Dancehall is a polular type of music originated in the late 70s in Jamaica, as a result of varying political and socio-economic factors. It is also known as bashment.
Dancehall is characterized by a deejay singing and toasting (or rapping) over danceable music riddims. The rhythm in dancehall is much faster than in traditional reggae, sometimes with drum machines replacing acoustic sets. In the early years of dancehall, some found its lyrics crude or “slack”, because of its sexual tones. Like its reggae predecessor, dancehall eventually made inroads onto the world music scene.
Dub poet Mutabaruka maintained, “if 1970s reggae was red, green and gold, then in the next decade it was gold chains”. As was indicated in the article on murder music, there is furious debate among purists as to whether it should be considered some sort of extension of reggae music.
Dancehall is the mother of hip hop and owes its name 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”. Dancehall, the musical genre, is long considered to be the creation of Henry “Junjo” Lawes in 1979. The production of dancehall music was further refined by King Jammy in the early 80s, during the transition from dub to dancehall, and original attempts to digitize “hooks” to “toast” over by Jamaican deejays.
Dancehall’s predecessor; reggae music, was influenced heavily by the ideologies of the Rastafarian culture and was further goaded by the socialist movements of the era. Many became embittered by the movements and the harsh economic realities they brought the island to bear. It was during this time that the neo-liberalphilosophies of greed and covetousness began factoring into the lives of many Jamaicans, which subsequently spawned this original “bling bling” form of entertainment.
Typically, dance halls are found in more urbanized areas of Jamaica, i.e., Kingston, but can also be seen in more rural locations. Furthermore, the term ‘dancehall’ alludes not only to a musical genre or venue, but on a grander scheme, it suggests the institution of an entire culture in which music, dance, community and politics collide.
As an evolution of first reggae, then rocksteady, dancehall draws upon its roots with regard to its stylistic rudiments. However, that, some say, is where the similarities end. The subject matters of dancehall music tend towards profanity, misogyny, violence and most recently is the cause celebre of homosexuals and and by members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered community (GLBT) who are opponents of dancehall lyrics – a stark contrast from the so called songs of acceptance and social progression sung by reggae pathfinders. Its caustic tones, which are referred to in the region as “slack lyrics”, have been rigorously criticized – most notably by artists and followers of classic reggae music.
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 objects of pleasure. These women would team up with others to form “modeling possess”, or “dancehall model” groups, and informally compete with their rivals.
This newfound materialism and conspicusness 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.
Major artists and milestones
Dancehall emerged in the early 1980s, and most of the creative output can be credited to studio musicians Steely & Clevie, along with the handful of producers they collaborated with. They created the music for many of the riddims that the genre was based on. The decade saw the arrival of a new generation of deejays, most distinct were the harder edged, such as Ninjaman, Flourgon, General Trees, Tiger, Admiral Bailey, Super Cat, Yellowman, Tenor Saw, Shelly Thunder, Reggie Stepper, Shabba Ranks, Johnny P, Peter Metro, Charlie Chaplin, Cutty Ranks, and Papa San to name a few. To complement their sound, a “singjay” vocal style evolved out of roots reggae and R&B, with proponents like Pinchers, Cocoa Tea, Sanchez, Admiral Tibet, Frankie Paul, Half Pint, Conroy Smith, Courtney Melody, Carl Meeks, and Barrington Levy.
The genre was so popular that established reggae singers like Gregory Isaacs, Militant Barry, Beres Hammond, Johnny Osbourne and U-Roy transitioned into dancehall.
In the early 90s, songs like Dawn Penn’s re-issue of “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 and in to the new millania such much so that everyone from hardcore rappers to established singers are now teaming up with deejays to create a unique blend of music.
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.
In the late 1990s, many practitioners like Buju Banton and Capleton returned to the Rastafari movement and changed their lyrical focus to “consciousness”, a reflection of the spiritual underpinnings of Rastafari.
Like anything the “popular cuilture views as out side of the law or outlaw, Dancehall is forging major inroads into the listening spaces of people around the world to the point where even those who realize the extremeness of the lyrics contained in the music, can’t help but rock to the beat and rhythm.
Lady Saw – Chat to mi back