Party Circuit

P1040720

It isn’t an April Fool’s joke. Dancehall made the front page of the New York Times today. This was, as Annie Paul mentioned on Facebook, rather interesting considering Emma Lewis’s posting yesterday of complaints against the seemingly constant parties and night noise in Jamaica. It reminded me of Mutabaruka’s call for a study on the impact of this partying on a sleepy population. I should make it clear that I lean far more on the positive side of this argument–there is purpose in the partying. And there have already been studies–check this one on the economic impact of spring breakers or this one on partying as social and political participation. Larisa Mann has also written on how partying and politicking can come together–and how music can be a “powerful force for sharing pleasure, trust, release, and purpose across marginalized communities, and forging a radical, broadly participatory movement.” So after a day of discussing the pros and cons of letting loose, it was edifying to see Sarah Maslin Nir‘s piece “Jamaicans Get Party to Come to Them, via DVD“. Nir’s piece dealt with the way party DVDs–the long-form, unedited works filmed by the ubiquitous dancehall video men every night of the week–circulate, providing connection to yard for those abroad.

I then proceeded to get into a big twitter argument with a reader of the piece who tried to catch Nir on her lack of differentiation between selector and MC. Selector being the one who spins the tunes and MC being the one who talks and bigs up the dance. Of course, in 2013, based on the range of soundsystem practice, there’s no really cut and dry differentiation. But it was one of those ridiculous discussions that I only seem to have on the internet. It was a shame, really, because I shouldn’t have been splitting hairs about soundsystem terminology. I should have been talking about the meat of the piece.

P1040732

Apparently Nir has been the New York Time‘s nightlife columnist for a while, so she is familiar with a party–and perhaps some of the wilder sort (a quick google reveals a portrait of the writer with a couple horses at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC). I was a little disappointed in the descriptions of dancing as “feverish”, “outlandish” and “border[ing] on pornographic” in her column and then on her twitter–where the she exclaimed that readers of her piece had to check out the “bonkers” videos. Having been to numerous dances, as well as numerous late-night affairs in my home continent of North America, I can honestly state that there is nothing more offensive happening on the streets of Kingston than that going on at certain nightclubs and during aforementioned spring breaks in Canada and the US. She writes that “by night’s end…bodies jiggle free of miniscule clothes”. Not so much. Dancehall, for all its slackness, often draws a line between nastiness and nudity. The language of the piece is a bit grating and tiresome, as it’s yet another example of a portrait of the island as a wild place–unfettered by the boundaries of civilized society. A mite problematic.

P1040702

This being said, though I think that the piece could have been more fully fleshed out, it provided an interesting narrative of diaspora circulation. I liked the inclusion of Kim-Marie Spence’s comments about seeing one’s own reflection on video, but I wished that Donna Hope had been consulted. Hope’s Inna di Dancehall, was published way back in what seems like the ancient times–2006. She discusses video men like Jack Sowah (still active today) as a key creator of dancehall culture, alongside artists, dancers, soundsystems and so on. The book also discusses the circulation of Sowah productions through out the diaspora–in places Nir discussed in her piece, such as Brooklyn and Queens, New York. But Hope’s discussion stems from the dancehall in Jamaica. According to Inna di Dancehall, dancers and “models” try to steal a piece of the video light in hopes of catching a break.

Right now you have girls wheh deh a England an America true my videocassette. Raquel from Modelling Crew is in Engald an…Little Bit…she is also in England, Mackie Boo, she’s in England, Lisa is in…no…Mackie is in New York, Lisa is in England..An…couple a dem well yuh nuh leave here an go abroad true di video - Jack Sowah, quoted in Inna di Dancehall (73)

