Hello everyone, welcome back! There’s no language to translate this week because the most common language of Jamaica is English. This week on our stop around the world in 180 days, we’re gonna talk about reggae and dancehall music, which originated in Jamaica. Enjoy!
Dancehall is a genre of music that originated in Jamaica in the 1970s with roots and influences from reggae, R&B, and ska music. At first the music was more oriented towards international roots reggae, but as social and political changes occurred in the ‘70s, dancehall became more local with themes of social injustice and violence. Original instrumentation for dancehall music included drums, bass, guitar, and organ, and now includes instruments such as the drum machine and synthesizer. This new digital dance hall became more commonly known as “ragga”, and began to have increasingly faster rhythms compared to the recycled older rhythms of the 1960s. The new ragga scene was popularized by a new wave of deejays (not to be confused with DJs – disk jockeys) such as General Echo and Yellowman.
A common feature of the development of dancehall ragga music was music that was deejay-led, largely synthesized chanting with some kind of musical accompaniment. This was a very dramatic shift from the traditional style of reggae and dancehall music that had originated in the 1970s. Despite the extreme differences, some saw the changes as a kind of extension of reggae music, though there is still great debate about that considering reggae’s gentle roots and culture. In the 1990s, some dancehall hits made it to the United States and gained some popularity, like Dawn Penn’s (artist featured above) “No, No, No” and Patra’s “Worker Man”.
Despite the genre’s ability to challenge social inequality, it is a fusion of American aesthetics and the hardships of Kingston, Jamaica (the town where the genre first gained popularity in the ‘70s). This seems like a contradiction to the genre as it criticizes inequality but seems to praise a more comfortable life of luxury and wealth over that of poverty. The genre has even featured songs with anti-gay lyrics, though the writers and singers of those songs have been ridiculed and silenced for their hateful messages, causing such sentiment to change within the genre over the years. Although there is some incongruity within the genre, it still encourages its listeners to have fun and let loose, as its performances generally feature energetic dances for the audience to take part in.
I hope everyone enjoyed the dancehall/ragga music this week! Next week we’ll be heading to Scotland for some Celtic rock. Thanks and have a great week!
Hannah Wampler ’15 || Literary Staff