Dancehall Essays

Dancehall Essays-90
When I was living in Kingston, Jamaica, a few years ago, the caretaker of our building died. A was a helpful older man who was always willing to help fix whatever was broken.

When I was living in Kingston, Jamaica, a few years ago, the caretaker of our building died. A was a helpful older man who was always willing to help fix whatever was broken.

For example, for Bass Odyssey sound, John Holt added the following insult to the lyrics of his love song “Pick Up the Pieces”: “Pick up the pieces of your sound and throw them away!

” Listeners learn to pay attention for the best bits of wordplay and invention.

In the beginning, soundsystems played American R&B and calypso, just with the bass amped up as high as possible.

From the 1950s to today, the sound from these systems has created the dancehall space, as well as the genre of music and influential culture of the same name.

The open, circular area begins with people lining the edges but gradually fills as the night goes on, and holds songs that speak of love, hate, death, life, party, revolution, and more.

The most pointed discussions of death in dancehall are found in the soundclash, a musical competition between rival soundsystems working to prove which has the most powerful musical and verbal weaponry.It is also on a dubplate that we move beyond discourse and metaphor, toward actual traces of the past, voices from beyond the grave.* A dubplate is a special, personalized recording of a usually pre-existing track that acts as a kind of praise song.Professor Clinton Hutton, a scholar of Jamaican folk religion, has discussed how certain death and burial practices of Afro-Christian religious movements such as Revival Zion are reflected in soundsystem culture: “It’s the same method,” he told me, “the old helped to shape the modern.The evolution of the soundsystem, the Revival wake tradition and the movements in them, the manner of oral expression in them, the poetry traditions, the chanting traditions, were taken into the dancehall.The effects of the tropical climate eventually made his death obvious. A’s body was removed by police, the death registered, and everyone informed, his possessions were brought into the yard to be left out overnight, the mattress turned over, then furniture returned and rearranged. A wouldn’t be able to recognize the room if he returned. A’s from being resurrected in the room in which he’d spent his life.When I was describing this to Kei Miller, author of the novel (the Jamaican word for ghost) would also need sweeping out. I was interested in the way these death rituals revealed a conception of a more active relationship between the living and the dead than I was familiar with, having grown up in Canada.Taken into the making of dubplates and so on.” The “setup” or “nine night,” which takes place for nine days after a death, culminating the night before the burial, is a kind of wake.Storytelling, singing, and dancing celebrate and memorialize the dead.For Harrison, burying the dead gives us a place to stand—we stand on those who came before.But, according to Miller, an old Jamaican saying suggests that it’s more than the past influencing the present: “Respect the dead, because it is by their leave that we walk.” The dead need no permission. As the Jamaican novelist Marlon James has said: “ don’t need you to believe in them to exist.” This assertion of the dead into the sphere of the living is evident throughout the island, but there’s a particular element of Jamaican culture that demonstrates it most powerfully, and that is the foundation of Jamaican music: the soundsystem.


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