Nir describes the videos as providing a connection with home, whereas Hope describes these same products as offering a connection with foreign. Nir describes a young woman who travels from New York to Jamaica to get herself on camera, whereas Sowah presents the videos as a ticket to get out of JA. The dancehall circuit, whether Uptown Mondaze, Boasy Tuesdays, Weddy Wednesdays or any other day, is recast as a diaspora narrative, demonstrating links between home and foreign. The parties hold promise and potential for those in attendance, and they offer up Jamaican experience to those in the diaspora. And beyond the diaspora community, these films circulate further, crossing boundaries. As Sonjah Stanley-Niaah has written, dancehall is constructed according to certain borders–boundaries in space, time and, as the consistent crackdowns and complaints about night noise demonstrate, sound. But dancehall culture becomes boundaryless through its ability to reach beyond the spaces it inhabits. As sound travels from downtown Kingston upwards, disturbing those who wish to sleep, it also travels around the world.

P1040723

Footage recorded at events in Jamaica is mostly amateur, though it may often be sold to fans, while footage generated by prominent professional videographers such as Knight Rider or Scrappy is packaged for commercial distribution both in Kingston and other places in Jamaica, and in metropolitan centres such as London, New York or Tokyo. Generally, dancehall videotapes and, increasingly, dvds circulate, at prices ranging between five and twenty US dollars, in those countries where reggae and dancehall are already established as popular forms, such as Germany, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, Canada and Japan. More and more footage is also becoming available globally through general-interest websites, such as YouTube or MySpace, as well as specialist ones, such as Dancehalltv.com - Sonjah Stanley-Niaah, Dancehall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto (168)

Dancehall and dancehall DVDs are about more than just partying. More than just noise. Yes, they do provide a series of economic opportunities, but it also presents a narrative of transnationalism, skipping across the world, bringing Jamaica abroad and abroad back to Jamaica.

Note: All photos from a heavily filmed Weddy Weddy back in 2009.

Some recent writing on reggae…

Between a conference, a couple editing projects and a massive, ominous set of revisions, I’ve made some time to do a little writing. First, a review of a record chock full of one of my favourite genres of music–a genre I discovered while attempting to put together a “Women in Reggae” special for my old radio show, Venus. I first fell in love with “Caught You in a Lie” by Louisa Mark, but that, of course, is the tip of the iceberg. So happy to have written for Pitchfork again.

Joshua Chamberlain and I put together a little soundclash history for Clustermag to commemorate/celebrate this weekend’s World Clash events. Tonight we’ll be in Montego Bay for World Clash R.E.S.E.T. Jamaica–watch out for the tweets.

Madonna meets Lionel Richie uptown…

I’ve been involved in a couple online discussions in recent weeks about the fact that there’s a sense that Jamaican music is on the wane. The country that first gave the world reggae in the so-called “golden-era” of the 1970s and then dub, which, to many, gave birth to a broad range of bass music (see Simon Reynold’s analysis of what he calls the “hardcore continuum” for details), has popped down. In an article about Croatia’s Outlook Festival, ClashMusic suggested that “the former empire of reggae and dub forms ha[s] stagnated to become caught in a pool of pop and R&B orientated inertia”. This sounds a little odd to me. I know that Gabriel Heatwave argued on Twitter for the relevance of today’s dancehall–and I think he has a major point. John Eden, of the always excellent Uncarved blog, also brought up the fact that those interviewed about the “inertia” of present-day popular Jamaican music were all men in, well, let’s say the late prime of their careers. I know that Rodigan has his complaints about today’s Jamaican music–his comments on contemporary tunes were pretty derisive today while he played at the Boilerroom.

I’m not going to get into an argument about whether or not Jamaican music is less than inspirational these days. I think you could argue either way. I do, however, think that the very basis of ClashMusic’s statement is faulty. It was pop and R&B from which “reggae and dub forms” originated in Jamaica. Just watch this excellent short (if you haven’t already seen it) that showcases Count C: The Wizard of the West, an early soundman who played R&B and pop (as well as calypso and probably a few of mento-influenced tunes) back before ska and reggae.

