Reggae Month also a celebration of dancehall music
When compared to reggae music, dancehall is often viewed as the ‘ugly stepchild’ of Jamaica’s entertainment industry. Known for it’s hardcore content, dancehall music is seen by many as unpalatable, one that is undeserving of any form of praise and recognition, moreso in a month used to mark the contributions of Jamaica’s beloved reggae.
Still, it is not uncommon for dancehall music to be celebrated during Reggae Month. In fact, with the organisers pointing out that the genre plays as integral a role as reggae in making up the fabric of Jamaica’s music industry, February’s celebration often includes as much dancehall as possible.
The virtual festivities for week two of Reggae Month included a two-night sound clash, featuring the likes of King Jammy’s Superpower, Black Scorpio, Presto Mix, Twinstar, Kush International, Red Heat, Top Class and Jam Rock. That comes on the heels of performances from dancehall’s leading veterans, Bounty Killer and Beenie Man, who each graced the online stage at different virtual events. In a recent Gleaner Entertainment Forum, organisers revealed that though labelled ‘reggae month’, the list of activities planned for February seeks to highlight both genres birthed out of Jamaica. Not allowing themselves to subscribe to the notion that dancehall music is too lewd and vile to be celebrated, Reggae Month organisers expressed that there are a lot of positive things coming out of the dancehall genre that are worth celebrating.
“For me, the Reggae Month celebrations are larger than any one music form. ‘Reggae’ encapsulates all music out of Jamaica and that it includes dancehall. The truth is that while there is dancehall music that is talking violence and retribution and there are some songs dealing in guns etc, there is also dancehall music that is quite positive and quite uplifting,” said Ewan Simpson, chairman of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA).
Simpson said that although dancehall music gets blamed for a lot of the ills currently facing society, there was a time when reggae music and its proprietors were also ‘given a fight’ because society deemed it rambunctious and rebellious.
“Let me just say that a lot of the venom being tossed at dancehall is as unfair today as it was 30 years ago when people considered Bob Marley a ‘dutty foot Rasta bwoy’ and thought the same of Peter Tosh and Dennis Brown and all of those people. In the 70s the ratchet knife and the rude bwoy were popular and back then it was reggae music, we never spoke of dancehall music yet. When we dancing to ska and rocksteady music, we shuffling to rude bwoy songs and we are making it appear now that this generation is so wicked and vile,” he said.
“The truth is that very often the very ones among us who are quick to criticise, are the ones who either by condition or omission allow the negative to thrive. The positive is there, the material is there and available.”
Agreeing with the arguments posited by Simpson, Jamaica’s Consul General to Miami Oliver Mair said there are dancehall artistes who pride themselves on producing message music and ought to be recognised during Reggae Month.
“Look at sizzla as a dancehall artiste. What better message to send to our new VP than to say ‘rise to the occasion, look at yourself and say you’re strong, no one can stop you?’ We have some great examples of message music coming out of the dancehall, the world embraced it and we ought to celebrate it.”
Joining in on the conversation was Koffee’s manager, Tammi Chang. Highlighting that a lot of the material being produced by dancehall artistes is a reflection of the environment that groomed them, Chang said it was unfair to blame dancehall acts for simply telling their stories.
“I am not saying that songs do not have an impact on people and I know that we want to conform these artiste to be a part of the norm or what we think is the norm, but as we know music is a reflection of society. We ought to give creatives the freedom to be without constantly making them feel they’re on the wrong side,” she said.