, what are it’s elements and where it started. This DOES NOT mean that Hip-Hop & Jazz scenes don’t exist in other countries.

      Is any part of Aboriginal music and culture used in the mainstream the way Dancehall music is? If so can you please point me to examples.

      I’m in no way ignoring your point that Dancehall is a part of a diverse global scene. Yes, it makes up a part of what is a huge pie, however we can all identify the other pieces, where they are from and what their history is. Can you honestly say the same for Dancehall? I once overheard a conversation where a dance teacher in another country said Dancehall dance came from hula.

      You probably don’t see it as a big issue because it’s not clear what kind of market share Dancehall & Reggae really have worldwide. Put a number to it that’s comparable with the likes of, lets say Hip-Hop and i’m sure things will look a little different.

  4. Firstly, I’d just like to say that I really enjoyed reading this article… and the comments! I’m a Londoner with Jamaican heritage and from what I’ve experienced and grown up with, reggae and dancehall music plays a major part in clubs/parties in and around the capital! For some of the mainstream clubs reggae dancehall is played, but is under the umbrella of (urban) so not everyone knows the roots of the music. But you don’t need to dig deep to find a real reggae dancehall club/party in London…
    I just wanted to add another thing about how widespread Jamaican culture is in London. I’ve seen for years how Jamaican culture has had a major influence in the capital. Our dialect for example is a prime example of how JA culture has influenced Londoners – almost all ethnicities are now adopting the patois words or sounds and a recent study has actually confirmed this. A new term has been penned MLE – Multicultural London English which is basically a combination of Caribbean patois with a British accent! It just goes to show how widespread Jamaican culture and music is and its potential…

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