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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dUb, Higher Learning

ON PSALMS AND REGGAE

So tuned to the beat of Burru drums, the early Rasta lamentations, comprised of mournful dirges of Christian songs, hymns, and psalms from the Psalter, were social, political, and religious commentary on the unfavorable condition of the black Jamaican masses, and of the Rastafarians in particular. As the movement responded to harassment and persecution from the Jamaican public and the “Babylon police” in the 1950s, these lamentations became increasingly militant with a strong revolution and liberation motif. By the 1960s, Rastas had developed an impressive repertoire of musical lamentations adopted to their peculiar method of black revolutionary protest and call for political, social, and economic change in Jamaica. In 1969, The Melodians, comprising Brent Dowe, Tony Brevette, and Trevor McNaughton, sang Psalm 137 in new Rasta voices under the title “Rivers of Babylon.” The song remained local until “Bonnie Em,” singing under the influence of reggae star Bob Marley and the Wailers, did a Cover Disco Version in 1975, which became an immediate hit internationally.

Found in Why the Hebrew Psalms? from Tuning Hebrew Psalms to Reggae Rhythms: Rastas’ Revolutionary Lamentations for Social Change

Author: NATHANIEL SAMUEL MURRELL.
Source: CrossCurrents, Vol. 50, No. 4, Jewish–Christian Relations (WINTER 2000/2001)

Image source: The Melodians – Rivers of Babylon 7″

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Higher Learning

ON GHETTO NYABINGHI

fIt was in the late 1930s that the Rastafarians began to gain a significant presence in Kingston, and by this time the pre-Rasta Burru peoples (a culture of people in rural Jamaica who were known for their drumming rituals a century ago) had fully settled in the slums. Unlike the scenario in America, drumming in the Jamaican plantation system was officially tolerated, and the Burru-men, in addition to their role as timekeepers for slave labor, were keepers of African sound. In their search for “anciency” and cultural roots, the Rastafari knelt at the feet of the Burrus, appropriated their looks, style, and musics and, in return, imparted to them a political theology of race. But what was most important to this union of the Burrus and the early Rastafari were the rituals of sound that both communities instituted in the colonial ghettos of Kingston. Saakana has traced the Burru drumming ritual back to a Ghanaian ceremony that took place around Christmastime. In the 1930s, the ritual of drumming was a customary way of welcoming discharged prisoners back into the folds of the ghetto community.

When the Rastafarians took over the ritual, they modified it, adding their own thematic obsessions to the African songs of insult and praise. From this came the ritual of the nyabinghi, which was said to mean “death to black and white oppressors” and became a term also used to describe the most orthodox members of the Rastafarian creed. In the sacred space of ritual, members of the faith meditated, reasoned with each other, debated Old Testament doctrine, and soundly criticized the exploitative and racist system they were living in. And they beat the drums, chanting down Babylon and conjuring up an alternate space of black community called “Africa.”

They did this in the yards of West Kingston, the same spaces that decades later would provide the genesis of the Jamaican sound systems.

Found in Bass History from 

The Sound of Culture: Dread Discourse and Jamaican Sound Systems by LOUIS CHUDE-SOKEI 

(Language, Rhythm, and Sound: Black Popular Cultures into the Twenty-first Century, 1997)

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