Whether folks in Croatia or Europe in general like the poppy and R&B sounds of some Jamaican music, it’s always been a part of the scene. Sure, if you love sailing on a sea of dubstep wobble, it might be hard to link with the melodic strands of what seems to me (over the past month of attending dances) to be one of the biggest and best songs in Jamaica right now–Laza Morgan (ft. Mavado) “One by One”.

But after a trip to Rae Town, where the classic sounds of Klassique play everything from 50s rock and roll to 70s disco to Rick Astley (yes, Rick Astley), it’s hard not to spend time focusing on the other part of Jamaican music. Yes, Jamaica is a Bass Culture, but it’s also home to some of the most amazing melodies (and amazing singing voices for those melodies) this here music lover has ever heard. In fact, I think that “One by One” takes a little piece of smooth Lionel Richie R&B a touch of the pop personality of Madonna, and a dash of dancehall, courtesy of Mavado, to create what is a spectacularly catchy song with a melody that deserves every lick back it gets.

Aside: All this might give some insight into why Bredda Hype playing Madonna (specifically, “Like a Virgin”) and Beyonce (specifically “Single Ladies”) got such an insane reaction at last week’s Guinness Sounds of Greatness. I’m still trying to sort that out in my head.

Big Up Beth Lesser Every Time.

So glad to hear about Beth Lesser‘s new book The Legend Of Sugar Minott & Youth Promotion was released this past week. Before I go any further, order it from Muzik Tree now (they’re the folks that brought you all the terrific Small Axe books) and read Susannah’s interview with Beth at Shimmy Shimmy.

Finding out about the new book got me reminiscing. As those who read this blog may be aware, I was involved in getting Beth’s King Jammy’s reissued back when I was toiling at a rather low-paying publishing gig. As Scott C explained in his 2003 article about the book, I was super interested in getting a copy of King Jammy’s for my boyfriend at the time. When we got the original 1989 version in the mail, the two of us pored over it, amazed at how the writing so vividly depicted soundsystem culture. I’ve often said that I fell in love with reggae not through the music of Bob Marley, but the sound of Stone Love–however, Beth’s book most certainly clinched the deal. I don’t think I’d be going too far to say that it got me over to the UK to chat with Steve Barrow (and have him write the afterword), getting up the nerve to get a cover blurb from Dennis Alcapone, and applying for a job and then moving to Jamaica in 2003.

After making a plea to ECW Press that this would be a valuable and important book, we had to figure out how to get it done well and inexpensively. Intro design (specifically Martina Keller) painstakingly conceptualized the look of the book, which was, of course, made to be the exact same size as a 45″. Intro had been responsible for a whole run of spectacular covers for Blood and Fire, and they were willing to cut their fee to something that would manageable, given that I represented a rather small Canadian publishing house (and if you know anything about Canadian publishing, there’s not really much money in it).

Beth kindly provided us with every back issue of Reggae Quarterly the 1980s dancehall fanzine her and her husband Dave Kingston had put out–this lead to the inclusion of eight selections in the book, additional interviews with Half Pint, George Phang, Jazzbo, Jammy, Tiger, Admiral Bailey and King Kong, as well as a piece on Youth Promotion and Sugar Minott.

Though I left publishing to take up research and my move to Jamaica transformed (and transmigrated) into years of research into Ethiopia, I do believe that working on King Jammy’s was a bit of a gamechanger in my life, and it remains something I’m still quite proud of.

