A Jamaican Cultural Art:
An expression of the lowered class
S. Scott & Paul Andrew Bourne
September, 2013
Scott & Bourne, 2013
Introduction
The ‘Dancehall space’ has been labeled as 1) vulgar, 2) crude, 3) violent, 4) belittling...
Scott & Bourne, 2013
The arguments which are forwarded in this paper are based on the requirement of scholastic
thinking, ...
Scott & Bourne, 2013
resulted in what sociologists such as Emile Durkheim would term, a state of anomie. Hence, the
tenden...
Scott & Bourne, 2013
distinct identity in local, national and global contexts; through dancehall, ghetto youth
also attemp...
Scott & Bourne, 2013
“ man and a woman embrace…their legs strike out…bodies melted at the hips, timing
perfectly in unison...
Scott & Bourne, 2013
socially prescribed and socially meaningful ways of moving and in the context of the history of
dance...
Scott & Bourne, 2013
members of wider society. Therefore, “dancehall culture’s identity re-presentations proffer a
magic w...
Scott & Bourne, 2013
women, as delegated by the norms of wider society, is that of submissive characters whose role
is to ...
Scott & Bourne, 2013
helps to foster more tolerance at the level of the individual, and in the wider society. Therefore,
d...
Scott & Bourne, 2013
many of its core participants. Stewart (2002) thus states, “a major purpose of dancehall is its
utili...
Scott & Bourne, 2013
Sebald, H. (1968). Adolescence: A Sociological Analysis. New York: Meredith Corporation.
Stewart, K. ...
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  1. 1. A Jamaican Cultural Art: An expression of the lowered class S. Scott & Paul Andrew Bourne September, 2013
  2. 2. Scott & Bourne, 2013 Introduction The ‘Dancehall space’ has been labeled as 1) vulgar, 2) crude, 3) violent, 4) belittling, 5) ex-rated, and 6) all other negatives by many of those in the elite and educated classes. Ian Boyne is among the proponents of the negativity of the dancehall space. Boyne perspective of the dancehall seems to the filled with his middle-class ideals, the superiority of one culture over another and his learned culture. Clearly, Boyne has missed the essence of sociology which is not to determine how people should not live or stipulate a moral position on their activities; but it is a discipline that examines what is as it relates to social happenings and behaviour of people (Haralambos & Holborn, 2002). Kingsley Stewart, a lecturer in social anthropology, had an extensive discussion with Ian Boyne on the matter of sociology of the dancehall. The two men had extensive back and forting on the matter of the sociology of the dancehall and no relented on his position, with Boyne coming across as mired in his learned culture and argued as if a culture can be superior to another. The sociology of the dancehall extends beyond the music and dance to the language, rituals, clothing, economics, social atmosphere, social politics and psychology of the patrons. The sociology of the dancehall is not singly about the movement of the body, particularly around the pelvic areas, as it envelopes sets of expressions of the class of people that are anti-structure and opposed to the superstructure. This paper is an empirical examination of the sociology of the dancehall. The examination was made possible using a constructionistic epistemology, which guided an interpretivistic theoretical perspective and allowed for a phenomenological research methodology. As a result of the choiced methodology, the appropriate methods were unobtrusive observations, focus group, document analysis, thematic identification, narrations, and interviews. 2
  3. 3. Scott & Bourne, 2013 The arguments which are forwarded in this paper are based on the requirement of scholastic thinking, provide a reasoned position and the arguments are embedded in interpretive sociology. Conceptual Framework: The Dancehall space Dancehall, the most celebrated form of popular culture distinct to the Jamaican society, has gained much recognition especially within this past decade. However, because of the vibrant sound of the rhythms and styles seen in dancehall, it is often just analyzed for its face value. This is adamantly expressed, for instance, in the popular notion that the dancehall promotes violence, because of its overly expressive lyrical content, instead of viewing these lyrics as a mode of release about their social experiences. However, few scholars have looked beyond its face value, to realize that, dancehall, through especially its rhythmic content, lyrical content, and movement, is a form of release, for not only lower class individuals, but even the wider society. This is evident in the fact that the dancehall space is able to attract more Jamaican youth, regardless of class, than the church, which lies in the fact that they are able to express themselves freely without being judged. Therefore, “at the level of the individual, [the movement and music of dancehall] is a cleansing force. [Aesthetics] frees the [individual] from his inferiority complex and from despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect.” (Fanon, 19, p. 94) Stewart (2002) opines that “dancehall is a Jamaican sub-cultural, music/dance stage, where actors reveal, perform and reinforce the cultural imperatives and complexities of their lives.” This suggests that the body and music is capable of providing an outlet for psychological relief of individuals. The need for this mode of relief in the Jamaican society arises, from the fact that Jamaica’s stagnant socio-economic growth, culture of violence, and the breakdown in the credence of major moral socialization structures, especially the family and the church have 3
