Evolution inna di dancehall: innovation at the microphone @ Reggae University 2009

7 julio 2009

“You can’t explain dancehall with words, you have to experience it yourself”- that’s what famous dancehall selector Ricky Trooper once stated. Well, we gave it a try and fortunately we had the opportunity to talk about dancehall from an academical point of view, represented by Dr. Donna P. Hope Marquis, lecturer in Reggae studies at the University of the West Indies, author of „Inna di Dancehall“ and social anthropologist Dr. William ‘Lez’ Henry, author of „What the Deejay said“. On the other hand we had two originators of the phenomenon called dancehall to join todays session: the legendary Studio One foundation DJ Lone Ranger and veteran singer Carlton Livingston.

Both artists gave us their view on the topic, recalling their steps into the business and what it meant to perform on a soundsystem in the late 70’s and early 80’s. You were close to the audience, you had to be on the spot with your lyrics, finding matching rhymes to any riddim the selector gave you to chant over. Inspired by icons like U Roy and Big Youth, Lone ranger gained huge success in the dancehall circuit with hits like „Answer“, „Love Bump“ or „Rosemarie“, all over well-known Studio One riddims. Also each soundsystem he was associated with (Soul II Soul,Virgo) increased its popularity.

Rangers long-time friend and business partner Carlton Livingston had similar stories in store, e.g. how he instantly found lyrics to a song after certain incidents had happened around him. So dancehall was, is and will always be a mirror of society, dealing with any topic appearing to be relevant for the common people. Is it slackness, which was always there, is it violence and gun-related lyrics or anything else out of the ghetto people’s daily struggling.
Dr. Hope is passionately connected to the dancehall scene from an early age on, as she attended dances on a regular base, being somewhat of a „dancehall queen“. So it was natural for her to put this enthusiasm on an academical level during her studies. Having Dr. Carolyn Cooper as an excellent mentor, she became one of the few academical defenders of dancehall culture in the conservative environment of the university.

Dr. Henry, who was also a dancehall DJ (Lezlee Lyrix) in the UK, pointed out the crucial importance of yard tapes with live recordings of soundsystem shows in Jamaica and how they inspired the whole bunch of British dancehall artists to evolve their styles. The modality of early so-called Rub-A-Dub dances in Jamaica (very dark, privately arranged, open air events in peoples yards) were somehow transfered to the UK, but due to the climatic conditions, they had to be put into closed venues with more light. So the performers could no longer hide in the dark, they had to maintain standing in the spotlight.

The two artists showed huge respect for the European massive, as they seem to have much more appreciation for the foundation. So they enjoy touring Europe and much to our delight, will keep on doing it as long as possible.

Referring to the fight dancehall currently faces in Jamaica, Dr. Hope gave us a brief insight look at her efforts to overcome this polarisation in the society. Dancehall songs are often blamed for evoking violence and lewdness, but there’s no substantiated evidence for this, as the topics were always present. The infamous ‘daggering’ (hardcore dry sex movements) is according to Dr. Hope, a modern form of Rub-A-Dub whining. Guns and badmen are reality in the society, so banning the corresponding lyrics won’t stop anything, as dancehall is a reflection of the truth. The problems need to be solved differently.

Yes, we gave it a try. But still, words can hardly describe the dancehall phenomenon. So go to as many dances as possible, support the scene and experience it for yourself. Big up!

16* Rototom Sunsplash 2009
Jul 2-11 Osoppo Italy