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Dancehall Reggae

Dancehall Reggae

Dancehall Reggae 



Dancehall is a type of reggae which developed around 1979, with artists such as Yellowman, Super Cat, Barrington Levy and others who went on to become the Roots Radics. It is also known by some as “Bashment” and in the early 1990s the term Raggamuffin was established. The style is characterized by a DJ singing and rapping or toasting over raw and danceable reggae music (riddims). The rhythm in dancehall is much faster than in reggae, with drum machines replacing acoustic sets. In the early years of dancehall, some found its lyrics as crude and bawdy (“slack”), though it became very popular among the youths of Jamaica. Like its reggae predecessor it eventually made inroads onto the world music scene. 

Like its reggae predecessor it eventually made inroads onto the world music scene.

This deejay-led, largely synthesized music departed from traditional conceptions of reggae. Dub poet Mutabaruka maintained, “if 1970s reggae was red, green and gold, then in the next decade it was gold chains”. So far removed was it from its gentle reggae roots and culture that purists furiously debated as to whether it was genuinely reggae or not.

In the late 1990s, many artists returned to the Rastafari movement and changed their lyrical focus to “consciousness”, a reflection of the spiritual underpinnings of Rastafarianism. Various varieties of dancehall achieved some crossover success outside of Jamaica during the mid- to late-1990s. In 2001, reggae pop star Shaggy went 6 times platinum with his album Hotshot. The next year, he received various nominations from the American Music Awards and the Grammy Awards, and he has won two World Music Awards. Also some Dancehall-tunes (voiced riddims) became popular during the summer of 2003, especially Sean Paul’s Get Busy.

Dancehall owes its name to the space in which popular Jamaican music was consumed and produced by the DJ. Dancehall is not just music therefore, but a space as well as an institution or culture in which music, dance and community vibes merge.



Dancehall can be understood as having two major highpoints between 1989-1994 and 1999-2004. In these periods artists like Buju Banton, Bounti Killa, Spragga Benz, Beenie Man, Capleton, Elephant Man, Shaggy, Sean Paul and Sizzla emerged. Today dancehall is perpetuated on the tongues of lyricists such as Bounty Killer, Vybz Kartel, Sizzla Kalonji, Beenie Man, Elephant Man, Buju Banton,Yellowman, Al beeno and many more.

Dancehall developed in Jamaica as a result of varying political and socioeconomic factors. Reggae as a style of music was heavily influence by the ideologies of Rastafari and was also spirited by the socialist movements in the island at the time. Dancehall the scion of reggae was birthed in the late seventies and early eighties, when many had become disenchanted with the socialist movement and harsh economic realities came to bear in the island. It is during this time that neo-liberalist ideologies and materialism started to factor into the live of many Jamaicans, and into the new music.


Buju Banton-1

Dancehall has been condemned by high Jamaican society with little or no state endorsement. It has also faced the slaughter of intellectual criticism in the media, particularly by the likes of popular Jamaican journalists, like Ian Boyne.

Dancehall has also come to face scathing criticism from the homosexual community, as they claim that it perpetuates violence against homosexuals in Jamaica, most notably through its lyrics in songs by such DJs as Beenie Man and Buju Banton.


Dancehall is just short of being a movement but does have the characteristics of a cosmology, as it is a culture and a lens through which people see the world.

This cosmology and cultural phenomenon carries with it a linguistic component.

The Dancehall cosmology however is not easily understood and comes under heavy criticism from cultural and ethical absolutists who judge and evaluate Dancehall from their own cultural realms and sensibilities. Terms such as “bun” in the Dancehall, which translates to burn in standard English does not carry with it a very literal understanding as it may in European cultures. Hence, phrases like “bun sodomites” will not mean, to literally burn sodomites, but function more as a line of descent: it is an exaggeration used to indicate serious disapproval.




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