BREEZE: I think the whole Caribbean is naturally schizophrenic [laugh], and most of all about sex. I think it’s one of the most sensual, sexual sets of people, but with more hang-ups and still very Victorian about their sexuality. So you have a kind of freedom and spontaneity about the body, and at the same time all kinds of dogma and taboos about different kinds of sex, or the nature of the sex you are having, or who you’re having sex with. I think it’s a schizophrenia that stems from the meeting of Europe and Africa in the first place, which can sometimes be a perfect blend and sometimes can be completely destructive. And I think it shows up most strongly in sex. So you have Lady Saw, for example, who is very explicit in her sexual lyrics and is loved by the majority of Jamaicans. Yet, there is the whole social establishment that says she must be banned from the stage for the kind of lyrics she’s performing. And then you have a man like Beenie Man, who sings completely sexually about women, yet his audience is full of women that love him and think that he’s the greatest thing that ever happened. You have poets like me talking about how slackness is degrading to women, and at the same time it’s all women who are jumping up to the slackness at the dancehall. So it’s really hard to kind of say that there’s a true line. I do find it very schizophrenic, and that’s a word that I use a lot. [laugh] My current work is getting much more sexual. I think it’s about time.

From: Dub and Difference: A Conversation with Jean “Binta” Breeze
by Jenny Sharpe.
Source: Callaloo, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Summer, 2003)

Image source: Ken Ryan


Dance events always have a name. Their appeal and consequent power converge around this naming, this rite of celebration, which takes the form of the latest dancehall and/or innercity lingua franca. This is crucial to attracting patrons. Some of these names include “Ol’ time something come back again,” “Clean up yuh heart an come,” “Girl’s Dem Bashment,”“Bruck out, Bruck out,” “Raw and Rough,” “Fully Loaded,” “Gimme di light,” and “Rasta Jamboree,” among others.

Events are found throughout the calendar year, almost every night, all year round. Dancehall’s liturgical calendar is noteworthy simply because it persists regardless of season or state power and presents a challenge to conceptualizations of popular dancehall culture as “carnivalesque” in the Bakhtinian sense.

The dance is not just an event; it is a system of rules and codes, an institution. Women adorn themselves according to the dictates of the current dancehall fashion. Patrons are aware of the latest dance moves, latest songs, debates, and artistes. There are salutations, tributes, and paying of respect. The audience participates in the fundamental themes or moral codes that have been part of the dancehall scene, some from its inception. Some of these include “friendship and love versus animosity,” power and prowess of the rude boy/bad man,” “competition and struggle,” “sexuality and morality/ethics of the penis and vagina,” “celebrating the vagina, women, mother, girls,” “celebrating the DJ and/or sound system,” “dancing,” “the authority and divinity of Rastafari’s Haile Selassie and the Christian God,” “the essential herb,” colour/class identity,” and “relationship between State institutions and the people.”

It is not uncommon to hear the selector calling his crowd to respond by showing of hands to, among other liturgical incantations, “from a bwoy nuh badda dan you, han up inna di air” (put your hand in the air if you are the baddest). Similarly, the selector will call for a showing of hands by those who love God, and the audience will respond, after which a song that typifies the sentiment will be played. There is a dynamic relationship between the patrons, selectors’ conversations, DJ music, and dance.

Once the event’s tone has been set in order, the purpose takes over. Dance events have been characterized by music—how, why, and by whom it is played. Stolzoff (2000) identified two major types of sound system dances: the “sound system clash,” a competition between two or more sound systems, and the “juggling” dance, in which sound systems play noncompetitively through such “performance modes” as “juggling,” “clashing,” “reality,” “culture,” “sacrifice,” and war” (pp. 194-195). Reyes (1993), on the other hand, identified two types of dance events: the “session” and the “dance” (pp. 4243). The session is usually hosted by a bar, where admission is free and financial return is from beverage sales. The dance usually happens on a Friday or Saturday, a sound system is contracted, and the event is promoted through advertisement to secure entrance fees.

The risk in organizing a dance for profit is higher.


Kingston’s Dancehall: A Story of Space and Celebration by Sonjah Stanley-Niaah

(space & culture vol. 7 no. 1, february 2004 )