By Laurie Lamson
Dancehall is breathing fire into all sorts of music genres and even the film world. Nick Cannon’s new feature KING OF THE DANCEHALL premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, recently played the opening night at the Pan African Film Festival and was acquired by You Tube Red channel.
With so much going on in dancehall, I thought it would be interesting to get the perspective of a Jamaican artist who has grown and evolved alongside the genre.
As a youth in Kingston, Jamaica, Demo Delgado found his way into Penthouse Records, which released “Never Stop Cry”, “Last Laugh” and more. He went on to collaborate with Wayne Wonder and one of their songs was on the soundtrack for the movie SOMETHING NEW. His album Jack It Up One More Time compiles some of his favorite singles and collaborations over the years.
Now Demo is coming out with a brand new single that fits in the dancehall genre. But if dancehall is reggae influenced by hiphop, his new song has a dancehall/hiphop sound with more of a reggae sensibility.
The state of dancehall today?
The reputation of dancehall is struggling because of the lewd lyrics playing on the radio in Jamaica. It has drawn the attention of Lisa Hannah, a member of the Jamaican Parliament, who recently received death threats after she said that Vybez Kartel’s lyrics should be banned from the airwaves because they’re creating violence in Jamaica.
I don’t think government should intervene in artists’ work, because it’s like dictatorship. Music should be free and a man should express himself in any way he wants to. Of course, some can express themselves more intelligently than others. Dennis Brown for example; his lyrics bring forth a message of love without saying anything derogatory.
What I think the Jamaican government should do is invest in music education and setup international distribution platforms for Jamaican music. We need workshops where artists can learn more creative ways of expressing their ideas and learn to play a wide variety of instruments.
As a Rastaman, I lean more on the conscious side of things, so I’m not the biggest fan of all the new Jamaican dancehall lyrics right now, but I’m not condemning anyone.
Even though people might say Vybez Kartel’s lyrics are derogatory and lewd, it is how the inner-city people talk in Jamaica, and that’s why his music speaks to them.
The Jamaican government may be trying to kill dancehall because of the rude lyrics, but what’s happening internationally is actually pretty exciting. If we as a Jamaican people can clean up our lyrics a little bit, our music can go a lot farther, like Rihanna.
Where does dancehall come from?
In 1962, when Jamaica got independence from Great Britain, the people were happy. That was when ska music was running the place – it was fast and happy. Later people realized nothing had improved; they still faced the problems and the poverty the same way. That’s when the music slowed down and the lyrics became more conscious. They were facing the truth in the music and looking for a way to real change.
Then came dub and dub-step – the more instrumental version of reggae that can put you in a meditative trance.
In more recent times, dancehall emerged. And the youth love it nowadays –obviously the dancehall sound is getting more and more international. So many big hits, like Magic’s “Rude” and Rihanna and Drake’s “Work” make great use of dancehall music.
So reggae keeps changing through the times, but you can always recognize the reggae vibe inside of everything it touches.
Where does your new single “My Life: Rastafari” fit in?
This song came from collaborating with Brandan Gabany and Shane Harrington, a couple of talented American guys who are used to a very modern hiphop sound. We fused reggae lyrics with dancehall, hiphop and dub sounds.
Something I’ve learned from studying the history of reggae is that when it’s mixed with other genres, it can make magic.
Take, for example, Bob Marley and the Wailers in the 70s. It was the era of disco and the Bee Gees were dominating the sound. As the genius that he was, Bob combined his reggae rhythm with the disco flavor that was so popular at that time to create “Could You Be Loved.” The conscious message in his lyrics transcended everything and still touches people’s hearts.
With “My Life: Rastafari” we’re trying to bring together old-school reggae, hiphop and dub. I want to make people dance and still learn something from more conscious lyrics than you normally would hear in dancehall right now.
Author/Interviewer: Laurie Lamson
Laurie directed the music video for Demo Delgado’s reggae single “Live and Learn.” She has three script projects in development with movie producers and her screen adaptation of the nonfiction book Don’t Shoot, I’m the Guitar Man is in post-production. More info at jazzymaemedia.com.
Listen to “My Life: Rastafari” and free download available for a limited time.
Article about Lisa Hannah and Vybez Kartel.