Tue | Aug 14, 2018

Hope for Dancehall

Published:Sunday | April 17, 2016 | 12:00 AMCurtis Campbell
Dr Donna Hope

Cultural analyst/senior lecturer at the Institute of Caribbean Studies and the Reggae Studies Unit, Dr Donna Hope, has refuted claims by critics that dancehall music is gradually being ousted by the soca genre.

Dr Hope, who caught wind of the controversy stirred on social media by record producer Skatta Burrell and media personality ZJ Rush last week, relating to carnival's popularity and soca music's growth in Jamaica, took to social media to defend dancehall, claiming that the genre is here to stay.

Jamaican genre

When contacted by The Sunday Gleaner, she further enforced her point. Dr Hope argued that soca is a seasonal genre, while dancehall has surpassed the test of time because of it's variety of topics and the ability for the Jamaican genre to win the attention of the youth.

ZJ Rush had said in a recent interview that dancehall fans were getting their musical fix from soca, but Dr Hope does not believe dancehall has declined.

"Dancehall is dancehall. There is no decline. Soca is soca ... there is no comparison. Dancehall has its issues. Soca has its issues. Dancehall has its fans. Soca has its fans. Dancehall continues to spread internationally and to engage with other forms - carrying multiple themes that resonate with various people across the world. Soca is carnival music. And remember, soca samples 1980s and 1990s dancehall very particularly; it owes a debt of gratitude to dancehall," she said.

The lecturer also holds the view that the perception that soca music is becoming prevalent in Jamaica is overstated. She thinks the nostalgia of carnival is still in the air and has clouded the thinking of many critics and even suggested that the very conversation about carnival and its growing popularity is just as seasonal as soca music.

"There is no prevalence. This is simply a kind of wish list. Soca is time-bound. We are still exploring what happened in Bacchanal Jamaica that ended recently. Youth culture continues to gravitate towards dancehall locally, regionally and internationally. In another week or so, this discussion will have evaporated. Dancehall will continue to be played in taxis all over the Caribbean, in parties and clubs all over the region. And I am sure that this same discussion will be on the front burner next year around this time," she said.

dancehall's impact

The analyst also shifted the microscope to focus on dancehall's impact on the global stage, so as to prove that the impact of soca music was not comparable.

As if reading an illustrious rÈsumÈ she said, "Dancehall is dancehall. An internationally renowned music form from Jamaica, the Caribbean music mecca. Dancehall has seeded music forms like reggaeton, hip hop and now the new form they are calling tropical house, among others. Soca borrows from early dancehall. Dancehall has broken into every single region across the world...as dancehall. Its themes resonate with people all over the world ... not just as party and fun ... but as reality," she said.

Dr Hope also made it clear that the tendency of some Jamaicans to raise concern over the access that carnival has to public space and the obvious double standards associated with soca events should not be interpreted as a general fear that dancehall is under threat.

"There is no competition between dancehall and soca in Jamaica. There is no 'versus' as is being suggested by hopefuls. In Jamaica, soca/carnival blings once a year like pepper lights and then it is over. It is a big party and there are lots of naked, mainly light-skinned female bodies on public display. Soca is party music, wave-yuh-rag music, walk-naked-with-your-perfect-body music," she said.

Having already reeled out a part of dancehall's lengthy rÈsumÈ, she then questioned soca's claim to fame.

"How many soca songs or artistes become enveloped in the regular rounds of entertainment/ party activities outside of the carnival season? How many vehicles do you hear playing soca/carnival music outside of this season? How many soca/carnival songs are on the playlists of people on their personal listening devices? How many persons have ever listed soca as their favorite music on any survey?" she asked.

Notably, soca music has garnered some amount of attention internationally, with collaborations from Major Lazer among other international producers. However, unlike reggae/dancehall, the Trinidad-born genre is yet to stamp its authority internationally. Popular charting company Billboard.com is yet to create a section for soca music and has identified soca as reggae music on its official website.