Dancehall is still the bastard child
Billboard’s recent omission of dancehall legends Beenie Man and Bounty Killer from the cover art for their story on ‘The Verzuz Effect’ has been dubbed by many in the local music fraternity as a blatant disregard for the Jamaican culture and its standard-bearers. The ‘snub’ has since rehashed an age-old argument surrounding the impact dancehall music has had on the world and the reasons why, despite that immense contribution, dancehall acts have still not been able to get the respect they deserve from the international market. But in an interview with The Sunday Gleaner, some key players in the music industry expressed that, before Jamaicans continue to voice their disgust about Billboard’s oversight and the lack of respect for the music on the overseas circuit, the country must first address the constant disregard for dancehall music on home soil.
“I was very annoyed about the Billboard situation, but there’s more to this story than just Billboard’s disrespect. Because, if you really look at things, Jamaica still does not have a strong regard for dancehall and so international platforms outside of Jamaica respond in a lot of ways to our national support of dancehall. We still see dancehall as some kind of orphan child or pickney weh the parents don’t care and so everybody can come and treat that child anyhow,” explained Donna Hope, professor of culture, gender and society at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. “In Jamaica, dancehall is still bastardised, we still disrespect dancehall and so many people still use dancehall as a scapegoat. They use it to their benefit and discard it once they get what they want, because nobody takes a stand for dancehall. The only time you see any kind of coming together is in instances like this one with the Billboard incident. We need to understand as a people that, if the industry doesn’t have a cohesive structure, everybody is going to come and see dancehall as fair game. They’ll come and steal the thing, transform it into whatever, reap the benefits, and go.”
Professor Hope went on to say that the outside world pays very close attention to the way dancehall is treated in its birth country and so, if Jamaica wants to see change, it must start internally. “It (respect) begins at home. Don’t think the Americans (or the rest of the world) aren’t paying attention to when we are ‘warring’ about dancehall music, because they can read, too. They see the programmes, they read the articles and the letters to the editor, and they see the kind of divisiveness that exists in our culture,” she said. “We have reggae artistes chastising dancehall artistes, we have older artistes chastising the younger artistes. The unity is not there, and so the industry as a whole becomes sort of like a weak fence. Anybody can come push against it and it falls down. There is no kind of unity and no consensus between the players in the industry that we need to protect the music, and so dancehall remains open for anybody to come in and disrespect.”
Her sentiments were shared by artiste manager and dancehall promoter, Heavy D. Heavy D, who now handles the careers of the group, the 6ixxs, said the country must begin to recognise dancehall’s worth on a local level before expecting international players to serve up respect to its main players. He explained that, as someone who has been a part of the industry for almost three decades, dancehall is still treated like music’s ‘ugly stepsister’. “What happened with Billboard is a direct result of how we treat our own. Mi can’t blame Billboard, me affi blame we. Our system refuses to uplift dancehall music and, to this day, acts like there is just one genre, which is reggae. For dancehall to get the respect it deserves, we affi first recognise that Jamaica birthed two genres of music; dancehall and reggae. We can’t operate like a reggae music alone we have. We affi accept dancehall in our country before outside accept it,” he said. “We affi fix things at home first, and mi nuh know why it a take this long. Look how much good dancehall do fi Jamaica on the global scale. But still, all our people can see it as is ‘boogy yagga music’. Yet still, when dem wah build a vibes at any event, any gathering, a di same ‘boogy yagga’ music dem use. We have decide if we love the music or hate it. We can’t continue to treat dancehall music like a slave and only use it when we wah ‘cut cane’ and den put it dung again. Any day Jamaica acknowledges it’s own music, the rest of the world will too.”
Michael Dawson, CEO of Whirlwind Entertainment, owner of House of Dancehall and co-author of the book, The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto, with Vybz Kartel, also agreed with Hope and Heavy D. But in his analysis of the situation, Dawson took things a step further to indicate that, for dancehall music to command the respect it needs from these international platforms, the industry must first create its own independent platforms. He explained that the latter will not only prove that dancehall is a global brand that can pull an international audience, but will also show that the industry is advanced enough to stand on its own two feet. “We have to stop being so ‘foreign-minded’ and start creating our own platforms to showcase and promote our own music and our own artistes. Dancehall has to first respect itself. America is not set up to give a foreign thing their due, and we can’t seek validation from people who only think about themselves. America is all about themselves, even if it means culturally appropriating stuff and making it their own. We need to adapt that mentality and create our own space,” he said. “We can’t look a seat their table, and this (Billboard) thing proves that. We have to create our own table. Monday is Marcus Garvey’s birthday and he taught us as a people that we really can’t look to others. If we want respect, we have to command it by creating that kind of atmosphere for ourselves.” Dawson also expressed the view that Jamaican acts need to start focusing on the markets that have been showing support for the music over the years. He said there are many markets outside of the US that crave our music, and entertainers need to start going where the need is, because that is where the respect will be. “America is over 300 million people, but the continent of Africa is a billion. Everywhere I go there (in Africa), they want more of our content, and so dancehall needs to focus on the markets that want the music. I guarantee they’ll get the respect there, because that market absolutely loves and appreciates them.”