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Is Dancehall in a death-spiral? Featured

Archive Written by  Jigga Mattic Monday, 04 October 2010 02:59 font size decrease font size increase font size 0
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Critics believe that dancehall music, a fast-paced musical art form indigenous to Jamaica, may be in a death spiral because of a violent cocktail of events that have endangered its ability to flourish in the international marketplace. Several of its champions such as Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Mavado, Vybz Kartel, Busy Signal have serious visa problems limiting their ability to go to the United States, which because of its large Caribbean population, has always been a lucrative marketplace for dancehall. And the woes continues even in Europe, which has always been a paradise for reggae, where music promoters are reporting that the marketplace is suffering from a malaise as the genre is not attracting many new listeners, and that even reggae's die-hard fans are searching for a bit of excitement as the same tired cocktail of characters return year after year.  

Furthermore, the enforcement of the Night Noise Abatement act and lack of proper outdoor venues for large events have put a stranglehold on the ability of promoters to earn from the music. Several countries have begun to respond to the violent content of dancehall which often celebrates misogyny, prejudice, homophobia and promiscuity, by banning artistes. Most recently, Guyana banned both Bounty Killer and Mavado from coming there to perform. Disc jockeys in Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago and in the Dutch-speaking Suriname have been given ultimatums by station owners not to play songs by Mavado. Sizzla continues to be hounded by the gays with a recent show in Germany being cancelled, reggae's great scion Buju Banton is battling for his freedom in an American court, Bounty Killer is finding it difficult to get a permit to perform in the UK, while dancehall's hottest act Vybz Kartel has not held a US visa for the past four years and the gays are resisting his efforts to get into the UK. Even the ever-reliable Beenie Man is finding it increasingly difficult to tap into new markets overseas as the walls close in on dancehall.

Add to this toxic mix, declining CD sales across the music genre, and it appears that dancehall is taking a PR beating from which it might be difficult to recover. Some critics are saying that these things could sound a death knell for dancehall on the international scene but some stakeholders feel that the recent moves are a positive, clearing the music of the rabble rousers who do it no justice and whose personal misfortunes will only pave the way for others who are ready to show the discipline and professionalism to take the music to greater heights internationally.

"Dancehall artistes are being crippled by the violent tone of their music, countries are not accepting what they are selling. The question we need to ask ourselves is how can we, the producers, the media, the disc jockeys, mold our artistes into good world citizens? Are the government and other stakeholders willing to protect the industry for future generations?" Jeffrey Stephenson of Free People Entertainment, told Xtra News.

"I was recently in Suriname and I went to a major radio station where the owner had put up a notice that any disc jockey playing a song by Mavado would be fired. How do you think that makes me feel as a representative of Jamaican music? I don't believe in censorship but some songs should not be given the kind of mainstream radio access that they are given in Jamaica, almost as if we endorse what these people are saying."

Mr. Stephenson said that the new stars emerging in both dancehall and reggae need to temper their message so that they can build both reggae and dancehall.

"Where are the new reggae stars who will replace the Gladiators, Joseph Hill and Burning Spear? Buju is more dancehall and he is high risk, are we willing to lose that fan base because of a lack of planning. Are the players doing enough research to see the big gap that is being left in roots rock reggae? The local media often puts more emphasis on the dancehall artistes when it is reggae which continues to fly the flag for Jamaica on the international scene," he said.

Dancehall has shown a curious ability to morph and survive despite the insurmountable odds so it would be remiss of anyone to write off dancehall's ability to survive its current woes. But the struggle will be a daunting one.

Anthony B believes that dancehall artistes have gone 'off message' when it comes to expressing who they are and what Jamaica represents.

"They are not marketing the great things about Jamaica, the good food, the good music, the wonderful, talented people, and our philosophies on life that the whole world responds positively to. Reggae is soul food, mama's cooking and every one loves mama's cooking," he mused.

Anthony B believes that some artistes will naturally fall to the wayside by virtue of the 'survival of the fittest' ethos that rules free market economics.

"If the artistes don't become better citizens of the world and wake up and recognise that they are part of an industry that is greater than them, then I feel it is only natural that they will not be a part of the music's future. Do they really think that if they get in trouble and cannot fly, that people will stop going to concerts? Or stop listening to reggae?"Anthony B said.

"Bob Marley died and reggae still continues to this day, they cannot stop it, if they don't recognise that they are a brand, then they will become examples of what not to do, a necessary sacrifice to move the music to the next level because the next generation
will not repeat their mistakes," he concluded.

One European-based promoter mused that "some dancehall artistes will not be missed in our marketplace because they have been consistently unprofessional and crass in their dealings."

"They don't respect the music, a lot of them are primadonnas who have not take to study the business side of the music, and who are unwilling to change their ways for the betterment of the industry. They will have to go, and there will be more stars, there will always be more, Jamaica is producing them, they are developing in Japan, in Germany, in the United States, so they will not be missed," he said.

The promoter also added that many of the dancehall artistes who continue to attract a negative sustained PR campaign against dancehall often lack the pulling power and the appeal of older reggae artistes who pull consistently large crowds.

"There is just a lot of hype and hardly any substance, give me a Max Romeo, a Burning Spears, an Israelites, a Gladiators any day, but reggae needs more promising positive stars and role models like Tarrus Riley and Duane Stephenson, Anthony B and Warrior King, and we need them soon," the promoter concluded.



Read 3084 times Last modified on Monday, 04 October 2010 03:50

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