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DanceHall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto

Posted by lamacs On June - 15 - 2010

Sonjah Stanley-Niaah
University of Ottawa Press, August 2010

DanceHall combines cultural geography, performance studies and cultural studies to examine performance culture across the Black Atlantic.

Taking Jamaican dancehall music as its prime example, DanceHall reveals a complex web of cultural practices, politics, rituals, philosophies, and survival strategies that link Caribbean, African and African diasporic performance.

Combinging the rhythms of reggae, digital sounds and rapid-fire DJ lyrics, dancehall music was popularized in Jamaica during the later part of the last century by artists such as Shabba Ranks, Shaggy, Beenie Man and Buju Banton. Even as its popularity grows around the world, a detailed understanding of the dancehall performance space, lifestyle and associated meanings are missed. Author Sinjah Stanley-Niaah relates how dancehall emerged from the marginalized youth culture of Kingston’s ghettos and how it remains inextricably linked to the ghetto, giving its performance culture and spaces a distinct identity. She reveals how dancehall’s migratory networks, embodied practice, institutional frameworks, and ritual practices link it to other musical styles, such as American blues, South African kwaito, and Latin American reggaetòn. She shows that dancehall is part of a legacy that reaches from the dance shrubs of West Indian plantations and the early negro churches, to the taxi dancehalls of Chicago and the ballrooms of Manhattan. Indeed, DanceHall stretches acrtoss the whole of the Black Atlantic’s geography and history to produce its detailed portrait of dancehall in its local, regional, and transnational performance spaces.

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