Monday, November 06, 2006

Dancehall Music Keeps the World Dancing

Dancehall is a type of Jamaican popular music which was developed around 1979, with exponents such as Yellowman, Super Cat, and Burro Banton. It is also known by some as "Bashment" or "Ragga". The style is characterized by a DJ singing and rapping or toasting over raw and danceable music riddims. The rhythm in dancehall is much faster than in reggae, with drum machines replacing acoustic sets. In the early years of dancehall, some found its lyrics crude and bawdy ("slack"), though it became very popular among youths in Jamaica. Like its reggae predecessor it eventually made inroads onto the world music scene. This deejay-led, largely synthesized speechifying with musical accompaniment departed from traditional conceptions of Jamaican popular musical entertainment. Dub poet Mutabaruka maintained, "if 1970s reggae was red, green and gold, then in the next decade it was gold chains". It was far removed from its gentle roots and culture, and there was furious debate as to whether it ought to be considered
some sort of extension of reggae music.


Dancehall is long considered to be the creation of Henry "Junjo" Lawes in 1979 and further refined by King Jammy in the early 80's during their transition from dub
to dancehall and original attempts to digitize "hooks" to "toast" over by Jamaican deejays. King Jammy's 1985 hit, "(Under Me) Sleng Teng" by Wayne Smith, with an entirely-digital rhythm hook took the dancehall reggae world by storm. Many credit this song as being the first "Digital rhythm" in reggae, leading to the modern dancehall era. However this is not entirely correct since there are earlier examples of digital productions; Horace Ferguson’s single ‘Sensi Addict’ (Ujama), produced by Prince Jazzbo in 1984, is one.

Major Artistes and Milestones

Dancehall emerged in the 80s, most of the creative output can be credited to studio musicians Steelie and Clevie along with the handful of producers they collaborated with. Steelie and Cle(e)vie (Wycliffe Johnson and Cleveland Brownie) created the music for 95% of the instrumental tracks (riddims, versions, dubplates) that genre was based on. The decade saw the arrival of a new generation of DJs (singers, toasters), most distinct were the harder edged, such as: Ninjaman, Flourgon, General Trees, Tiger, Admiral Bailey, Supercat, Yellowman, Tenor Saw, Shelly Thunder, Reggie Stepper, Shabba
Ranks, Johnny P, Peter Metro, and Papa San to name a few. To complement their sound a
"Sweet Sing" vocal style evolved out of roots reggae and R&B (marked by its falsetto almost feminine intonation) with proponents like: Pinchers, Cocoa Tea, Sanchez, Conroy Smith, Courtney Melody, Carl Meeks, Barrington Levy. It is important to note that a lot of established reggae singers like: Gregory Isaacs, Johnny Osbourne and U-Roy transitioned into Dancehall.

In the early 90's, songs like Dawn Penn's "No, No, No", Shabba Ranks "Mr. Loverman", 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.

1990-1994 saw the entry of artists like Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Shaggy, Spragga Benz, Capleton, and Beenie Man and a major shift in the sound of Dancehall, brought on by the introduction of a new generation of producers and for better or for worse, the end of Steelie and Clevie's stranglehold on riddim production.

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.

The early 2000s saw the success of newer charting acts such as Elephant Man, Sean
Paul, and Mr. Vegas.

Currently, Sean Paul has achieved mainstream success within the United States and has produced several Top 10 Billboard hits, including "We Be Burnin", "Get Busy", "Temperature" and the 2006 single "Give It Up To Me".

VP Records almost singlehandledly still dominates the dancehall music market with Sean
Paul, Elephant Man, and Buju Banton all signed to their native label. VP often has partnered with major record labels like Sony and Island in an attempt to further expand their distribution potential particularly in the U.S. market.

Pics of : Wayne Smith (top), Beenie Man (middle), and Sean Paul (bottom).

See you in Jamaica.


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