Even in a climate that makes publishing quite difficult, I am so glad that Beth’s books have been released–her photography and her words jump off the page, providing amazing descriptions and asking all the pertinent questions. Here’s to the next book…

Reading the Clash

There’s a reason Kamau Brathwaite calls it a “nation language”. What is commonly known as Patois may sound like English, but it’s often expressed using quite different grammar and most certainly a pile of different vocab. This is evident to those who study Jamaican lit, but also to anyone who has even a passing interest in reggae. It’s tough for foreigners to understand Bob, but it’s even more tough to understand the rapid-fire speech of dancehall. And this is a problem, because so much of what happens in the dance–and in the clash–is based on the “argument”. Though Ricky Trooper’s time ‘pon Youchube might have diminished his reputation, last year at around this time he was able to get the massive on his side in magnificent fashion against an initially strong Blacc Widdo (check the tune fi tune especially) as part of the Guinness Sounds of Greatness–and it was all because of what he said. Blacc Widdo look totally shocked at the turn of events.
Now, thanks to PJ “Prince” Rickards, we have a series of famous (or infamous) deejay clashes “translated to English, for all of you dancehall fans that never knew exactly what they were really saying.” Rickards does take some liberties with his translations, but it does make the clips much more accessible–and the competitions clearer. Sure, there are bits and pieces lost in the translation, just like in literary translation, but Rickards’s webisode project does provide a clearer window into the clash…





Thanks for the heads up on this stuff from Taliesin GilkesBower.

Watching Death Before Dishonour is just like watching Canada’s game…

After Seen posted this great interview with Rodigan (elements totally relevant to my soundclash musings), I thought I’d drag out the video produced of Death Before Dishonour from 2006. It looks like a recording of professional sport.

If you don’t believe me, watch the first 40 seconds of the above video (keep watching for Rodigan), and then watch the first 40 seconds of the one below and tell me if there’s any difference in terms of visual approach.
Part 2 of my “Ring the Alarm” will address the development of soundclash as professional sport, among other things. Now if I could only convince the folks who make hockey highlight reels to use Mavado…
EDIT: How could I have forgotten! Mr. Poirier connects the dots alongside Face T in the video for “Blazin’”. If only Ghislain and I rooted for the same team…

Ring the Alarm: Is it Game Over for the Soundclash? Part 1

(Thanks to the awesome Who Cork the Dance for the photo)

Supposedly, just a few days ago, the last Death Before Dishonour soundclash was held at Pier One in Mo Bay. Black Kat took home the big prize at the supposed “Final Warr”–you can read the play by play in the Gleaner. But all this hullabaloo about this being the last time seems a little overstated, especially since Irish & Chin, promoters of World Clash events like”Death Before Dishonour”, were supposed to have cancelled the whole circuit two years ago. At that time I gave a presentation at the EMP’s Pop Conference on the topic (EMP is coming up next week–if you’re in the Seattle area, it’s well worth while). Given that the demise didn’t happen then, but is happening now, I think that my argument still holds water and is just as relevant today. The title should perhaps more correctly be “Is it Game over for World Clash”, as I really am addressing the development of world soundclash competition. I’m hoping to expand on this sometime in the (hopefully) near future, so any comments and suggestions are welcome! Since it’s a little long, I’ll split it in two (and see if I can get some of the media I used working on this here blog) . Here we go:

On November 24, 2007 the world’s best dancehall soundsystems fought tune fi tune at the last ever World Clash New York, and this past weekend, at the 2008 UK World Cup Clash, the best of the best competed for domination. World Clash New York was dubbed “Game Over”, the 2008 UK World Cup “The Final Conflict”. 2008 is the 10th anniversary of the World Clash circuit as run by promotion team Irish and Chin and they plan to put a stop to the show. So is this the end of the soundclash?

Irish and Chin insist that the demise of the World clash circuit is not the end of everything, but simply the end of an era. Certainly, soundclashes have changed over the past few decades. This paper will take a closer look at the state of the soundclash in 2008 by looking at the ways in which clashing has changed and evolved over time.

Dancehall scholar Carolyn Cooper sees clashing not just as the term for contests between mobile discotheque soundsystems to see whose selectors can play the best tunes and get the massive onside. She calls the clash “a trenchant metaphor for the hostile interfacing of warring zones…both literal and symbolic”. If the clash is a metaphor, how has this metaphor changed over the years, if at all? Does the clash still have the power to address the border clash issues Carolyn Cooper insists it does? What is the future of one of the most exciting competitive cultural forms in the world?

