Dancehall music trapped
The Gleaner , this week, hosted an Entertainment Forum exploring the topic, ‘ m ake dancehall music great again’, with some of the stakeholders in the music industry. Over the next three days, we will be publishing the views and recommendations of the panellists – Patra, Benzly Hype, Squeeze, Koriq Clarke, Danny Browne, Dean Fraser and Gahlxi.
When the music industry players assembled in The Gleaner’s meeting room, everything appeared “cook and curry”, however, as the discussion progressed, it became apparent that one vital ingredient was missing, a couple of sound boxes, because, as it turned out, with the divergent views in the room, at times it was the ultimate border clash. However, thankfully, it was squeaky clean. Well, except for when Christian producer, Danny Browne, mentioned a particular ‘riddim’, loosely named after a part of the female anatomy, and Patra, with a look that bordered somewhere between being aghast and innocent, quizzed, “Danny, are you sure you can use that word?”
‘Drew a card’
But Danny recognised a ‘card’ when he saw it, and perhaps it was a payback from Patra, because earlier, Danny ‘drew a card’ on her, when he related how they “go a long way back”, as he was the first producer to record Patra, long before she got the big buss. In the midst of Patra agreeing with him and relating how “Danny used to assist (her) financially in the early days”, he pulled his card, “Yeah, but when she buss, she gwaan like she nuh know mi,” a statement which Squeeze quickly latched on to, hooted with laughter and chastised Danny. On one level, that is the essence of the dancehall space, where creatives bond and speak the same language of life, ‘livity’ and love.
Notably, amid all this levity, a serious discussion has been taking place. The panellists ensured that they were marked present in order to register their reaction to a raft of concerned calls to make dancehall music great again,’whether they agreed with the topic in part, in full, or perhaps, none at all. Even as they explained the importance of this indigenous music to Jamaica and the world, key players in the industry paused long enough to make the distinction between the dancehall space and dancehall as a genre, hoping to eliminate any confusion that might possibly occur.
The panellists pointed out that the dancehall as a space, where persons could go and listen to music, existed before dancehall as a genre. The genre got its name from the space.
Dancehall would then be defined extensively by Browne, Squeeze, Benzly Hype and Koriq in terms of the instrumentation and how the drum and the bass interact to create this music which is the heartbeat of the people – literally. Squeeze recalled the early days when the productions coming out of the various studios had a clearly defined sound. “You could listen to a tune and know that is a Studio One song, for example, because of how the snare sound,” he explained, adding that nowadays there are no such identifying marks. “The music they are making now is a fusion,” he stated, only for Patra to jump in, “More like confusion.”
Benzly Hype proved to be the sound maker. Constantly tapping on the table – dancehall beats, of course – and, speaking in modulated tones, most of the times, Benzly always spoke his truth. He lashed out at the “corporates and people with agendas” who, he says, are now controlling the music and are pushing the dancehall sound in a different direction from what it used to be, and also placed some of the blame, if you can call it that, squarely in the laps of radio disc jocks.
“Dem (corporate) hear a sound and them like it and so they say, ‘I want one just like that.’ Then you have the radio people who play the songs that benefit them personally, rather than the songs which have merit,” he said.
Benzly spoke about the power of music to control minds, “When people ask me what I do, I tell them that I programme minds,” the producer and television personality who made his name with one of dancehall’s exciting groups, the Innocent Kru, stated.
He suggested that the reason that the dancehall sound is becoming so elusive is that this ‘new’ sound is constantly on repeat, “and the more you hear something, the more it connects”. He also stated that producers of the original dancehall sound – the gatekeepers – abandoned their positions and this created a void, which this new sound has filled. However, as Danny pointed out, it is this original dancehall sound that music industry personnel from overseas are still coming to the older producers like himself for. “They don’t want this new sound that is coming out of Jamaica. It has no sunshine. This music has no waistline,” he said, to which the panellist agreed.
Young producer Gahlxi, who looks like a teenager but who is actually a quarter of a century old, showed his knowledge, and his eagerness to be taught and guided, in a dancehall, where, it was concluded, the millennials, did not have the benefit of guidance from the older heads. Gahlxi had some degree of “me and them” in his attitude, initially, but by the time the forum had ended, he was giving deeper insights into why he is a purveyor of this new sound.
A point of interest is that, as far as Squeeze is concerned, whatever music is created by the players in the dancehall space can be labelled dancehall, even the R&B-influenced songs which they are now churning out. Browne, however, is of a different view. He believes that the purity of the dancehall must be maintained and reiterated that it is wrong to label the knock-off hip-hop beats as dancehall. Both stressed, however, that the intention is not to kill the music that is evolving with the millennials, just give it a name other than dancehall.
Gahlxi supplied the answer. “It has a name. It is called trap dancehall.”