Dancehall tracks access to telephone service
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
In the days of the Cable & Wireless monopoly on telecommunications, dancehall had a few references to the telephone, then were restricted to a very few - and landlines at that. That changed dramatically and permanently with the introduction of Digicel in 2001.
With the restricted home landlines associated with the well-off individual, or those with 'contacts' - which were often one and the same - and dancehall coming from the sector of society with little of either, it is understandable that very few 1990s dancehall tunes had outright telephone references.
A notable exception is a very early Buju Banton song, Stamina Daddy, in which he gives his number freely to the ladies, using the telephone in the sexual context as it is most often utilised in dancehall.
In the song which boasts of his sexual prowess and equipment, Buju first has the lady currently experiencing it reaching for the telephone as a way out:
A no de stone make she moan an' groan
Guess a wha, a jus' de lent of de Banton tone
Make she pick up de sheet an de pillow say she waan fi go home
Push me offa de bed an a go reach fi me
Ding di di ding ding, mi telephone
Who she call no har fren name Joan
Run come pick har up
She well waan go home
After all that, though, he still issues the invitation to those women who are excited by the possibilities to call him, chances are on the same line that had been an avenue of escape not long before:
Girls, here is my line
If yu waan fin' the Banton call anytime ...
Still, even in those early days, there was an indication of how important the cellphone would become to dancehall as Bounty Killer did Cellular Phone. He gave no numbers, but the instrument was vital to man and woman business.
The song starts with the request to be handed the telephone as he has a special call to make - and, in the music video, a woman does hand over an instrument to the deejay as they ride in a car. In the refrain, Bounty Killer deejays:
Excuse, pass mi cellular phone
Make mi call Antoinette an Simone
Tell dem no move a muscle
I'm coming home
To take a trip dung inna dem love zone.
General Degree's When I Hol Yu Tonight (which is in the movie Dancehall Queen from 1996) also came before the cellular phone became accessible to all who would go to a Courts store and purchase an instrument.
The song actually starts with a ringing telephone, and as usual, is used in a sexual situation. Degree first outlines the verbal jousting "when man an ooman go pon move". Then, as he does the required clean-up - shower, etc - before the tryst, the telephone rings and he says, "Hol' on. Make a ansa mi cellular!"
A cellular phone, a humongous instrument that would soon be described as a 'fridge' but at the time was highly prized, is central to the Dancehall Queen movie. Larry (Carl Davis) gives one to Marcia (Audrey Reid) as he tries to woo the woman he already knows but does not recognise in her dancehall get-up.
Then, after Digicel hit Jamaica, the cellular phone references became commonplace. From KipRich bemoaning "telephone ting mash up mi life" to Lexxus chortling "ketch a gal inna de act/bout she waan tief mi Star Tac"; Busy Signal demanding "who's calling me from an unknown number" to multiple references to BlackBerry PINs as the smartphone craze hit Jamaica, dancehall lives on the cellie.
It is a big change from the days when there were only landlines for the few.