Before I begin writing this blog entry, I must admit that within my area of study, which mainly involves an interdisciplinary examination of Queer Theory, the study on the proliferation of dancehall music has proven to be somewhat problematic. Mainly due to the fact that in my analysis of the type of music, I have paid close attention to its predominance of homophobic rhetoric that are present in the songs of artist such as Shaba Ranks, Buju Banton, Elephant Man, Sizzla, Beenie Man, among many others. Many of these artist, though their songs have called for the killing of queer people particularly gay men, like Buju Banton’s anthem Boom Bye-Bye, in which he states “Batty boy dem haffi fi dead” = gay men should be killed. These types of homophobic lyrics and sentiments have gained much criticism from the academia, international media platforms, along with gay rights and human rights organizations. Dancehall music is Jamaica has served to perpetuate and escalate violent attacks against queer people and has helped to reinforce the discourse that Jamaica is “the most homophobic place on earth.”
Consequently, to say that I approached this week’s readings with some bias would be an understatement. Nonetheless, I thought Edwin Houghton and Rishi Bonneville’s piece Future Troubles: The New Dancehall Economy and Its implications in a Digital Age, did a very good job at placing dancehall music in its historical context as it pertains to dissemination within the digital age. From its early contribution to the New York hip-hop scene of the 1990s to its hybridization in the Pan-Caribbean music markets of the 2000’s, dancehall music has played a vital role in the shaping of western music sound. In its current form, its flamboyant aesthetics and performativity can be witnessed in Japanese Dancehall Contest, in Germany music videos, and in a Dancehall and Brazilian Zouk (fast tempo carnival style “jumpup” music) in Moscow Russia.
Much of the world-wide propagation of dancehall music as the authors point out, have been influenced by the world-wide web and the global shift to “a more youth-based culture.” The web has bridged the gap between the producer and the consumer, a Caribbean Diasporic space, such as New York City is no longer a prerequisite for its consumptions or production. Dancehall music peers can share new and more inventive “riddims” through forums such as Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
With all this in mind, it seems that dancehall music has truly become a transnational object. But as the authors further point out, the ability for dancehall music to be disseminated through global file-sharing platforms have radically amplified its overproduction and accelerated the devaluing of it as a commodity. Additionally, it has called in to question the originality of its many hybridized forms. But while dance music is being appropriated around the world, the Caribbean is being flooded by media images from the west, particularly that of America and Britain. This has caused many of its artist to leave the Caribbean in hopes of hitting in it big in in the U.S. or Britain.
Artist such as Tessanne Chen, winner of U.S. reality performance show the Voice, points out that after a long career in Jamaica with a steady following she decided to come to the U.S. because she was not able to compete with the overwhelming dominance of the western music styles that are present in the Caribbean. Tessanne’s gamble paid off buy many other artist are not so lucky.
So what is the next step for the Dancehall music scene? What is its “survival strategy”? With its worldwide production and devaluing increasing, will it be able to hold on to its place as a viable pop-music commodity?
On a final note, the one area I felt the authors neglected to discuss is the presence of extreme homophobia that is present as a overwhelming feature of many dancehall songs and how the industry will be able to reconcile this type of rhetoric in the “globalized” world. Many dancehall artists are now banned from performing in Canada, and parts of Europe and Asia, this through some effort impart by the Stop Murder Music Campaign. As recent as January 2014, Sizzla a prominent Jamaican dancehall artists was banned for life by the Jamaican Tourist Board from performing at STING, one of Jamaica’s most prominent music festivals,for his use of homophobic lyrics to incite hate.
Image taken from http://www.dreskull.com/blog/tag/dancehall/