Dancehall

Dancehall is a genre of Jamaican popular music that originated in the late 1970s. Initially dancehall was a more sparse version of reggae than the roots style, which had dominated much of the 1970s. In the mid-1980s, digital instrumentation became more prevalent, changing the sound considerably, with digital dancehall (or "ragga") becoming increasingly characterized by faster rhythms. (The word "bashment", a term originating in the 90's, was used to describe a particularly good dance; for example "to go to a bashment dance". In the Dancehall vernacular, 'bashment' is therefore an adjective instead of a noun.)

Dancehall owes its moniker to the Jamaican dance halls in which popular Jamaicans recordings were played by local sound systems. These began in the late 1940s among people from the inner city of Kingston such as Trench Town, Rose Town and Denham Town., Jamaicans who were not able to participate in dances uptown. Social and political changes in late-1970s Jamaica were reflected in the shift away from the more internationally oriented roots reggae towards a style geared more towards local consumption, and in tune with the music that Jamaicans had experienced when sound systems performed live. Michael Manley's socialist People's National Party (PNP) government had been replaced with Edward Seaga's right wing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Themes of social injustice, repatriation and the Rastafari movement were overtaken by lyrics about dancing, violence, and sexuality.

Musically, older rhythms from the late 1960s were recycled, with Sugar Minott credited as the originator of this trend when he voiced new lyrics over old Studio One rhythms between sessions at the studio, where he was working as a session musician. Around the same time, producer Don Mais was reworking old rhythms at Channel One Studios, using the Roots Radics band. The Roots Radics would go on to work with Henry "Junjo" Lawes on some of the key early dancehall recordings, including those that established Barrington LevyFrankie Paul, and Junior Reid as major reggae stars. Other singers to emerge in the early dancehall era as major stars included Don CarlosAl Campbell, and Triston Palmer, while more established names such as Gregory Isaacs and Bunny Wailer successfully adapted.

Two of the biggest deejay stars of the early dancehall era, Yellowman and Eek-a-Mouse, chose humour rather than violence. Yellowman became the first Jamaican deejay to be signed to a major American record label, and for a time enjoyed a level of popularity in Jamaica to rival Bob Marley's peak. The early 1980s also saw the emergence of female deejays in dancehall music, including: Sister CharmaineLady GLady JunieJunie RanksLady SawSister Nancy and Shelly Thunder. Sound systems such as Killimanjaro, Black Scorpio, Gemini Disco, Virgo Hi-Fi, Volcano Hi-Power and Aces International soon capitalized on the new sound and introduced a new wave of deejays. The older toasters were overtaken by new stars such as Captain SinbadRanking JoeClint EastwoodLone RangerJosey WalesCharlie ChaplinGeneral Echo and Yellowman — a change reflected by the 1981 Junjo Lawes-produced album A Whole New Generation of DJs, although many went back to U-Roy for inspiration. Deejay records became, for the first time, more important than records featuring singers. Another trend was sound clash albums, featuring rival deejays /or sound systems competing head-to-head for the appreciation of a live audience, with underground sound clash cassettes often documenting the violence that came with such rivalries.

Dancehall brought a new generation of producers; Junjo Lawes, Linval ThompsonGussie Clarke and Jah Thomas took over from the producers who had dominated in the 1970s.

Ragga and Digital Dancehall 

Ragga originated in Jamaica during the 1980s, at the same time that electronic dance music's popularity was increasing globally. One of the reasons for ragga's swift propagation is that it is generally easier and less expensive to produce than reggae performed on traditional musical instruments. Ragga evolved first in Jamaica, and later in Europe, North America, and Africa, eventually spreading to Japan, India, and the rest of the world. Ragga heavily influenced early jungle music, and also spawned the syncretistic bhangragga style when fused with bhangra. In the 1990s, ragga and breakcore music fused, creating a style known as raggacore.

The term "raggamuffin" is an intentional misspelling of "ragamuffin", a word that entered the Jamaican Patois lexicon after the British Empire colonized Jamaica in the 17th century. Despite the British colonialists' pejorative application of the term, Jamaican youth appropriated it as an ingroup designation. The term "raggamuffin music" describes the music of Jamaica's "ghetto dwellers".

Raggamuffin music, usually abbreviated as ragga, is a subgenre of dancehall music and reggae, in which the instrumentation primarily consists of electronic music. Similar to hip hop, sampling often serves a prominent role in raggamuffin music.

In the mid-1980s, French Antilles Kassav, the first in the Caribbean to use MIDI technology, took Caribbean music to another level by recording in a digital format. Wayne Smith's "Under Mi Sleng Teng" was produced by King Jammy in 1985 on a Casio MT-40 synthesizer and is generally recognized as the seminal ragga song. "Sleng Teng" boosted Jammy's popularity immensely, and other producers quickly released their own versions of the riddim, accompanied by dozens of different vocalists.

Ragga is now mainly used as a synonym for dancehall reggae or for describing dancehall with a deejay chatting rather than singjaying or singing on top of the riddim.

Dub poet Mutabaruka said, "if 1970s reggae was red, green and gold, then in the next decade it was gold chains". It was far removed from reggae's gentle roots and culture, and there was much debate among purists as to whether it should be considered an extension of reggae.

