Dancehall Essays

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* Writing about music for the last two decades, I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about how the soundsystem is the basis upon which Jamaican music has developed (and I’ve argued that it’s the best way to listen to music, period).

It’s the dissemination of music on mobile discotheques: stacks of (preferably) custom-built speakers that can be loaded onto a truck and strung up anywhere to create a dancehall session.

Taken into the making of dubplates and so on.” The “setup” or “nine night,” which takes place for nine days after a death, culminating the night before the burial, is a kind of wake.

Storytelling, singing, and dancing celebrate and memorialize the dead.

The effects of the tropical climate eventually made his death obvious. A’s body was removed by police, the death registered, and everyone informed, his possessions were brought into the yard to be left out overnight, the mattress turned over, then furniture returned and rearranged. A wouldn’t be able to recognize the room if he returned. A’s from being resurrected in the room in which he’d spent his life.

When I was describing this to Kei Miller, author of the novel (the Jamaican word for ghost) would also need sweeping out. I was interested in the way these death rituals revealed a conception of a more active relationship between the living and the dead than I was familiar with, having grown up in Canada.Professor Clinton Hutton, a scholar of Jamaican folk religion, has discussed how certain death and burial practices of Afro-Christian religious movements such as Revival Zion are reflected in soundsystem culture: “It’s the same method,” he told me, “the old helped to shape the modern.The evolution of the soundsystem, the Revival wake tradition and the movements in them, the manner of oral expression in them, the poetry traditions, the chanting traditions, were taken into the dancehall.These after-midnight parties showcase an array of fashion in a setting where one can watch or learn a constantly growing assortment of dances and listen to lectures from whoever holds the mic (there’s a reason why legendary soundsystem Stone Love calls their weekly Wednesday-night session “dancehall university”).These dances are actually rooted in the funeral traditions of Jamaican society.In his book (2003), Robert Pogue Harrison thinks about the ways that the dead are with us.“If humans dwell, the dead, as it were, indwell,” he writes.Rival soundsystems fight to the death in a soundclash, and the goal is always to “kill” the opposing sound.In the 1970s, soundsystems would clash using vocalists performing over instrumental rhythms on soundsystems built from the ground up, using an ingenious hodgepodge of materials put together by arguably some of the most innovative sound engineers in musical history.Though a fluorescent light proved to permanently flicker, whenever Mr.A played around with the stove it worked, even after I’d spent hours with no luck. A was supposed to be away, but sadly, he didn’t end up going anywhere.

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