Jade Williams | Dancehall can boost tourism
"Dancehall ah mi everyting."
These lyrics are the refrain to Vybz Kartel's 2015 hit titled Dancehall, a song that chronicles the scenes and sounds of the modern-day version of the genre. Though always in a state of revival, dancehall has existed in one form or another since as early as the 1950s, coming to life in the 1980s, originating from the nation's most vulnerable, its poor.
In poor communities, dancehall is viewed almost as a saviour - a means to record the experiences that often go unheard and unnoticed. It also serves as a way for disenfranchised young men, especially, to provide for their families, and often, to do the same for their wider community.
According to Dancehall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto by Sonjah Stanley Niaah, in 2008, more than 6,000 people were directly employed in the industry, supporting an additional 43,000, and generating an estimated J$800 million in revenue. While dancehall is revered in poor communities, middle- and upper-class communities have often looked at the genre with disdain, preferring to enjoy the music at clubs and expensive parties, but decrying it as lewd and violent in other spaces. The raw Patwa, explicit lyrics and harsh realities of Jamaican truth are scorned and sequestered away as reggae's uncouth cousin.
Dancehall was not born for tourist consumption, but as a medium for the honest telling of Jamaican history; this is what makes it unique and appealing. It is unaltered, unapologetic, and is a worthwhile cultural tourism product.
Though dancehall's reach is already global, it is not marketed in the same way as reggae. Reggae is used in Jamaica's national tourism campaigns, and reggae artistes often receive more opportunities to perform at government-sponsored/-promoted events, leading to further career opportunities. Dancehall music is not mentioned at all in Jamaica's tourism strategy.
Dancehall artistes do not get the support of the Government on the promotion of their art and are not given the same opportunities as reggae artistes to build their fan bases. Artistes have also been subjected to questionable barred performances, with authorities citing that the music might "incite violence". This has led to further economic disenfranchisement of already struggling dancehall artistes and the perpetuation of stigma surrounding the genre.
Dancehall as a cultural tourism product must gain the respect of the people of the nation in which it was born, and more importantly, the respect of the government of Jamaica. The authenticity of the product must be central to its marketing strategy, and so the Jamaican Government must accept that dancehall is the brainchild of a segment population which it intended to stifle.
Once the stigma of dancehall is removed from the eyes of the public, the product can be marketed internationally through public and private partnerships, creating further opportunities for those who are the creators of this genre - the disenfranchised.