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The Story of Reggae – Dancehall

Written by on January 27, 2019

Brash, raucous, computer-driven reggae that came to                prominence in the 1980s and refuses to go away. Seen by many as a return to straight forward fun after a decade of                    roots‘n’culture’s piety. The dancehall anthem "Under Mi Sleng Teng" is acknowledged as the first reggae record to have           succeeded without a bassline.
So named because so many of the records were deemed unfit    for radio airplay and therefore were suitable only for the           dancehall and the controversy didn’t stop there. Dancehall       reggae established itself through characters like Yellow Man   and General Echo and a penchant for slackness (as bawdy         lyrics were known).   This deejay-led, largely computerised,    upstart music seemed to epitomise the 1980s with dub poet     Muta Baruka maintaining, "if 1970s reggae was  red, greed and gold, then in the next decade it was gold chains". So far             removed was it from the gentle, almost hippification of   roots and culture, that purists furiously debated as to whether it was  genuinely reggae or not. But this was the whole point.

Dancehall represented a new generation of reggae’s primary audience    reclaiming the music for themselves after ten years of Roots’n’Culture that: A)   had not done a great deal to change the way they lived; and B) it had been       adopted so thoroughly by the international mainstream it didn’t seem like       "theirs" any more. This was a new wave’s way of reacting to the             harshness of their environment and drew on Hip Hop’s            brashness to express themselves with an impatience not seen in Roots Reggae. It needed a radical approach to shake Reggae    out of its seeming complacency and dancehall opted for the      apparently obnoxious to satisfy nobody beyond the sound         system crowds. Producers like Henry "Junjo" Lawes and        King Jammy’s made deejay records that were as raw as those   audiences wanted, with deejays like Yellow Man, Josey Wales, Lone Ranger, Eek-A-Mouse and Brigadier Jerry. Not that it was all deejays, but singers such as Barrington Levy, Little John,    Cocoa Tea and Frankie Paul had to struggle to be  heard.         Of course the rapidly developing studio technology played a   big part as it meant records could be made quicker and             cheaper, with it becoming far easier to version a rhythm once it was made. This in turn allowed a flood of new talent into the    business ensuring that dancehall reggae would continue to stay fresh for years to come.

Reader's opinions
  1. Patrick   On   January 30, 2020 at 11:01 pm

    King Jammy ‘s 1985 hit, ” (Under Me) Sleng Teng ” by Wayne Smith, with an entirely-digital rhythm hook took the dancehall reggae world by storm. Many credit this song as being the first digital rhythm in reggae, featuring a rhythm from a Casio MT-40 keyboard. However, this is not entirely correct since there are earlier examples of digital productions, such as Horace Ferguson’s single “Sensi Addict” (Ujama) produced by Prince Jazzbo in 1984. Dub poet Mutabaruka said, “if 19 reggae was red, green and gold, then in the next decade it was gold chains”. It was far removed from reggae’s gentle roots and culture, and there was much debate among purists as to whether it should be considered an extension of reggae.

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