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Students get dancehall lessons at Uptown Mondays - Promoter ‘teaches’ course on the ground

Published:Tuesday | August 13, 2019 | 12:05 AMStephanie Lyew/Gleaner Writer
Promoter of Uptown Mondays, Whitfield ‘Witty’ Henry.
Promoter of Uptown Mondays, Whitfield ‘Witty’ Henry.

One of dancehall’s long-standing supporters, Whitfield ‘Witty’ Henry, says that his prediction that dancehall will be taught as a subject in secondary and tertiary schools is becoming a reality, slowly but surely.

“Dance classes, disc jockey schools and performing arts aside, dancehall is similar to lessons in history and many students have come to my event to learn,” said the promoter of the popular weekly street dance, Uptown Mondays.

Henry was gifted with a sound system at the age of 14, which resulted in him losing interest in other subject areas.

“I admit that I could have been a lawyer or a doctor, but there was a space growing for other professions and businesses, as the revolution of entertainment in the 1960s occurred,” he said. “And now, I am living like my peers. There are opportunities to earn and lessons to learn from dancehall. Sooner or later, people will realise it will be positive and it will be a main subject.”

The promoter has informally trained and schooled individuals interested in learning the art and history of dancehall over the years in the formal space.

“There is a lot to learn not only on the entertainment end of things, but even its contribution to the political space,” he said.

According to Dr Sonjah Stanley Niaah, head of the Institute of Caribbean Studies, the institution which recently implemented the bachelor of arts in music and performance programme, there is a need for an outlet for students across the island to seriously engage with music as a subject of study and mastery.

“We are still without a performing arts high school for a country with such a high creativity quotient. Our indigenous genres of music are available to the rest of the world, but we remain reluctant, as a nation, to produce advanced music instruction using those genres like dancehall,” Dr Stanley Niaah told The Gleaner.

The senior lecturer in cultural studies says that she is hopeful there will be a greater presence of teaching with the use of the local musical genres, “especially at the primary and secondary levels, where there is dire need for music instruction.”

In terms of the potential for dancehall to be added as part of school curriculum in the future, she adds, “I am aware of the challenges of interpretation; however, it has long been proven that Jamaican music has found pride of place, even through classical musical expression, in choirs, musicals, and films.”