Soundclashes began, according to Lloyd Bradley, in his book Bass Culture, in the mid to late 1950s. For various areas of Kingston and the rest of Jamaica, the soundsystems served as local entertainment. And many still do. They are especially valuable for those inner city communities where people were and still are able to afford little else.

In their early history, soundsystems were exactly that: soundsystems. Through the 1980s, this meant that, according the Beth Lesser’s book describing one of the greatest sounds of all time, King Jammy’s Super Power, the speakerbox carriers were important members of the soundsystem crew. Of course, this is because we’re talking giant stacks of speakers and huge, overclocked amps. Clashing between sounds was therefore based much more on sound quality than anything else and this was created by the power of the soundsystem and the abilities of the soundsystem owner and crew to maintain and build the sound.

Though the music was important, the sounds that came out on top were those who had the clearest sounding top end, the boomingest, heaviest bass and, of course, ridiculously loud volume. They’d need to keep it that way for the hours necessary to sway the crowd and thereby lock off another sound.

Soundsystem operators took this to extremes. Bradley retells a story of a “sound man going into a marine equipment dealership in Miami and trying to buy the type of loudspeaker that ocean going liners would use to herald their approach in foggy conditions”. Because of this need for huge and stable sound, soundsystems would need to drop out of clashes if their sound simply couldn’t technically keep up.

Then we entered into what might be referred to as the era of the artist. Soundsystems were accompanied by a series of artists—these artists would allow the sounds to compete with each other and create new versions of songs live. Essentially freestyling, the artists of various soundsystems would directly address and insult rival sounds. Sounds would compete to have the best artists representing their sound.

Following the artist era, began the era of the dubplate—recorded versions of top tunes, personalized and pressed on demand. Sure, there had been dubplates previously, but when a live stageshow is available, why rely solely on dubs? But full ranks of artists become expensive over time, especially if one wanted to travel with one’s sound because competitions became more and more international. Getting dubplates made makes artists increasingly unnecessary.

This era has continued to this day, in as much as dub plates are now the backbone of the clash arena. The development of the clash has also involved the format of these records, the involvement of soundsystems from what might be referred to as non-traditional homebases as well as the staging of the clash itself.

As the internet took hold in the 90s, the industry moved from dubplate to download; mp3 dubs and soundsystem culture went from one side of the planet to another. Soundclash culture went outernational; no longer was it strictly the dominion of the Jamaican diaspora, but scenes sprung up in Sweden, Finland, Italy, Germany, and Japan, the home of Mighty Crown, the most successful non-Jamaican sound who bust onto the scene in 2000.

The movement of soundsystem culture worldwide meant that it was difficult (and expensive) to travel not only with artists, but with the sound itself. Experiments with clashes in which one sound made use of their own system while the other, incapable of bringing speaker boxes and amplifiers overseas, had to settle with a borrowed system, met with obvious complaints. “It just wasn’t fair,” explains Garfield “Chin” Bourne. Hence, the sound itself became unnecessary, and promoters simply provided one system for all rivals in an attempt to even the playing field.

As for the switch to digital, any resistance to the new technology was eliminated in 2002, when Toronto, Canada’s Rebel Tone became the first sound to win a World Clash using CDs instead of vinyl. Interestingly, the switch to CD was a specific choice for selector Newby–he wanted something that would set him apart: “At the time, I wanted to try a new thing. Everyone was bringing two turntables—the regular set up in a dance. I wanted to be a unique thing, so when people come to a dance they see something special. When I first started, I sat down and burned every single record and every 45 I had. I still had to buy the 45 to burn them.”

