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Dancehall is thriving in the UK Featured

Entertainment News Written by  ANGUS TAYLOR, UK CORRESPONDENT Friday, 04 June 2010 01:41 font size decrease font size increase font size 0
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Every weekend to the north, south east and west of the British capital dancehall nights are happening. A multitude of flyers stack up in every Caribbean restaurant offering music until 4 or 6 am in bars, clubs or on boats, stipulating “smart dress, good vibes” and cheekily, “no tracksuit bottoms or BO”. The latest homegrown variant, “Funky Bashment”, has infiltrated the MTV charts via Sticky and Natalie Storm’s catchy Look ‘Pon Me1.

On buses and trains across the UK the silent limbo-like atmosphere of travelling consensus is punctured by the tinny but unmistakable sounds of UK and Jamaican riddims pulsing from the phones of teens.

Go back a few years, however, and the future of the music here was in doubt. The association of its practitioners and followers with violence, politically incorrect lyrical stances and an underclass of youth who rejected every aspect of polite British society led to a faceoff between dancehall and the authorities from which there could seemingly only be one winner.

The music's image took a knock as early as 2001 when BBC Radio 1 Dancehall Reggae Show presenter Horace Pinnock (AKA DJ Village) was shot during a robbery in Wembley. Visiting deejay Elephant Man was relieved of £10,000 worth of jewellery and cash2.

But the real sticking point for the authorities was the growing controversy over anti-gay sentiment from the major artists. In 2002 the radical former Labour MP Peter Tatchell, who in 1999 gained international celebrity for his citizen's arrest of Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, wrote an article titled "The Dark Side Of Reggae" warning that the lyrical content of vocalists such as Elephant Man, TOK and Beenie Man "advocated the murder of queers"3.

Tatchell had coined the phrase “Murder Music” as far back as 1990 but from 2003-2005 his campaign against dancehall found considerable support from government, media and the public. In 2003 Bounty Killer was forced to cancel his UK tour4. The following year Home Secretary David Blunkett intervened to deny Sizzla entry to the UK5. Even then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, a long time supporter of Caribbean and Black-British culture, stood with gay activists in Trafalgar Square that summer amid placards mocking Buju, Bounty, Beenie and Elephant Man as "killer queens"6.

The music retreated from central London out east to the drafty old Stratford Rex. The venue proved problematic - with late starts and no shows frequently the order of the day - yet away from public scrutiny dancehall was co-opting the mainstream from another angle. Just as Jamaican dancehall was influencing US pop acts like Kanye West and Lady Gaga, its UK arm was advancing via the rise of Funky Bashment’s elder sibling, “grime”. As the decade progressed the beleaguered Labour administration relaxed its stance, with Home Secretary Jacqui Smith granting UK entry to Bounty Killer in 20087.

In 2010, dancehall is thriving in ways unthinkable in 2005. The free newspaper Metro carried a piece by Arwa Haider on the links between reggae and hip hop along with advertisements for Capleton on tour8. The BBC screened the Turbulence documentary Rise Up as part of its Storyville series, prompting the Guardian to pose the question, “Does reggae really need a dancehall X-Factor?”9. Dancehall is back in the mainstream, having weathered the storm of hostile public opinion - although whether the new coalition government will be its friend or foe remains to be seen.

Read 3377 times Last modified on Sunday, 06 June 2010 03:00

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