  4. 4. Scott & Bourne, 2013 resulted in what sociologists such as Emile Durkheim would term, a state of anomie. Hence, the tendency for individuals, specifically those who are marginalized, within the society, to resort to subcultural activities, specifically the dancehall, is a source of relief. Hans Sebald in Adolescence: A Sociological Analysis reiterates this notion as he states, “…the general function of the subculture is to compensate for the failure of the ‘parent culture’ to provide a definite status, a feeling of acceptance, and need-satisfactions unique to a certain group of people.” (p. 205). “Hence, one source of [sub] cultures is the inability of the opportunity structure to meet the socialized expectations of certain subcultural groups: A recognition that the dominant culture is not responsive in terms of individual needs or that they are emerging contradictions between the values of the dominant culture and behaviour within the society will stimulate a demand for alternative values.” (Carter, 1995, p. 65). However, the lyrics of dancehall music and movements within the dancehall space may be viewed as an expression of similar problems faced by the wider society. But, due to the difference in ethnic makeup of the vast majority of “peripherals” and “intermediates,” core participants choose to express their frustration through means that exhibit African retentions, instead of those that subscribe to European culture. Hence, the dancehall and its attenuating factors may be seen as a vulgar expression of the general social conditions of the society, which has the dual purpose of restoring self dignity and empowers the individual. The dancehall space and music represents a place and music through which people’s mind and body can express their emotions about social, and even personal matters, without having to worry about being judged. Norman C. Stolzoff (200) in his book Wake the Town and Tell the People substantiates this notion as he states “…Dancehall is not merely a sphere of passive consumerism. It is a field of active cultural production, a means by which black lower class youth articulate and project a 4
  5. 5. Scott & Bourne, 2013 distinct identity in local, national and global contexts; through dancehall, ghetto youth also attempt to deal with the endemic problems of poverty, racism and violence. [Further], in this sense, dancehall is a multidimensional force, at once symbolic and material, that permeates and structures everyday life in Jamaica.(p.1) Stolzoff thus suggests that dancehall does not provide the sole purpose of providing entertainment through its music and movements; it also serves a higher purpose, that is psychological release for the “core participants” but also, “intermediate” participants in the dancehall. Chadwick Roberts (2003), in his article entitled The Politics of Farrah’s Body states, “Because the body is arguably the location from which all social life begins…the body is a medium of culture. It is the surface on which the prevailing rules of a culture are written. The shared attitudes and practices of social groups are played out at the level of the body…Cultural rules and trends are revealed through the body; they also shape the ways in which the body performs and appears,” as evident in figure 1 Figure 1 5
  6. 6. Scott & Bourne, 2013 “ man and a woman embrace…their legs strike out…bodies melted at the hips, timing perfectly in unison.” (Desmond, 1997, p. 30). The use of the body as a means of psychological release, as well as empowerment, has been used for these means by our African forefathers, during the horrid period of slavery, to cope with enslavement within Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. Thus, the use of dancehall for these purposes is not new to people of African descent, in the society. This is evident in the similarity of dancehall movement, with that of African or “folk” dances, but its importance has been undermined. Thus Desmond (1997) states, “so ubiquitious, so ‘naturalized’ as to be nearly unnoticed as a symbolic system, movement is a meaningful, primary not social ‘text’- complex, polysemous, always already meaningful…Its meaning is situated both in the context of other 6
