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That "Dancehall Appeal" is Real!

"why celebrate soca/carnival music in the streets of Jamaica while the music of island is tucked away in the 'dancehalls?"

"The music is called Reggae and Dancehall is the culture. Dancehall is a revolutionary place because when disc jockey bwoy never waan play we music pon radio a Dancehall we haffi carry we music go play..." ~Chronixx~ Dread n Terrible USA Jul 2014~. 

And that's how it all unfolded but overtime, different elements of the reggae genre, started to take shape and in the same manner in which it embodies elements of ska, mento and RnB, Dancehall evolved. From what was a 'revolutionary place' for playing reggae to the Jamaican branded 'Dancehall' genre, a more sparse version of Reggae than the roots styleAs time went by, one was able to see clearly, why a distinction between the genres was inevitable.

People embrace music the way they want to hear it. The sounds, lyrics, creativity all come together in a moment and a decision is made. Both genres basically covers the sames issues/topics but appeal to different audiences at times. For example, the music of Agent Sasco formerly Assassin who has stuck to positive, conscious lyrics over a hard hitting dancehall beat. And Queen Ifrika, who singjay the same positive, conscious lyrics but mainly over reggae beats. Both artistes are loved and respected in their own rights but are classified as Dancehall and Reggae artistes. So the distinction made there is between beats. Or, as in the case of Chronixx and Vybz Kartel. One would never describe Chronixx as 'mad' reggae or Dancehall. Instead, his music and form of expression is called roots/reggae, conscious reggae or Reggae in general. Chronixx lyrics can be thought provoking but subtly expressed and his choice of beats are mostly reggae. Whereas, Vybz Kartel 'mad dancehall' expression is aggressive, hardcore, stylish, trendy, hard hitting and controversial laid over hip gyrating, splits and puppy tail uptempo beats. Two totally opposite artistes who have also earned their respects in their own rights. Other examples are, Junior Gong, Protoge, Nesbeth, Jesse Royal, Kabaka Pyramid, all Roots-Reggae artistes who are deejays (toast over a mic) or singjay (fuse deejay and singing). Their styles are commonly associated with the Dancehall genre however, these artistes only create reggae music. 

Now this genre called 'Dancehall' has battled for life for a number of years. One can easily draw motivation from it's journey, if choose to look at it as a character. Like Reggae, it is also a true expression of Jamaicans; an art-form that expresses struggles, social injustice, religious beliefs, sex and sexual practices, happiness, trends and overall cultural practice of a people. There are times when I as a Jamaican feel strongly about certain music and probably wish it never made it out the studio but it is what it is. My own perception, appreciation or the lack thereof for a particular song, cannot be the only reason it should remain in, or not make it out of a studio, it's music.

We've often heard how Reggae is dying, oh! Scrap that, reggae music created by Jamaica's   artistes are dying, and even worse, Dancehall is dead! If you choose to believe that is so, ask yourselves, "then why has the 'Dancehall appeal' been as real as the fact that Bob Marley is one of, if not, the greatest artiste/musician of all times?" I can go back in history to the 90s era to make my point. But for the purpose of this article, will just take a few steps forward to more recent times. A vast majority of the Hip-Hop/rap community in the United States have now sampled, remix a song or collaborate with a Jamaican Dancehall artiste.  These songs, have also made their Billboard #1 albums and I said recent haven't I? Yes, Kanye West, Kendrick Llamar, Jay Z are all Hip-Hop heavyweights who have incorporated lyrics by a Dancehall artiste into their songs which made their US Billboard Top 100 Chart, #1 selling albums. Why have they sampled Dancehall on their albums? What is the significance of this? Well let me try not to answer this myself but refer to a statement made recently by someone of international stature, one of music's legends, the great Mick Jagger of the Rollingstones. In explaining why Vybz Kartel and Jay-Z are his favourite Hip-Hop artistes , Mick Jagger has not only categorized Dancehall drawing references between the twobut also made an interesting statement. He said, 'the appeal for Dancehall' is his reason for doing so.  What 'appeal' is he referring to? Is it the same 'appeal' felt across the world? 

It is a fact that Jamaicans have started to capitalize on our natural ability (talent/skills) and rightly so after missing the mark with the global appeal of the great Bob Marley's music and a wealth of knowledge by pan-Africanist, the Most Honourable Marcus Garvey. As we grow, even painfully slow, the interest placed on our athletes over the past few years and, the introduction of local music societies/organisations such as JaRIA, JAMMS and more recently, the Jamaican Government's initiative, National Registry of Entertainment and Creative Industries Practioners (I feel fire in my neck for this one but let me continue), film festival, major fashion shows and the herbs (LMAO), is a thrust in the right direction. After-all, it is better to be late than never right? But with those efforts now evident, so much more needs to be done to nurture Dancehall and Reggae music on the island. That 'appeal' that has drawn 70 year old Mick Jagger, Drake, Beyonce, Jay Z, Kendrick Llamar, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and so many other world reknown superstars is up for grabs. 

