Higher Learning

On Dancehall Queen


Key participants consistently create, or transcend boundaries, notably, in the form of categories, spaces and material reality. The phenomenon of Dancehall queen is a crucial example. Dancehall queens emerged as informal community celebrities and have existed since the 1970s. Since Poochiloo and other less acknowledged queens of the Dancehall, Carlene Smith (the 1992 media proclaimed queen) in particular, and Stacey (crowned queen in 1999), have ushered in a new era in Dancehall: the rise of image, style, appeal, and a ‘narrative of queen’.

However, this was an old phenomenon that featured in such traditional forms (both secular and religious) as Kumina, a Congo-derived Afro-Jamaican religion (with Mrs Imogene ‘Queenie’ Kennedy as the most popular), Jonkonnu, Bruckins Party and Queen Party.

This is paralleled by the ‘Mother’ or chief spiritual arbiter in Revival and Burru’s ‘Mother Lundy’. Additionally, there are Carnivals in the wider Caribbean (and its diaspora) where carnival queens are crowned based on authenticity, appropriate movements, mannerisms and dress. The ways in which the presence of ‘queen’ within both secular and religious settings mimics the status and symbol of great African queens, especially queen mothers of the Akan tradition such as Yaa Asantewa, Queen Mother of Ejisu whose war against the British is a well-known fact of West African history,


Ras Tafari’s Empress Menen, as well as the colonial legacy of the British Queen, is noteworthy.

The idea of ‘queen’ as a category, once simplified, reveals the consistently elevated place of woman as a key counterpart of the male ‘king’, in both the popular and religious realms. In this sense, within the Diaspora, the pervasiveness of a central female persona is consistent with African popular and sacred traditions as well as the kinship patterns that are matrilineal and/or matriarchal in character.

For the dancer and the queen in particular, Dancehall is a stage, a status
granting institution outside the socially constricting everyday, a space to emerge and maintain stardom on the basis of physical attributes and/or ability. It is also platform through which women define the terms and conditions of success, style, contest, while creating place and space for other women beyond constricting social conditions.


Text source:

Sonjah Stanley Niaah (2004) Making space: Kingston’s Dancehall
culture and its philosophy of ‘boundarylessness’
,
African Identities, 2:2

Image source:
Dancehall Queen Junko

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