Newby, the one man show that is Rebel Tone, made a decision to switch to CD, not because he had to, but because it would give him an advantage in the clash. As he says, “With a record box, you have limited options. With CDs, you can play ‘till next year.” Another obvious advantage is that if anything is “scratched, I can just burn the next one right away and play it. If a dubplate is scratched, you have to wait for the studio to open up in the morning.” Newby took advantage of this by throwing CDRs into the audience, flaunting his ability to make copies of his dubplates, something that was at the time unheard of, based on the care required to keep a special ready for battle and the desire to keep one’s weapons secret.

The thing about dancehall, as Newby puts it, is that “you could even have a mixed CD. As long as you’re introing the songs and it’s going right to the people.” As a selector who gained success in what might be called the World Clash era, this statement is significant.

With soundsystems simply bringing music as opposed to a whole system, you would think that the music would become more important.

The World Clash creation of Irish and Chin changed the whole focus. Though world clash competition existed before Irish and Chin, they really took the event to a different level, both literally and figuratively. Not only were sounds representing a number of different countries, but the sounds were no longer performing at the same level as the crowd. They now moved up—on to a stage and in front of the massive. Whereas the selector had always stood behind the soundsystem gear, even when it was not owned by his (or, very rarely,  her) sound, now the selector was front and center.

As Chin says, “Selectors started becoming bigger names than the sound systems. So this is why people now identify Squingy and Panther—saying Panther won five world clashes instead of Black Kat. This leads to situations where selectors become bigger than soundsystems and leave to start independent careers, such as Violence leaving Bodyguard and Tony Matterhorn leaving King Addies and becoming independent entitites. This was a turning point—the soundsystems losing credibility to the selectors. We put the selectors on the world stage and we made the selectors into superstars. Once upon a time it was unheard of for a bunch of selectors to be attracting more attention than artists—not any more.”

Stay tuned for part 2…

Happy Birthday Passa Passa!

Last night was Passa Passa’s 6th birthday. In light of this auspicious occasion, I thought I’d post a piece I wrote about the now legendary dance. Pictures by the great Roy Sweetland. Favourite line: “This music was born outside.”

Every week, on Wednesday night, Spanish Town Road in the Tivoli Gardens area of West Kingston, Jamaica, transforms into Passa Passa. Five thousand people gather to dance and listen to music played by the soundsystem Swatch International—for free, outdoors and as loud as possible. Passa Passa is not just a local street party. Since its inception in 2003, it has grown to attract corporate sponsors in Jamaica, and also to attract the world. And the world has attracted Passa Passa—this coming weekend, Nico Skill and Maestro, two of Swatch’s top selectors (the Jamaican term for DJs), are coming to Montreal to bring a taste of what they do to our winter wonderland.

To get a sense of why this weekly dance is not your average party, it’s important to take a look at exactly where it happens—yes, Jamaica in general is important to reggae, but West Kingston, an area notorious for violence, is specifically important to dancehall. Though many of dancehall’s biggest stars hail from neighbourhoods in West Kingston, it’s still known as a dangerous place.

As Nicholas “Nico Skill” Smith explains, “Before Passa Passa, there was crazy war going on in Kingston, in the Denham Town, Tivoli area and all these places. Every minute, we had something flare up. But since Passa Passa came about, we’ve been playing and it’s been drawing such a huge crowd, the violence in the community is no more. Communities have been fighting, but not in Tivoli area.”

Carl “Maestro” Shelley agrees. “Jamaica was on the verge of a dancehall breakdown. Fun and unity had deteriorated. Different people from different areas, different communities that shared different political views, did not cooperate. We introduced Passa Passa and it became a way of unifying the garrisons, the communities that make up Jamaica’s inner city.”

Excite and unite

It was convenient for Swatch International, who, at the inception of Passa Passa, had been around for over a decade. “Swatch wasn’t born big,” laughs Nico. “It started with one speaker box and one amplifier. And we would get bookings within our communities and you have to know that you’ve got to play well to please those people!”