While I embrace soca/carnival, another music of the Caribbean that is strongly felt across the length and breath of the region; A lyrically suggestive but more than often, raunchy music like Dancehall, "why have the gatekeepers of the Jamaican music industry allowed a designated season to celebrate soca/carnival music in the streets of Jamaica while the music of island is tucked away in the 'dancehalls?" This is like flying the flag of another country in your country with little or no regards for your own flag. 

Soca/carnival music is embedded in young Jamaican music fans as it should, it is music of Caribbean origin. But Jamaica's music, a music, "that has inextricably linked since its origin in the 1960s with Jamaica and considered to be 'the heart and soul' of the country's entertainment landscape and hold an important place in the country's history. It's contribution to the island's cultural development is significant and cannot be discredited."~Professor Carolyn Cooper~

I'm calling for a Reggae/Dancehall JAMboree season on the island too, with just about the same stipulations and credence given to soca/carnival music in other islands. During that season, only Reggae and Dancehall music should be played/featured across all media and celebrated in our streets in the same manner as 'Cropover in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago CarnivalThese islands have dedicated a whole season to observe and celebrate their culture. We need to experience floats moving across the island displaying the different era of our music and the various artistes that contributed to its success as well. The intricate elements of the Reggae/Dancehall culture should be put on full display for the world to see. Such an event can be regulated and appreciated in the same manner as soca/carnival. I once heard a radio DJ said some of our young people don't know who is Pinchers? This is why there is no identity for some of the music we now hear and why we see news headlines with reference to artistes at odds with one another for stealing marketing strategies to promote their pornographic content. How lame is that? "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots" ~The Honourable Marcus Garvey

Some artistes are still in the blocks watching Gully Bop network, tour and make money because they're lost. This should not be, the founding fathers of this music have left the greatest of legacy for them to make good with. If many of these artistes grew up on the music of their forefathers even today, they would have been able to enhance the model. And this is mostly attributed to Dancehall artistes because the Reggae artistes have done their homework and is reaping the benefits already. So those who are serious about making it out those blocks, meditate on some of the lyrics of our greats "If you know your history, then you will know where you're coming from"....~Bob Marley~ and might I add, where you're going.

"Jamaica will always have the real thing, but it's what the industry does with it that determines its rise or fall." ~Copeland Forbes~
We continue to fight ourselves, giving little or no assistance to our entertainers in Jamaica. But with the help of social media, they are able to market their brands at nightly events. The overall showcase is then package in audio/visual formats and exported via Youtube and other online outlets across the world. This is how resilient and persistent the successful artistes are. It is from the exposure of this self reliant system, that most Dancehall entertainers reap their reward and in return are able to, feed their families and other families as well as provide employment for many. See charities spearheaded by some Dancehall/Reggae artistes

While some Jamaicans continue to feel 'cute' about who they are, other nationalities embrace our culture shamelessly. Like reggae music, the wise person(s) who sees value in the 'Dancehall' genre have started chipping away elements of it, graciously capitalizing on it's global appeal. There are speculations that Rihanna (who's debut single, the dancehall-reggae infused "Pon de Replay" marked her Billboard chart debut), might be teaming up with Dancehall artistes for her long awaited, upcoming album R8. Rih has demonstrated times over, that Dancehall and Reggae music is a part of of who she is, and understandably so, she's Caribbean and these genres are the most dominant in the region. But in so doing, Rihanna has evoke great interest in the genres among her millions of fans. As recent as around June 8, a Snapchat story and IG videos of the Bajan and world superstar shaking her a$$ and doing her cute, 'Thotty Pebbles' rock went viral. She was dancing to a Dancehall Tony Curtis remix If You Were Here and Vybz Kartel Dancehall tracks which were on full blast Flintstone themed, birthday party.

The video sent fans scrambling across Youtube to find these song. In a recent article entitled, Rewinding the charts and posted on the 'Diamonds' singer website, "Pon de Replay" is described as a folky song that continued Rihanna's trademark sonic exploration, which has, in addition to dancehall, encompassed dance/pop, hard-hitting hip-hop and soaring ballads. Ten years ago, young Rihanna when asked in an interview which Caribbean stars she would collab with, said Sean Paul and Vybz Kartel.

This publication is not a, 'Columbus's discovery' as Jamaicans would say when being sarcastic about a discovery that never was. The effect of the Dancehall genre on people across boundaries is nothing new.  Several artistes from it's inception in the 60s to current, have successfully contributed to it's far reaching effect. Some of who includes Shabba Ranks, Chaka Demus and Pliers, Lady Patra, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Lady Saw, Sean Paul, Mavado and Vybz Kartel to name a few, Yet, it seems, even after so long, we are still not able to identify what aspect of this music is so alluring and even if some of us do, have not been able to make it a sustainable asset? 

So, if one allows media perception to replace reality in every aspect of life then who needs common sense? Here we have been rocking this giant genre with mass 'appeal' in a stroller and, has given it a pacifier hoping it will remain quiet. Meanwhile, the rest of the world recognize the giant it is, embraces it and has moved to capitalize on it's infectious quality that causes people to like it

By: Sophia McKay