  7. 7. Scott & Bourne, 2013 socially prescribed and socially meaningful ways of moving and in the context of the history of dance forms in specific societies.” (p. 31) The ways in which the body is moved within the dancehall, is explained by Desmond (1997), who states; “Their music videos emphasize the sharp repeated thrusting of the pelvis as well as complex stepping (out an bad) or hopping patterns (pon di river) that clearly mark out and punctuate the beat of the music. Pelvic grinds (slow or fast circlings) also feature prominently, often with the knees well bent and legs spread…In the upper body we see strong, isolated movements of the head, hands, and arms, often in complex counterpoint to the pumping movements of the lower body and legs. In the dance style, we can see striking similarities to some forms of West African dance, where pelvic articulation features prominently along with polyrhythmic relationships between stepping patterns in the feet and concurrent arm gestures.” (p. 38). Through this description, it is vivid that dancehall movements require the relaxation of the body, and the internalization of the rhythm, in order to release through movement and feeling. This, in and of itself, shows the therapeutic purpose of dancehall music and dance. Furthermore, the movement of dancehall has much more meaning than it suggests prima facie. In other words, dancehall is more than a means of entertainment, or means of fulfilling sensual feelings, it acts more as a mode of expression, which fosters social change, such as the interweaving of various social classes and races, rather than that which it suggests, prima facie. “The narrowly ethical practice of culture associated with aesthetics must be subsumed within culture as a whole way of life. Then, it will be possible to actualize the promise of self- realization by harnessing aesthetics to the processes of economic and political development.”(Hunter, 1992, p. 348). Thus, it may be argued that the use of “bling bling” and name brand clothes, as well as other material objects that symbolize wealth in the dancehall space, is a means to emulate the symbols of power found in the wider society. Thus, aesthetics helps the participants of the dancehall to feel a sense of acceptance and commonality with the 7
  8. 8. Scott & Bourne, 2013 members of wider society. Therefore, “dancehall culture’s identity re-presentations proffer a magic wand that many individuals from the poverty- stricken inner cities of Kingston and St. Andrew use to transform and redefine the subordinate roles and identities ascribed to them by traditional Jamaican society. This makes dancehall’s ‘bashment,’ and ‘bling-bling’ and hype immensely powerful.” (Hope, 2006, p. xix). Therefore, the aesthetics of dancehall culture gives dancehall core participants fulfillment symbolically, with regards to material wealth. Thus, according to Stolzoff (2000): [p]erhaps the human body is where the most significant symbols and practices of dancehall circulate...Through fashion [cycles], speech, and techniques of the body, ghetto youth mark their participation in dancehall and assert their control over the public space they occupy. Styles of clothing, haircuts, and jewellery worn....have come to signify a subordinate and oppositional position within Jamaica’s race-class hierarchy...(p.2). Furthermore, dancehall music in particular, provides an efficient and effective means of expressing the qualms of the marginalized within society though its lyrics. This is expressed in recent songs such as “ghetto story by Baby Cham and Juniour Gong’s….This, to some extent, is able to gain the attention of the politicians regarding negative socio-economic conditions that the marginalized continue to face in the Jamaican society, than conventional political means, such as protests. In addition, the dancehall provides further relief from despair that its core participants face. This is so, as dancehall moves and even the music created by core participants, sometimes allow them to gain local and even international recognition for their contribution to dancehall culture. This in turn provides a source of financial income for many of these poverty-stricken individuals, who are able to uplift themselves and their families from impoverishment. In addition, dancehall has also assisted in breaking down many of the stereotypical gender roles of especially women in this patriarchal society. Such that, the gender role of 8
  9. 9. Scott & Bourne, 2013 women, as delegated by the norms of wider society, is that of submissive characters whose role is to depend on the man for financial support, and play the role of a stay at home mother, with the responsibilities of raising the children and keeping the home in tact. The prominence and strength exuberated by female dancehall artistes such as Lady Saw, acts as a role model to those girls and women who have lived under the credence that the role of a woman in the family is based on submissiveness. The lyrics of dancehall songs, sang by both male and female DJ’s help women to strive for independence, and assists in female empowerment. Lyrics that serve this purpose include: Mi a hot gyal, mi nah look nobody, Mi a hot gyal, mi nah look no fren, Mi have mi owna house, and mi car, an mi lan, An mi nah depen pon no man. Hence, it is evident that dancehall is also a very powerful factor that facilitates social change in the Jamaican society, as well as the Diaspora. Also, dancehall songs help women to retain their self-respect generally, and especially in times of conflict. This is important during a time of Jamaica’s social period where, a culture of violence pervades the society, where there are low levels of tolerance, and individuals are willing to harm each other for petty incidents, such as accidentally stepping on someone’s toe. Thus, Spice’s song that states: Me’s a girl weh no fight ova man, From mi likkle bit a jus so mi tan… 9
