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Reggae is to Trench Town as Drewsland is to Dancehall...? - Veteran producer claims Drewsland is home of dancehall

Published:Wednesday | January 16, 2019 | 12:00 AMSade Gardner
Ninja Man (right) and Beenie Man in combination at Mirage in 1995.
U Roy
Jack Scorpio

Regarded as one of Jamaica's great cultural assets, dancehall music originated in the '70s and in many ways mirrored the socioeconomic realities of Kingston's inner-city communities. The genre, an upbeat or digitalised version of its predecessor, reggae, allowed artistes to deejay or sing about topics that could be risquÈ, explicit, comical, or playful.

Notable early figures of dancehall include U Roy, Sugar Minott, Barrington Levy, Yellowman, General Trees, Eek-A-Mouse, Tenor Saw, Super Cat, Josey Wales, Charlie Chaplin, and Ninja Man. Beenie Man, Shabba Ranks, Bounty Killer and Lady Saw are some acts who led the genre later on.

Trench Town is labelled the home of reggae, but does dancehall have a specific place of birth? Veteran sound system operator Maurice 'Jack Scorpio' Johnson believes that the western St Andrew community of Drewsland is dancehall's birthplace.

"When people say the name dancehall, the youths dem speak of Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Shabba Ranks, and Yellowman. And if dem is the deejays people associate with dancehall, then I think Drewsland is the founder of dancehall," Johnson told The Sunday Gleaner.

The producer once orchestrated a talent show on Thursday nights on Headley Avenue in the community, which he said helped reveal emerging talent. He mentioned other producers like Osbourne 'King Tubby' Ruddock, who operated a recording studio in Waterhouse, Kingston, and is remembered for his reggae and dub creations. Ruddock also contributed to the development of dancehall as is evident with the bass-heavy, digitalised track Tempo by Anthony Red Rose released on his Firehouse label in 1985. Ruddock, 48, was shot and killed by an unknown assailant in St Andrew in 1989.

"In those days, King Tubby was around but Tubbys was more like a reggae sound," Johnson said. "Many of the artistes who have really made a name today came to Headley Avenue and made a name for themselves - Yellowman, Shabba Ranks, Buju Banton, General Trees, Sassa Frass, Mega Banton, and all of these artistes who created an impact in the early '70s coming into the '80s and '90s. People from all over the world used to come there to get a buss, so it wasn't no House of Leo that started dancehall. It started at Headley Avenue."


Yellowman disagrees


But Yellowman, who attained prominence after placing third in the 1979 Tastee Talent competition, disagrees.

"My career start in St Thomas right after Tastee, but I started long before that. It's just that people used to turn me away when I went to studios or run me outta di yard. I guess Jack Scorpio never know that," he said. "Mi do my first hit song, Evening Tide, before mi meet him. Yes, he is a part of my career because him do three, four albums with me, but my career didn't start at Drewsland."

He added that there is no need to declare a specific home for dancehall.

"Just say dancehall started in Jamaica. It didn't start at a studio," Yellowman said. "A lot of artistes recorded in Drewsland, but it's not like dem start dem career there, maybe one or two but certainly not me - no disrespect."

For Beenie Man, who recorded his first single at eight years old at Channel One studio off Maxfield Avenue for Waterhouse producer Henry 'Jungo' Lawes, Drewsland is not the Mecca of dancehall.

"Drewsland can be considered one of the homes of dancehall music because a lot of artistes come from Drewsland from back in the days like Bobby Culture, General Trees, Sassa Frass, Echo Minott, even Pliers start him career with Black Scorpio," the deejay said.

But he also credits other communities for the genre's development.

"The same can be said for Waterhouse because you have King Tubbys and King Jammys," he said. "Half of Jamaican artistes come through Waterhouse, too, because you have John Wayne, Half Pint, Junior Reid, Black Uhuru, even Sly and Robbie dem come from Firehouse. So di whole community, Kingston 11 and Kingston 20, me woulda put dem together and call it di home of dancehall."

Show promoter and music producer Trevor 'Leggo Beast' Douglas shared a similar view.

"I wouldn't say dancehall came out of Drewsland because a lot of studios used to do dancehall," Douglas said. "Arrows used to do a lot of dancehall tunes with all artistes like Spragga Benz, and Bounty used to go Windward Road go record, too. Tubbys used to do dancehall, and a lot of artistes used to come to Coxsone on Brentford Road to do dancehall music. Dancehall is a product of Jamaica. I wouldn't define it as a product of Drewsland."