In addition to having the reputation, the sound, run by O’Neil Miles, proprietor of Miles Enterprise at 47 Spanish Town Road, had a venue—the street in front of the business.

Maestro provided the name. “Generally, in Jamaica,” he says, “the words ‘passa passa’ mean excitement, mix up—anything can be termed as ‘passa passa.’ So we decided we would create a little passa passa where people would enjoy themselves and try to work out their views, and even if they come from different communities, they can party together.

“This is a place known as an area where no one wanted to go—it’s been like rags to riches, but rich in the sense of positivity. People admire that—no one used to want to go there and all of a sudden, everyone wants to go there because it is safe. Nothing can happen. Your car won’t get broken into, nobody is going to rob you. Stuff like that doesn’t happen. It is generally safe overall because this is an area where you have not only Passa Passa but other big events. Passa Passa is the one that opened the gate for all these things to be positively accepted. Everyone wants to party here.”


RESPECTED SELECTORS: Nico Skill and Maestro

Here come the clones

When Maestro says everyone, he means it. Passa Passa doesn’t just draw folks from different communities in Kingston. Any weekly round-up of Passa Passa’s crowd might also include visitors from the U.S., Canada, Australia, Israel, Ireland, Sweden, Austria, Germany, England and Japan.

Swatch has also taken their night on the road. “International audiences appreciate the music, just like when we are downtown,” says Maestro. “They watch the tapes, they go on the Internet to all of these Web sites and they download all these DVDs. When I go to Japan, all the parties that we talk about in Jamaica, they have them in Japan. Every night. They have a Passa Passa and a Maestro down there. When I see this, I think, they are literally cloning us! It’s amazing.”

But what makes Passa Passa what it is are the people who make it their own every week. “Passa Passa is kept in the ghetto and ghetto people love excitement,” Nico explains. “These people are fun people. They love to dance and they do crazy stuff. They come up with all these ideas. It’s just mad. They come together as one and listen to music to the fullest. We play the music and if someone comes and says to us that they have a hot song, we’ll play it to see if it has a vibe—if it does, it could turn out to be number one next month!”

It’s not just hit tunes that get their break at Passa Passa. It’s dance styles too. “If I were to explain everything that Passa Passa has brought to the forefront,” laughs Maestro, “it would take us days! Passa Passa is the one that invented many of the styles in the dancehall. Passa Passa is where we see Thunderclap, Dutty Wine, all of these dances. That’s where they started. Downtown.”

Nico concurs. “Before, it was the DJs and the sounds making all the money, but right now, where dancing is concerned, it opened a new door for a lot of young youth who never dreamed they could have a life like this. And it’s ghetto youth, because all ghetto youth can try to dance and make a style. It happens. They dance and dance and go to more parties and do the same dances. We, the selectors, endorse it and it just gets big.”

In defence of daggering

Still, some commentators think that some of the sexually inspired dancing, called “daggering,” is a bit much. Maestro thinks that these people should change their focus. “They used to say that dancehall creates too much violence. It was a problem, so we said, ‘Alright. No more gun talk.’ Daggering for the girls—why is this still a problem? They need to make up their minds about what they really want in the dancehall. As a selector, I can’t see daggering starting trouble. There are so many things that can come out of this thing called dancehall. They need to appreciate it. A whole heap of people eat food, youths go to school, all just because of daggering! You know how many youths used to kill people and then stop kill people just to become a dancer and bust a new style, get lucky, get a visa and go in foreign countries, travelling as a dancer?”

Even with the recent crackdown on night noise in Jamaica, Passa Passa keeps going. “Passa Passa’s roots are in the ghetto,” says Nico. “Uptown, you cannot play your sound outdoors and have an outdoor party. The Noise Abatement Act means that your neighbour can’t hear your music. If he does, he’ll call the cops and the cops’ll turn it down.

“In the ghetto, it is totally the opposite. You just play until daylight,” he laughs. “You have a sound, outdoor music, big amplifiers, three huge columns of boxes and we just blast it so that whosoever come to that party, Passa Passa, it’s not like the club.”

