- by Errol Williams, also known as DJ Paparazzi -
Growing up in Jamaica, I have more than a passing familarity with dancehall; I became embedded in the vibrant scene from “mi yiye deh a mi knee”. We’re talking 90s ‘Bogle’ times, ‘World Dance’ era, the days when the ‘Butterfly’ was flitting all over the island and everyone was bubbling to the ‘Joyride’ riddim (1996). I remember the days when Bounty Killer would run out and say “people a dead!” and everyone instantly knew than an epic clash was to ensue. A clash of words, mind you, a clash of talent! Although they were never particularly clean fights, I remember when clashes were platforms on which a performer could hone their lyricism and craft, as well as entertain the crowd. Now they have become more personal and over-the-top with the capability of actually dividing followers of the music (take the ‘Gully V. Gaza’ (2008) for example). I attended ‘Sting’ last December and witnessed the Lady Saw and Macka Diamond battle, which was just ‘tracing’ and very little else. This was sad to see from two very talented ladies, whose gender is already a minority within the scene.
And whilst I am on the topic of ‘Sting’, it has deviated from being the premier platform for authentic dancehall music; the producers have watered it down in the hope of attracting corporate sponsors like its ‘Reggae Sumfest’ counterpart…which cannot work. Similarly, there has been a reshuffling of the partygoers’ priorities; the dance is longer just about enjoyment, it is more about ‘hype’, misogyny and violence. Not only does this change interfere with the quality of parties but it also impinges on the quality of the music, as the artists tend to cater for the aforementioned empty demands. Plain vulgarity overrides real, substantial content within the music when there used to be equal elements of both! Change is a given in life, but is all change positive? It appears not to be so, in this case.
On a slightly positive note, the music has evolved a lot and received more well deserved global recognition over the years. But at the moment the scene is lacking creativity, fresh ideas and infrastructure. When is the last time that you heard a smash hit? Who is responsible for dancehall, anyway? There’s no order – it is anarchy, as DJ Amber states in her column (http://vision-newspaper.co.uk/straight-from-yard-with-dj-amber-2).
I realise that there’s a long line of people who don’t have much positive things to say about dancehall but I believe that this is because there’s currently more bad than good things going on. There are consistent pluses such as the opportunities through many can make a living through dancehall and the creative platform that it can give to those with genuine talent. With that said, something has to be done to try and fix the ongoing issues which threaten the whole scene…not because it is responsible for Jamaica’s crime rate (as suggested by some politicians) but because it is ours and we love it.