Dancehall producers and artistes need to clean up their acts

Dear Editor,

Change is inevitable. Everything changes over time, even music.  And so we would have seen that within all the genres of music, there are changes in composition and delivery.  This does not necessarily mean that the foundations of the different genres of music has changed, but just that subtle changes would have been made probably to phrasing, timing, harmony, or  lyrical composition.

Let us examine Jazz. A few years ago we celebrated 100 years of Jazz. The sound of Jazz today has changed considerably from what it used to be in the early and mid 1900s. Jazz as a genre had several sub genres back in the day like most music today. And even today, Jazz still remains sub divided. In the past, the composition of Jazz revolved around a variety of sub genres. The music moved from New Orleans Dixieland dating from the early 1910s to the Big Band-Style Swing from the 1930s and 1940s. Then it accommodated the Bebop from the mid-1940s, a variety of Latin Jazz Fusions such as Afro-Cuban and Brazilian jazz from the 1950s and 1960s, Jazz-Rock Fusion from the 1970s, and late 1980s developments such as Acid Jazz, which blended Jazz influences into Funk and Hip-Hop. These are just a few sub genres of Jazz. There are many more. Today Urban Smooth Jazz is a sub genre that is widely sought after by both the young and mature Jazz fan.

The genre of Jazz evolved through time and is still widely accepted as pleasing to the trained musical ear and the not-so-trained ear.

Reggae is a musical genre which was created here in the Caribbean in Jamaica and is one which has evolved and which continues to evolve. Reggae by right originated out of two other genres known as Ska and Rock-steady. Tempo wise it fits snugly in the middle of the two for it is slower than Ska and faster than Rocksteady.

Lyrically Reggae deals with a plethora of issues ranging from love, religion, drugs, poverty, colonialism, racism, and general third world politics. The genre also covers a lot of Pop music coming out of the United States and Europe.

But in the way that Reggae evolved from Ska, Reggae gave birth to Dancehall Reggae.

Discovered more or less by accident in the late 1970s, Dancehall Reggae, or Dub as it is popularly known, began simply with Disc Jockeys (DJs) chanting over the B side of Reggae 45 rpm records at Dances.

The lyrics for Dancehall were far less serious than those used in Reggae. A lot of emphasis was placed on the more socially appealing themes at that time, like the everyday Rude Bwoy, Area Dons or Donman, and a reverence for sexual dexterity in men and women.

In the 1980s, with producers like King Jammy and Coxsone Dodd seriously in the business, Dancehall Reggae further evolved into a more rhythmical art form with computer digitization being utilized heavily in track composition. This led to what I like to refer to as the golden decade of Dancehall: the 1990s. In the 90s with producers like Dave Kelly, Sly and Robbie and Donovan Germain entering the business and new DJs like Shabba Ranks, Buju Banton, Ninja Man, Cobra, General Degree, Beenie Man, and the list goes on and on; the 90s was indeed the Dancehall Decade.

The audience for Dance-hall Reggae, like Jazz and Reggae, comprised both the young and the young at heart.

Even though interspersed were some songs that glorified and promoted violence and also exposed the vulgar side of some artistes, it was not enough to taint the entire genre. People still rocked on to the Pepper Seed, Action, Medicine, Bogle, World Dance and the Stink Riddims, to name a few. Everyone got up and danced when Second Class Love came on with Carol Gonzalez and Buju Banton. That remains an all-time Dancehall classic!

Sadly the Dancehall arena has now changed drastically for the worst. Today the King Jammys and the Sly and Robbies of old have been replaced by producers like Stephen ‘Di Genius’ Mc Greggor, Not Nice and Daseca Productions. Beenie Man and Buju are still present, but they are now overshadowed by the likes of Movado, Vybz Kartel, Bugle, Demarco and Busy Signal just to name a few. Beautiful rhythmical Dancehall Reggae has been replaced by robotic heavily syncopated break beats and copious overdoses of synthesized keyboards. The poetic deliverance of messages of sexual grandeur and the often funny lines that dealt with strategies on how to get and keep a man or woman have all been replaced with hardcore verbal pornography! Many Dancehall artistes today have taken the themes of sex and violence way overboard. Absolutely nothing is left to the imagination. 

The depiction of violence in modern Dancehall Reggae is as gruesome as it gets. And people go to parties to listen to this sewage of lyrics and actually claim to have fun. I am sorry for the generation of youth growing up on this filth called Dancehall Reggae. I often wonder what music this generation would play for their children as examples of music from their time.

Dancehall artistes need to be more responsible for the lyrics they sing. They cannot continue to sing vicious, cruel, derogatory lyrics and expect to bring international recognition to Dancehall, nor expect to get airplay. The handful of dancehall artistes of international repute doesn’t sing trash. Recently Serani’s She Loves Me was re-released during this summer in the US on Urban Radio Play CDs and he sang very different lyrics on the song. This goes to show that these artistes know better. Imagine the persons who listen to Night Shift and One More Night, the two covers done recently by Busy Signal, go out and purchase a collection of his songs only to find that he also sings lyrics that are terribly offensive to the senses.

The producers and artistes in the Dancehall Reggae arena need to clean up their acts, be more responsible and ultimately bring back the authenticity of Dancehall Reggae. This genre has changed drastically and so has its audience. Sadly a lot of persons have fallen out of favour with Dancehall Reggae. Persons opt for the scarcely held Old School Dancehall Reggae Parties so they can relive an era of dancehall that was filled with strictly party vibes.

But all is not lost. Reggae even though it never quite went away during the 90s when Dancehall reigned, has come back with a bang thanks to the likes of Tarrus Riley, Richie Spice, Morgan Heritage, Etana, Tameka Marshall, First Born, Natural Black and the host of new generation Reggae messengers. I feel good when I see a Beres Hammond being played and people, young and old, throw their heads back with eyes closed and rock and sway to sounds of sweet reggae music.

Reggae like Jazz has shown that the changes it went through did not have a negative impact on its audience. If anything happened, it was that the changes seem to have sought to expand its listening audience. Sadly the genre of Dancehall Reggae does not share that same fate; not with the vulgar music, that portrays murder and mayhem, which is being packaged as Dancehall Reggae!

Yours faithfully
Richard Francois



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