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What is Dancehall: Understanding the Jamaican Dancehall culture and its impact globally

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What is Jamaican Dancehall Music?

The rich cultural heritage of Jamaica is reflected in a lot of different fields such as cuisine, culture, and obviously, music! While Reggae is one of the most popular genres and widely known to Jamaican as well as international audience, Dancehall, which came into the scene in the late 1970’s, is unique besides being enjoyable on its own terms.

Origin of Dancehall

The word ‘Dancehall’ was coined in the early to mid-1970’s. However, it took time for this Jamaican music to gain popularity and it rose to fame in the 1980’s while becoming widely adopted in the 1990’s. If you have been wondering why it was called Dancehall, it is pretty much as straightforward as the words themselves may indicate.

Instead of being confined to a small space, DJs across the island would set up large speakers and music mixing systems in open streets or large spaces where a lot of people could gather. Besides being a culturally indicative kind of music, it also helped a lot of deejays rise to fame in Jamaica and also in the worldwide arena.

What is Dancehall: Understanding the Jamaican Dancehall culture and its impact globally

Dancehall artistes such as Sean Paul, Vybz Kartel, Buju Banton and Elephant Man have managed to make it to the international stage and have become well-known among Dancehall music lovers around the world.

What to Look for When it Comes to Enjoying Dancehall Music

Every genre of music has its own nuances. Be it rock, pop, hip-hop or reggae, there is something the audience loves in it that makes it so popular in the first place. The same goes for Dancehall which is enjoyable and refreshing on many fronts.

  • At the beginning of these songs, it may have a soothing jazz-like emotional vibe before it jumps into something more frantic and compelling.
  • Remixing some of the popular songs by making them slow and fuzzy or super fast is part of the dancehall culture.
  • It is commonly known as the ‘riddim’, which is a rhythm that a producer creates on top of which deejays will showcase their talent with different lyrics and additional instruments.
  • You will find that the lyrics are repetitive in most songs and sometimes aren’t easy to connect but for the young people of Jamaica, new songs keep entertaining them throughout the year irrespective of the kind of lyrics used in them.
  • Dancehall music is very popular in the international scene and when popular artists like Nicki Minaj, Eminem or WizKid add their musical touch to it, it sets the path for a whole new song that is great fun.
  • This kind of music has also led to the evolution of several new dance types. They often have strange names such as Wheelchair, Breadfruit, LOL, Kreech, among others.

How is Dancehall Different from Reggae?

From a simple perspective, both Dancehall and Reggae music reflect the culture of Jamaicans, their love for music and other artistic practices that have been carried through the years in the form of music. However, Reggae is a genre which was popularised by iconic people like Bob Marley, and Peter Tosh whereas Dancehall is considered more modern and “peppier” with beats that young people love.

What is Dancehall: Understanding the Jamaican Dancehall culture and its impact globally

Reggae originated back in the 1960’s from Jamaican Mento, a folk music style of Jamaica. It comprises of acoustics and music instruments inspired by the Afro culture whereas Dancehall was an underground genre made up of thumping beats, fast riddims and are more of on-the-spot compositions than using recorded music.

When it was purely underground, late-night performances, the songs comprised of plenty of rude words and sexual remarks called ‘slack’. But it gradually evolved to be more conscious of the world we live in. The international scene also changed the way deejays created their songs to make it easier to reach a wider audience, not just the people living in Jamaica.

If you like to make an easier comparison, Dancehall is a dubstep/EDM kind of thumping music with deep bass, fast rhythms and loud music designed for large parties to dance to. Reggae, or Root Reggae as musicians call it, is mellow, feel-good music that you can enjoy while searching for your inner peace. The best part is, both these polar opposites of musical compositions emerged from the same roots and it is seen as the rebellious take, an expression of oneself on modern day issues in a louder, angrier tone.

Dancehall and its Impact on the International Scene

The first big achievement for the loud and crowd-loved Jamaican Dancehall music was when King Yellowman released his first album in the United States in 1982. Yellowman continued to leave a mark in the international community paving way for lots of younger artists to reach the spotlight in the 90’s and the 2000’s.

The list continued in the 2000’s when artists like Elephant Man, Mavado, Popcaan and Alkaline among many others continued to dominate the international scene in the past two decades. There are many female Dancehall performers that also found their own spot in the international music scene!

Performers like Lady Saw, Spice, Shenseea, Stefflon Don are some female artistes that have seen hits on the local and international scene. And, when we talk about the international music scene, these people managed to find an audience of their own in the US, UK, Europe, and other continents with compelling Dancehall music that will keep the riddim going for years. The songs created by popular deejays even found their way into some movies and games like Grand Theft Auto IV that stands proof to the fact that Dancehall has come a long way from its roots in Jamaica to impress the worldwide audience.

What is Dancehall: Understanding the Jamaican Dancehall culture and its impact globally


International music companies and producers in a recent interview suggested that better nurturing of talent in Kingston could help Dancehall music reach more international audience through services like Apple Music and Spotify. International music lovers also expect creative new additions as they listen to both Reggae and Dancehall. Offering new music rhythms and bringing young talent to the foreground will definitely cement the popularity of the genre for decades to come, especially when youngsters around the globe love Dancehall for what it already is.


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