  10. 10. Scott & Bourne, 2013 helps to foster more tolerance at the level of the individual, and in the wider society. Therefore, dancehall is an important source of empowerment to women, though it is often misjudged by “peripheral” associated with the dancehall. Carolyn Cooper (2004) states: “…Even the tarnished ‘slackness’ DJ’s like Shabba Ranks…who is stereotypically defined as ‘sexist’ because of his raw celebration of sexuality and his extranaked attention to female bodies, proves to be much more cunning than is ordinarily assumed when one carefully reads not just his body language (and his music videos) but also his lyrics. His sensitivity to the plight of disempowered wom[e]n and his advocacy of egalitarian gender relations, particularly in matters of sexual politics, is remarkable.” (p.21). Cooper (2004) also attenuates the underlying importance of lyrics sang by dancehall DJ’s that seem, in the same manner as that of the male DJ’s, as degrading to women. She states: “…Somewhat paradoxically, [Lady Saw] often speaks the very same sexually explicit body language as the male DJ’s, causing shortsighted detractors to dismiss her as being even more culpable than they- and the women in the audience who take vicarious pleasure in her daring self-exposure. Though seemingly complicit in her objectification, the self-assertive female DJ does speak back to the male, challenging many of the chauvinist limitations that are imposed on her gender.” (p. 21). Therefore, subcultures, especially those affiliated with dance and music, namely dancehall, should not be judged at its face value, but in fact, its characteristics should be examined carefully, to attempt to determine why certain acts are carried out, as a means of cultural expression within subcultures, and cultures generally. This depicts the importance of the symbolic interactionist school of thought, which purports the study of any culture, employing a subjective or “thick descriptive” means of analysis. The arguments presented, thus suggests the dancehall is not only a mode of entertainment, but it also facilitates the empowerment, a mode of expression, that has proven to be more efficient than formal means of political participation that speaks against the negative socio-economic conditions present in the society; and a source of economic advancement for 10
  11. 11. Scott & Bourne, 2013 many of its core participants. Stewart (2002) thus states, “a major purpose of dancehall is its utility as a tool to provide psycho-physiological relief from various forms of stress.” (p. 22). Hence, “at the level of individuals, [the movement and music of dancehall] is a cleansing force. [Aesthetics] frees the [individual] from his inferiority complex and from despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect.” (Fanon, 1963, p. 94). References Carter, R. C. (1995). Counterculture as an Analytic Construct of Youth Behaviour in Barbados. In L. Lewis & R. C. Carter (Eds.), Essays on Youth in the Caribbean. (pp. 62-76). Institute of Social and Economic Research. Cooper, C. (2004). Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Culture at Large. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Desmond, J. C. EDITOR(1997). Meaning in Motion: New Cultural Studies of Dance. London: Duke University Press. Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of the Earth. London: Penguin Group. Haralambus, M & Holborn, M (2002), Sociology: Themes and Perspective; London; University Tutorial Press Hope, D. (2006) Inna Di Dancehall: Popular Culture and the Politics of Identity in Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press. Hunter, I. (1992). Aesthetics and Cultural Studies. In L. Grossberg, C. Nelson & P. A. Treichler (Eds.), Cultural Studies (347). New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall. Roberts, C. (2003, August). The Politics of Farrah’s Body: The Female Icon as Cultural Embodiment. Journal of Popular Culture, 37(1), 82-97. 11
  12. 12. Scott & Bourne, 2013 Sebald, H. (1968). Adolescence: A Sociological Analysis. New York: Meredith Corporation. Stewart, K. (2002). “So Wah, Mi Nuh Fi Live To?”: Interpreting Violence in Jamaica Through the Dancehall Culture. Ideaz, 1 (1), 17-27. Stolzoff, N. (2000). Wake the Town and Tell the People: Dancehall Culture in Jamaica. Durham: Duke University Press. Retrieved November 22, 2006, from http://books.google.com/books? hl=en&lr=&id=Ph8TBR6LErQC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&sig=KuYX- MqS2wUnVhGybeAMiDjTSbM&dq=dancehall+MUSIC+and+DANCE+as+a+MODE+ of+personal+expression+n-stolzoff&prev=http://scholar.google.com/scholar%3Fq %3Ddancehall%2BMUSIC%2Band%2BDANCE%2Bas%2Ba%2BMODE%2Bof %2Bpersonal%2Bexpression%2Bauthor:n-stolzoff%26hl%3Den%26lr%3D#PPP1,M1 12

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