But, as Maestro explains, “Passa Passa is really the only street dance that is left on a high level right now because the law is cracking down on the night noise. It is really hurting dancehall music. People come to hear the music outside. To see the men cooking jerk chicken. To see the man walking around with a big bunch a’ herb. They come to see the big tower of boxes outside. And the cane man. The corn man with his soup. This music was born outside.”

P.S. If you want more Maestro, check his single out: “Up Inna Di Tings”.

A ride on the other side…

Erup, of “Click My Finger” fame, is back and showcasing a different side of not only his own talents, but dancehall in general. I posted Perfect’s rock/soul turn a month ago and my sense of the raggapop stylings of Mavado, among others. Now, Erup presents a rock and roll-ified view of things. Accompanied here with a lyrically topical side of Jamaica that the reggae, beaches and sunshine crowd might not know too much about, it’s a refreshing bit of niceness for a spring day.

With “How We Ride” coming out at the same time as Deseca’s Genesis riddim, Truckback Records took the same tack and has attempted to build on exclusivity as opposed to the “email blast” that those of us who like this type of stuff are used to. Of course, there are also some who might be disappointed with this new approach, as it places a fair amount of value on intellectual property. Larisa Mann, who studies issues of copyright in Jamaican music, shared Dancehall.mobi’s reporting on the riddim with an attached comment reading: “property right enforcement being made a big deal of. Seems a pity to me, somehow..”

But blogger Erin Hansen (of Imagelala), referencing the infamously poor sales of recent Jamaican albums, had this to say:

With “Genesis”, it appears that dancehall may be trying to reclaim some of that revenue. Riddims have long been freely passed around by every internet herb with basic file sharing skills (me included), but with a marketing scheme like this one and some additional regulation, artists might actually start earning their keep. Particularly if the promotion goes global, which is what the “Genesis” project was aiming for. Still, can “Genesis” maintain that buzz? After listening to it in full– and most likely supporting it with a purchase– I’m not sure if it’s mind blowing enough to fracture the freeloading pattern. While producing strong drops from Charly Black, Aidonia, and Mavado, it still might not be enough to carry the international platform and facilitate a reclamation of the digital riddim.

For myself, I understand how one might be attracted to a means of promotion that creates a sense excitement around new riddims and tunes. After all, that’s one of the things that soundsystem culture has always been rather good at. It’s obvious that this desire for excitement is part of the reasoning behind the mighty David Rodigan’s take on the situation:

This is David Rodigan and I am delighted to have read your press release regarding a “new beginning.” This is a heartfelt cry from me and thousands of other “reggae” fans in Europe who have become utterly disillusioned by the state of the Jamaican music industry and the lack of thought behind its promotion.

I am delighted that you have seen fit to return to the ethics of traditional music promotion, whereby only certain dee jays and radio stations are able to preview your productions, and in doing so are able to create a demand for a new song. I am happy to know that from now on you will be professionally selective in choosing who has your new productions.

You are a young, imaginative and creative production house in Jamaica and the music desperately needs young people with new ideas. Reggae music must rise up again and that means positivity and a return to melody and harmony. Much of what is now being produced in Jamaica does not export outside Norman Manley Airport.

It would seem that Rodigan’s enthusiasm has more to do with the issue of demand for a tune–the sense of selectivity in promotion. The role of the selector has been and continues to be paramount in Jamaican music. It’s as much a concept as it is a position. The notion of selecting music extends to promotion–who gets to hear the tune, when it’s introduced, and then who gets dubplates. It’s the stock and trade of successful sounds. Maybe instead of the main issue being about property rights and money making (which, of course, is obviously still a part of this strategy), it’s about reinstating the importance of selectivity. Picking and choosing who gets the premiere and letting people know about the importance and excitement of something new. And that, to me, deserves a forward.