MONDAY, AUGUST 24, 2015
WEEK 34: DANCEHALL
Through all its trials and tribulations there was never really a time when reggae wasn’t dancehall, sound system dances always there to push through the periods of transition. And yet, by the early eighties, as Jamaica suffered yet another period of violence, unemployment and poverty at the hands of its unscrupulous leaders, a move on from roots was long overdue. Eschewing the serious nature of consciousness, dancehall was the backlash from those left behind by Bob Marley’s success, their reclamation of a vibrant, life affirming heritage that had been polluted by the fickle demands of corporate rock.
Dancehall dragged reggae back to its birthplace, to the sound systems, dances, parks and yards it had originally come from. In the late seventies, as recording techniques became both easier and cheaper, producers began to rely on deejay’s raw, uncultured versions of vintage rhythms rather than the sweet sounding singers of old. Social, political and historical themes were abandoned in favour of new dance moves and the crude smuttiness of slackness. In 1981, when dancehall finally emerged as a serious contender, there was a new, irresistible sense of openness, freedom and fun that was impossible to ignore.
At the numerous sound clashes, rival systems battled each other by unleashing their most popular rhythms, their hottest deejay’s and their bawdiest rhymes, the audience relating to the use of patois, the humour and the sheer immediacy of it all. Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes and Prince Jammy were the vanguard of a new generation of producers and operators paving the way for top deejay’s like Josey Wales, Lone Ranger, Eek A Mouse, Brigadier Jerry and dancehalls one true figurehead Yellowman, their singles pushing slackness to new heights of absurdity. Ironically, the ruder and more preposterous they got, the more popular they became.
Recycling popular rhythms has always been a feature of reggae yet none was ever more ubiquitous than Wayne Smith’s monumental ‘Under Me Sleng Teng’. Built using a small Casio keyboard, it was reggaes first fully digital rhythm and when producer Jammy first played it at the infamous Waltham Park Road sound clash on February 23rd 1985, the impact was immediate and genre changing. Ultimately, it proved to be the beginning of the end for dancehall as lines began to blur with its new digital cousin.
For all the success and influence of ‘Under Me Sleng Teng’, a couple of non-Casio hits released at almost exactly the same time managed to keep the old techniques alive in the dancehalls and delay the inevitable wholesale switch to computerised beats. Significantly, Tenor Saw’s anthemic ‘Ring The Alarm’ acknowledged both the future and the past by splicing a digital intro and coda with a high stepping reggae throwback for the infectious vocal sections, while Half Pints fabulous ‘Greetings’ helped re-establish the term ‘raggamuffin’ as a nickname for ghetto youth. Shortened to ‘ragga’, within a year it would become the new generic name for the most popular reggae style of them all.
01 YELLOWMAN ‘Mr Chin’ (A Side 1981)
02 EEK A MOUSE ‘Wa Do Dem’ (A Side 1981)
03 RANKING TOYAN ‘Spar Wid Me’ (A Side 1981)
04 BRIGADIER JERRY ‘Pain’ (A Side 1982)
05 LONE RANGER ‘M16’ (A Side 1982)
06 LITTLE JOHN ‘All Over Me’ (A Side 1983)
07 JOSEY WALES ‘Let Go Mi Hand’ (A Side August 1983)
08 INI KAMOZE ‘Trouble You Trouble Me’ (A Side 1983)
09 HORACE FERGUSON ‘Sensi Addict’ (A Side 1983)
10 BARRINGTON LEVY ‘Under Mi Sensi’ (A Side 1984)
11 CARLTON LIVINGSTON ‘100 Weight Of Collie Weed’ (A Side 1984)
12 JOHNNY OSBOURNE ‘Buddy Bye’ (A Side 1985)
13 WAYNE SMITH ‘Under Me Sleng Teng’ (A Side July 1985)
14 TENOR SAW ‘Ring The Alarm’ (A Side July 1985)
15 HALF PINT ‘Greetings’ (A Side July 1985)
16 ANTHONY RED ROSE ‘Tempo’ (A Side 1985)
17 EARLY B ‘Sunday Dish’ (A Side 1985)
18 SUPER CAT ‘Boops’ (A Side 1986)
19 ADMIRAL BAILEY ‘Politician’ (A Side 1986)
20 ECHO MINOTT ‘What The Hell (The Police Can Do)’ (A Side 1986)
21 PINCHERS ‘Agony’ (A Side 1986)
22 LIEUTENANT STITCHIE ‘Wear Yu Size’ (A Side 1987)