Sunday, September 24, 2006

Dancehall Grows Away From Roots

published: Sunday | September 24, 2006
Courtesy Of The Jamaica Gleaner

Krista Henry, Staff Reporter

"Dancehall was more than the music. Now the modelling come more than the music. The music could tone down a little, men coulda come out wid lyrics that more than just sell sex and violence."

- DJ Burru Banton

Currently, dancehall seems to be mainly about flesh, sex, violence and dancing. However, years ago it was all about creating the 'right vibe' in a space where music, dance and community energy merge.

Dancehall started from the work of early sound systems, such as Sir Coxsone's Downbeat, in the streets of Kingston. Only played at dances, it took hard work from dancehall's finest entertainers to get the new sound on radio in the early '80s. From there dancehall has achieved international success and effectively maintained Jamaica's place as a centre in world music.

Dancehall changed

But dancehall has changed from when it first started, a change that might not necessarily be for the better. In the mid- to late 1980s deejay Admiral Bailey was at the top of the game and he maintains that dancehall now and then are two different things.

While the music has changed, perhaps the biggest change is the dances themselves. The fashion, behaviour and dress typical of dances, such as Weddy Weddy Wednesdays, Hot Mondays, Passa Passa and Gabba Sundays, would not have been seen in dances years ago. According to Bailey, men in tight pants, pink shirts and with bleached out skin is a new phenomenon. He says, "Men were seen as rude boys. Dem a stand up inna di darkest corner of the fete. Back then women tek centrestage, nowadays men a tek over the dance and the video light."

Josey Wales, who has been deejaying from the 1970s, and Burru Banton, who emerged on the music scene in 1975, lamented about the nudist fashion sense of today's dancehall. "Dancehall was always concerned with the fashion thing, but it wasn't so x-rated. Everyone used to go to a dance to see the fashion, the ting is that men then didn't wear tight pants and the women didn't have their 'furniture' on display," Josey Wales said. Banton concurs that dancehall now is like a fashion house, where people go near naked, and says it has gone too far.

"We go a Asylum di other nite and di girls a dutty wine, OK. But now dem a hot fk. It gone too far. This is not like when we go dances where it used to be just fun", he said.

The veterans contend that while the fashion has changed and the dancehall has been elevated from a zinc fence lawn to a club, the music is still the same, with the exception of the lyrics. "Lyrics have changed over time. People want to hear about violent things now. Style and fashion, people used to love to hear about that," Bailey said.

Gangsterism the same

Wales contends that the gangsterism, a mentality he claims came from Rasta, the true founder of dancehall, is the same. "People tried to imitate them by wearing the khaki suit. Di music emulate the Rasta theory, way of thinking. The two greatest forces at the time was Rasta and Christians. Dancehall at that time was more Christian, the DJs were more Christian," he said.

"The only difference in the music is that it's a bit faster. We old guys can be on the same riddim as these new guys. You can sing anything you want, dem just bleep it out, which don't mek sense 'cause you get the storyline already. Back then you yourself wouldn't come out and talk dem tings, you neva need police to stop you," Josey Wales said.

Banton agrees that while in his heyday dancehall was considered slack, it was not violent like it is today. While he is not fighting against the artistes, as a concerned parent he does not want violent music in his household. "The amount of gun songs out there, telling kids you can kill people and is nothing. That's why we have so must violence. Dem tings must clean up," he said.

Another thing that needs to be cleaned up, according to Admiral Bailey, is the disunity among artistes. In his day there was a sense of community; now at a stage show, artistes avoid each other. "Now everyone is separate. You go behind stage and can't find no artiste. Dem stay inna dem bus until they are called," he said.

Burru Banton advises the present crop of DJs and dancehall fans to stop emulating American culture. He says, "Europe don't see dat side of di ting, the rawness. We a tek off America too much. We must put a Jamaica dream, where people want to come and dream of Jamaica. We a go backways."

Despite the criticism, none of them dispute the achievements and potential of dancehall music. Which was unexpected, as Admiral Bailey never thought the music would be as successful internationally as it is. "Dancehall is a creativeness, whether it's dancing, lyrics, sound, is just creative. We neva know dancehall coulda buss internationally. Dem time singers were di ting, we brought it to the next level. But like Sean Paul, Shaggy, Beenie Man, we didn't think people coulda go out dere and know and recognise Jamaican DJs," Bailey said.

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