Riddim inna the Market

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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/

8 comments

  1. Naia, by Caribbean diasporic space I did mean the physical. But I like how you have reconstructed it to mean a virtual space. This is the point of the class, no..;-) Also, when ?I say Caribbean diasporic space the physical, I say this in a way that can be an argument for the “authenticity” or originality of this music based on the physical space of its production. In that one can say, this is real dancehall music because it came out of Kingston or Brooklyn..;-)

  2. Jamal, a reading your comment brings to mind something we discussed briefly in class. The flamboyant performativity of dancehall music is something that it doesn’t not share in common with hip-hop. It seems that within dancehall performatvity exist this kind of “double consciousness.” The music being homophobic at times but the performance in many cases are gender segregated. For the males these performance can be viewed as being very homo-social if not homosexual. Well in any case something to think about, I haven’t fished it all out yet.

    Well, attached you will see “Masculinity as Homophobia” by sociologist Michael Kimmel, thought you would find this read very interesting.

    http://faculty.ucc.edu/psysoc-stokes/Masculinity.pdf

  3. Lusely, I am sure that this type of music will survive in some shape or form. But I guess the question I am has something to do with “authenticity” of that performance. Noticing that even the Jamaican government is on a active bid to increase revenues from tourism they are now on a campaign to “clean up their image. So much so that dancehall artist who use homophobic lyrics are being banned from performing “globalized” or high profile events in Jamaica. And to add to that most of these artist are not able to tour in Canada, Europe and Asia, along with the fact that they are now having difficulties finding venues that will host them in the United States. What will dancehalls survival look like?

    I am hoping that it can be transformed into something closer to that of Macklemores transformation of hip hop. For this we would need a new breed of dancehall artist who do not use misogyny and homophobia as tropes to the “authenticity” of the music.

  4. I always love when people bring out their personal opinions and research when discussing a topic — so many of us are already bringing that to the table and when we get to read yours along with our own and the content that’s the focal point of the discussion, it forces us to re-examine not only the content, but our own personal thoughts, feelings, and research as well.

    Also, your point that “a Caribbean Diasporic space, such as New York City is no longer a prerequisite for its consumptions or production” made me think a little because sometimes I still feel like it is, even with the advent of the internet and with the easy way to reach global audiences through social networking and such. I think maybe it makes it easier to reach across to these diasporic spaces and connect with people in order to make a name for yourself. It takes out the physical aspect, needing to go across or have someone else come across the waters and physically carry your music to some sort of distribution hub (like a music store). I may be misconstruing your meaning or overstepping my knowledge here, however, and if I am, I apologize.

  5. Super engaging blog post! When I was growing up I had no idea what the lyrics of these songs meant until a Jamaican professor I had for a class during undergrad pointed it out. This is definitely a reason for its worldwide success, and the acceptance of homophobia is almost embedded in the culture. As the lyrics are now being decoded and there is little tolerance for homophobia across the globe I believe the content would need to change to keep it alive for sure. I just wonder if the artists or people within the genre run the risk of getting “soft” in doing so? I know many in hip hop had to deal with that critique. Interestingly enough, Jay Z and Nas (considered hip hop gods at this point in the game) are exempt from being critiqued in this respect. How do artists reach the point where they can actually change the game and be respected for doing so?

  6. Dwight, this was an awesome post which highlights homophobia in dance hall music. Growing up in the 80’s I was a huge fan of Buju Banton and I really liked his anthem song. Around that time I was only about 8 or 9 years old and I can remember walking around my house singing this song which glorifies and promotes the killing of gay men. Back then I had no clue what the meaning of that song was, I just thought the beat was cool. It wasn’t until I was a little bit older, when truly understood the meaning of the song. I immediately urged everyone that I knew, to stop singing blindly and start listening to lyrical content of the songs in which we so proudly sing. I think that all artist who promote homophobia in their music should be penalized. Which can hopefully put an end to homophobia in all music genres.

  7. You do raise an interesting point about the flagrant homophobia that exist in dancehall culture and the industry being able to reconcile this with the “globalized’ world. But it’s important to remember that hip hop culture has also been very homophobic and the history of homophobia in hip hop dates back to the 1970’s. Now granted in most cases it probably is not as explicitly expressed like it is in dancehall, but it is present. Nonetheless, some of these hip hop songs that express homophobic sentiments have shot up the music charts and have been accepted by the “globalized” world. Recently, hip hop artistes like JayZ have spoken out in support of gay rights, signalling a shift in hip hop mentality. Maybe more dancehall artistes need to do the same?

  8. Dwight, this is such an interesting post! I found your discussion of homophobia in dancehall music particularly interesting. These sentiments are also abundant in western hip hop music although certain artist like Macklemore (which is considered alternative rap) trying to shift the conversation.
    As for the survival of Dancehall in the face of a digital world that makes the desemination of western music more abundant, I think that in the Western sphere, where ethnic music is very popular, it will survive on it’s own. I believe that it will will rise in popularity here like the music of Sean Paul did in the early 2000’s. I also think we should consider the shift of many contemporary pop/alternative artists to experiment with their sound and incorporate a dancehall sound (Shakira has done this recently on her new CD).

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