This shift in style again saw the emergence of a new generation of artists, such as BuccaneerCapleton and Shabba Ranks, who became the biggest ragga star in the world. A new set of producers also came to prominence: Philip "Fatis" BurrellDave "Rude Boy" KellyGeorge PhangHugh "Redman" JamesDonovan GermainBobby Digital, Wycliffe "Steely" Johnson and Cleveland "Clevie" Brown (aka Steely & Clevie) rose to challenge Sly & Robbie's position as Jamaica's leading rhythm section. The deejays became more focused on violence, with Bounty KillerMad CobraNinjaman and Buju Banton becoming major figures in the genre.

To complement the harsher deejay sound, a "sweet sing" vocal style evolved out of roots reggae and R&B, marked by its falsetto and almost feminine intonation, with proponents like PinchersCocoa TeaSanchezAdmiral Tibet, Frankie Paul, Half Pint, Conroy Smith, Courtney Melody, Carl Meeks and Barrington Levy.

In the late 1980s, influential Jamaican rapper Daddy Freddy's pioneering efforts in fusing ragga with hip hop music earned him international acclaim while helping to publicize and popularize ragga. In 1987, Daddy Freddy and Asher D's "Ragamuffin Hip-Hop" became the first multinational single to feature the word "ragga" in its title. In 1992, Canadian hip hop group Rascalz released their debut album under the name Ragga Muffin Rascals. As ragga matured, an increasing number of dancehall artists began to appropriate stylistic elements of hip hop music, while ragga music, in turn, influenced more and more hip hop artists, most notably KRS-One, the Boot Camp ClikDas EFXBusta Rhymes, as well as some artists with ragga-influenced styles, like early CommonMain SourceIll Al ScratchFu-Schnickens, and Redman. Artists like Mad Lion grew in popularity during this early 90's trend, exemplified by his crossing from reggae to hip-hop culture.

In the early 1990s songs like Dawn Penn's "No, No, No", Shabba Ranks's "Mr. Loverman", Patra's "Worker Man" and Chaka Demus and Pliers' "Murder She Wrote" became some of the first dancehall megahits in the US and abroad. Other varieties of dancehall achieved crossover success outside of Jamaica during the mid-to-late 1990s. Tanya Stephens gave a unique female voice to the genre during the 1990s.

The early 2000s saw the success of newer charting acts such as RihannaElephant Man and Sean Paul, who has achieved mainstream success in the US and has produced several top 10 Billboard hits, including "Gimme the Light", "We Be Burnin'", "Give It Up to Me", "Pon De Replay" and "Break It Off".

Dancehall seems to be making a resurgence within the pop market in the late 2000s, namely Christina Aguilera's "Woohoo", Robyn's "Dancehall Queen" and Swan Fyahbwoy.

VP Records dominates the dancehall music market with Sean Paul, Elephant Man, and Buju Banton. VP often has partnered with major record labels like Atlantic and Island in an attempt to further expand their distribution potential particularly in the US market. 

Conscious Ragga

In 1992, the international backlash to Banton's violently anti-homosexual "Boom Bye-Bye", and the reality of Kingston's violence which saw the deaths of deejays Pan Head and Dirtsman saw another shift, this time back towards Rastafari and cultural themes, with several of the hardcore slack ragga artists finding religion, and the "conscious ragga" scene becoming an increasingly popular movement. A new generation of singers and deejays emerged that harked back to the roots reggae era, notably Garnett SilkRocker TTony RebelSanchezLucianoAnthony B and Sizzla. Some popular deejays, most prominently Buju Banton and Capleton, began to cite Rastafari and turn their lyrics and music in a more conscious, rootsy direction. Many modern dancehall Rasta artists identify with Bobo Ashanti.

Ragga Jungle

Ragga jungle is a genre of music that emerged circa 1989-1990 and was initially heavily based on production of Michael West (Rebel MC, Congo Natty Label). Early pioneers of the genre also include Lennie De Ice, DJ Dextrous, Remarc, MBeat and Ragga Twins.

The style is credited with engaging the black community within the jungle scene, and contributed to the 'bad boy' or 'rude boy' subculture within the UK. Ragga jungle's popularity waned significantly since 1995 in the UK, in part because the more popular DJs have stopped giving the sound airtime. There was a large amount of rudeboy/guntalk reggae being produced at that time which influenced the ragga jungle sound greatly. Some tracks featured samples of gangster movies, gunshots, and samples of Reggae sound clashes.

Ragga jungle is now a niche sound, with a small number of labels releasing music that can be categorised as the genre. Ragga jungle is the sum of four parts. Jungle breakbeats, rudeboy lyrics, reggae bass lines, and a sound clash mentality. In the 2000s, Canadian and American producers have been gaining popularity with their updated version of the sub-genre largely through online networks, sparking a small, yet international renaissance. Prominent producers of the new-school sound are continuing to build bridges, often re-voicing classic reggae singers to produce new works for exclusive use (as dubplates) and retail sale as 12" vinyl singles and downloadable mp3's.

The renaissance has sparked the return of many old-school fans and producers worldwide, who faded from the scene or reinvented themselves when the raves thinned and the music shed its soundsystem roots. A dark age followed for ragga junglists when club DJs opted to support the more technical and less vocal-oriented drum and bass productions. Dubwise junglists have welcomed the return of the rub-a-dub sound, and ragga vocals have gradually regained favour, no doubt helped by the crossover of dancehallCompilations and DJ mix albums have also helped introduce ragga jungle to new audiences.

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