By Dennis Aiimwe
Dancehall is a genre of Jamaican pop music that originated in the late 1970s. It started as the sparser version of reggae (as a polar opposite of the roots style).
As digital instrumentation became more common in the mid-1980s, an off-shoot of dancehall, ragga, characterised by faster rhythms, was born.
If you are looking for a difference between the two, dancehall is more melodic, though, of course, the two genres often feed off each other in the same song, especially when carried out by duos like Chaka Demus and Pliers.
Dancehall owes its name to the Jamaican dance halls in which popular Jamaican recordings were played by local sound systems.
Thematically, it differs from roots reggae, whose focus is social injustice, repatriation and the Rastafarian movement, by being dominated by lyrics about dancing, violence, and sex.
Early dancehall major stars included Don Carlos, Al Campbell and Triston Palmer, while more established names such as Gregory Isaacs and Bunny Wailer successfully adapted to the genre.
The crossover to mainstream popularity was started by Yellowman, who 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 acts like Sister Charmaine, Lady G and Shelly Thunder, while the ‘90s saw the emergence of Tanya Stephens.
The final seal of approval from the mainstream public was epitomised by the huge popularity enjoyed by Sly & Robbie, Buju Banton, Chaka Demus and Pliers and. of course, Shaba Ranks.
Success was cemented by its ability to be integrated into other genres, with acts like Elephant Man, Shaggy and Sean Paul leading the way, registering huge success in collaborations with R&B and hip hop acts in the US. In Uganda, dancehall infl uences our music industry in a number of ways.
It has replaced reggae as the Go-to genre for musicians that are starting out. This is mostly because of the limited level of input required in production terms as compared to genres like R&B or soul, or even pop music. Every time you have a new kid on the block, the chances that his/her song is a dancehall tune are about 8/10.
The fact that it is popular within nightclubs (all those girls rub-a-dubbing and stuff) means that musicians seeking rotation for their music often try this genre out. This is true whether they are established or simply starting out, even when it cannot really be referred to as their genre of choice.
Cindy (left) who has morphed into a dancehall musician in her own right after leaving Blu3, Iryn (Only You, which she released in 2013), Juliana (dueting on Bobi Wine’s Tata Wa Baana), Jose Chameleone’s Bomboclat and Radio and Weasel’s Magnetic fall into this category. Sometimes, to add more zap to a genre that they feel restricted to, musicians will use dancehall as a vehicle for this.
Gospel musicians are particularly inclined towards this trend, and it works well for them. Kingsley’s My Faith is the ideal example in this scenario.
It will sound like I am pointing out the obvious, but even when a Ugandan song is not necessarily within the dancehall genre, it will often share the characteristics of the video of a dancehall song. This mostly happens with the genre that is somewhat dubiously referred to as ‘Afropop’. And the characteristics these videos borrow?
Oh, the usual: scantily dressed females, dance routines and erotic or sexually suggestive choreography. It is made them rather predictable, as the panel from the Club Music Video Awards pointed out in a write-up following the release of the nominees list for this year’s inaugural edition was released.
Dancehall has merged with several genres rather successfully, as depicted by the collaborations that take place in Uganda. It makes sense because it provides creative freedom while lending the songs that use this approach some extra oomph. Navio (with Peter Miles on Ruckus and also Bobi Wine’s Bad Man), Juliana (featuring on Vampino’s wonderful remix of Kwekunyakunya) are two excellent examples of how this works.