How to make dancehall music great again - Revisit the past to look forward
In meandering through The Gleaner’s inaugural Entertainment Forum, where panellists highlighted the prevalence of dancehall music on the international charts, dissected technology’s influence on young, contemporary Jamaican music producers and questioned how to put island sound – produced directly from the island – back into the global popular music space, there was no one solution. Instead, the reclamation of dancehall music into the hands of Jamaican performers could possibly rely on two actions: we should call popular contemporary Jamaican productions something else – keep it separate from the genre’s established and internationally recognizable musical elements, while simultaneously bridging the ‘gap’ between the foundation producers of dancehall music and the new generation hybrids who now dominate the local scene.
Among the Forum’s panellists were Patra, Benzly Hype, Squeeze, Koriq Clarke, Danny Browne, Gahlxi and producer, songwriter, saxophonist Fraser - who offered that the ‘bastard-hip-hop,’ which is being labelled dancehall, should be called something else. “We have our village stars and our parish stars, but we need international stars. If we continue like this, people like Ed Sheeran ah guh really run dancehall business, while we have it in Jamaica just playing around with it. When you try to do what I call a bastard version of a hip-hop song and then label it dancehall… I have a problem with that,” Fraser said.
In agreement with Fraser’s idea are Clarke and Browne, who both contemplated and offered the same. “The use of the term ‘dancehall music’ referring to the music that they’re making now, that’s my biggest issue. I have no issue if the sound changes. But dancehall is something that I am very passionate about. We’ve established a genre that has been accepted internationally, and everybody around the world accepts it for what it is,” Browne said.
In his view, the new generation of producers and artistes have created a new form of music, that is incorrectly referred to as dancehall. He added: “Dancehall was once two words – dance and hall. Dancehall music was a genre that was created in the ‘80s with songs like Punany. If you look on Ed Sheeran and anyone who is making dancehall internationally, they will always refer to dancehall music, that is their intention, to make dancehall music.”
Fraser reiterated that a lot of current, global, pop music is dancehall. “But not in Jamaica. It’s not coming from Jamaica. All of this is coming from outside of Jamaica. The riddim tracks that we are doing are not sounding as ‘dancehall’ as they should. While the superstars out there are using the real dancehall feel and vibe, that’s becoming the new pop sound all over the world.”
As the dancehall-influenced, new pop sound takes over the world, panellists suggest new-generation producers are doing something else. “What the youth are making today, anyone outside of Jamaica doesn’t refer to it as dancehall because they don’t recognise it. I think the music is evolving, but what the youth have done, they have eliminated dancehall totally. It’s a whole new music,” Browne said.
Established from the discussion was the fact that technological advancements in music and computer production aided the development of dancehall music and its ascension to international popularity. Some panellists argued that such advancements also stifled the development of would-be, new-era, dancehall producers, who chose cross-genre experimentation.
Agreeing that locally produced music doesn’t sound like dancehall, Clarke’s contention lies in the experiments’ imitative qualities. He questioned: “Our dancehall music has always been original. What we’ve put out there only exists here. Jamaica has that kind of attention advantage.
When we talk about the evolution of dancehall music it brings us to a place where the music is no longer original. It doesn’t sound anything like us. We’re now imitating. This is why you have the people who want to sample dancehall or build riddims to sound like dancehall, they’re copying stuff from 20 or 30 years ago. If there is going to be a problem, that is problem I have. Instead of turning to the people who used to imitate us, why not change into a brand new, original things?”
Representing the ‘next generation’, Ajusdivybz producer, Gahlxi, suggested that the advent of technology, which offers a smorgasbord of click and play sounds and beats, has also contributed to divergent contemporary productions. “What’s causing dancehall to kind of shift is the choice of instruments – snares, kick and bass.
Some producers don’t know the right snare to use, or choose not to use it.” Frazer added: “We have young producers who, I think, are not as great musically. But them ah yute, and them ah hear the thing different and yuh cyaa fight that either. But I think they should seek a little help here and there. Look how small Jamaica is, and we have four or five different genres of music that is international. Dancehall is a part of that. It has to keep its originality and make sense, so it can stand out there on its own. We have to revisit to look forward.”
“Let’s be frank here, the biggest dancehall tune is still being used by every US act. Murder She Wrote (Bam Bam Riddim), as far as I’m concerned, is still the biggest dancehall song. All this longevity comes from being musical.
I would like to see our young producers get a little more musical. We have to get back to our original state.
We were always a country where we have original music. That is such a great thing,” Fraser concluded.