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Dancehall Music

Written by on April 3, 2018


Dancehall music and culture hail from the Caribbean island of Jamaica. It is a child of reggae music and generally has a high-energy delivery with an emphasis on dancing and fun with a rebellious, anti-establishment ethos.

The genesis of Dancehall lies in Jamaica’s history of colonialism and slavery. Western Europeans, namely the Spanish and the British, conquered Jamaica in the 15th century, and committed a genocide of the original people, the Arawaks/Tainos.

After killing all the Arawaks, the Europeans calculated they needed slave labor to work the Jamaican sugar plantations in order to acquire significant wealth. Through the trans-Atlantic slave trade they bought “slaves” from Africa to work on the plantations. The slaves in Jamaica were primarily from Africa’s West Coast, mainly from what was then called the Gold Coast, and is now primarily known as Ghana, and to a lesser extent, parts of Nigeria. Later in the trade the colonialists also got “slaves” from the Congo region of Africa.

The “slaves”, ancestors of most Jamaicans, had, of course, brought their own sophisticated and complex cultures, worldviews and way-of-being with them to Jamaica – which included their unique cultural constructions of interpreting and explaining the world through music and dance. Over hundreds of years the African ways of ritualistically performing their worldviews through music and dance were combined with elements of the European colonialists’ structures of culture, which eventually evolved into various forms of unique Jamaican music and dance. These Jamaican folk forms of music and dance, with their accompanying philosophies, including myal, revival, mento, brukkins, quadrille, jonkunoo, kumina, gereh-benta, dinki-mini, ska, rock-steady, and reggae, were the precursors to the emergence of Dancehall.

Dancehall was first known primarily as a type of venue for a specific class of people, the so-called “lower-class”, to dance, be who they are, and have a good time. Later, in the 1970s, Dancehall evolved a distinct musical sound/genre that was recognized as unique to its space. In the following decade, the 1980s, the sound of Dancehall became even more unique when Kings Jammys studio launched the digital age of Dancehall with the Sleng-Teng rhythm (riddim). That was followed by the 1990s, which yielded the most successful decade of Dancehall music and culture.

Presently, Dancehall music is somewhat on the wane in Jamaica – only when compared to its phenomenal popularity in the 1990s. However, it is still relatively dominant and still represents the principal form of music culture entertainment in Jamaica.

Dancehall also enjoys significant international recognition in various regions of the world. This is both from the lasting popularity of some 90s artistes and also from contemporary artistes over the years. Dancehall DJs (rappers) from the 90s, such as Beenie Man, Bounty Killa, Sizzla, Elephant Man, Busy Signal, Sean Paul, Shaggy, and others, still enjoy remarkable popularity across the world. Artists from the 2000s such as Vybz Kartel, Mavado, Popcaan, Junior Gong (Damian Marley), Alkaline and others, presently enjoy significant popularity and success across the world.

Dancehall’s distinct dancing is also experiencing dramatic success across the world with its unique movement vocabulary. The demand and interest for Dancehall dancing have so increased, that thousands of young people all over are now practitioners and teachers of the craft, mainly in the wider Caribbean, Western Europe, Japan and parts of Africa.

Dancehall continues to manifest unique permutations in its evolution….and its future seems certain to continue to evolve in interesting and unpredictable ways.

Tambourine Radio features several selectors (DJs) who are experts in Dancehall music.


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