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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A critical look at dancehall culture
By Basil Walters Observer staff reporter
Monday, April 10, 2006

The launch of Donna Hope's book, Inna di Dancehall:Popular Culture and the Politics of Identity in Jamaica, took place on Friday afternoon at The Old Dramatic Theatre, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.

The formal introduction to this latest body of research exploring the sociopolitical meanings of our most contemporary music culture was a study in interesting surprises, contrasting features of endearments while at the same time highly engaging and absorbing.

Just about completed her doctorate in cultural studies at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, the Fulbright scholar for 2002-2004, the author of the University of the West Indies Press' publication, is an academic with a humble disposition.

On arrival, the first notable feature was an unusually large detachment of police officers at the venue. A glance at the programme confirmed the reason: the second item in the running order was the guest speaker, none other than the minister of finance and planning, Dr Omar Davies.

The selections of recorded music at Hope's book launch were very impressive. Moreso for lovers of vintage Jamaican rocksteady. Techniques' Queen Majesty, Alton Ellis' Breaking Up and Can't Stop Now, The Heptones' Equal Rights along with some roots and culture classics from Burning Spear and Culture, whether wittingly or unwittingly, provided an appropriate fare for the audience of young and mature academics.

The conspicuous absence of the music of Vybz Kartel, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Lady Saw or any of the current acts around which the hardcore dancehall culture revolves, was deafening. However, this was made up for with the guest performance of Macka Diamond, who enlivened the proceedings by performing two numbers on tracks.

Above all, Donna Hope must be commended for broadening the scope of the dancehall debate by inviting Dr Davies, a fan of the old school to be the guest speaker. And that he was gracious enough to accept it, has helped the process.

"...Most of that which is written about us, is by non-Jamaicans. And is something which we and the University of the West Indies have a particular obligation to seek to reverse. And so Donna, my congratulations to you in terms of your contributions in that regard," Dr Davies said.

His presentation first examined the structure of the book as well as some of the issues and opinions advanced by the author then he goes on to pose questions on issues the book has not raised which he said were areas for further research.

Speaking to the definition of dancehall, Minister Davies argued that what was under discussion represents only a limited segment of the dancehall phenomena.

"I thought for example, what of Michigan and Smiley - Nice Up The Dance - That to me is dancehall. What about Bunny Wailer's Ram Dancehall....What about Beres Hammond and Big Youh's Old Dancehall Vibes - So we run the risk of limiting what we define as dancehall because of the focus in this book. I just want to indicate that there is a broader framework in which to look at it."

In response to Dr Davies, Hope, an unrepentant apologist of dancehall culture, said, "This work reflects in the real sense an exploratory piece of work and I say this very carefully because of the many questions that my guest speaker raises. How does Jamaican dancehall culture fight against the power structure and the status quo.

For me I found myself trying to understand what was a large body of gender dynamics in dancehall culture as well as trying to understand what were the underlying causes for the outbursts of violence that characterises a large portion of the output of dancehall culture..."

Posted by jebratt :: Wednesday, April 12, 2006 :: 0 comments

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