DJ Kool Herc, the chief architect of hip-hop, was born Clive Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica. At the age of twelve, in the winter of 1967, Campbell moved to Bronx, New York. The year he migrated to America, sound-system culture in Jamaica had a ubiquitous presence in Kingston’s lower-class neighbourhoods. As a twelve-year-old preteen now living in the Bronx, Campbell already possessed a persistent reggae and sound-system consciousness having experienced the innovative music of Prince Buster, the Skatalites, Don Drummond, and dancehall deejay U-Roy.
At eighteen, Campbell attempted to recreate the Jamaican dancehall experience in the Bronx by spinning the latest Jamaican reggae records at neighbourhood parties, but his young African-American audience was not feeling the reggae beat and did not comprehend the Jamaican patois rhymes of sound-system MCs known as toasters. As DJ Kool Herc, Campbell shifted to playing funk records, but his reggae background caused him to favour funk with heavy-weight bass lines and lively percussive drumming. Kool Herc’s record selections were transmitted through hi-fi stereo equipment that spoke with the same awesome power and sonic quality of a roots Jamaican sound system. The selector, as a deejay is called on a reggae sound system, though using one turntable-the norm during the ’60s and ’70s- was still capable of altering the arrangement of a tune spinning off a record on the turntable platter. The selector skillfully inflicted a completely different sound context on a roots reggae recording by manipulating the controls on the sound system’s amplifier to briefly remove the bass on a tune, accentuate the singing of the song’s vocalist, and highlight the harmony of trumpet, saxophone, and trombone. The selector would create tension in a live remix by bringing back the bass booming like a compact implosion. By the ’70s, the selector had the ability to vary the sonic texture of the recording by creatively deploying reverb and echo chamber to repeat the sweetest elements of a vocal or horn solo and as a special sound effect that dramatized certain aspects of the recording with a live feel.
Kool Herc’s approach to creating something fresh from pre recorded funk on vinyl was different because he used two turntables. But his approach was similar in that he shared the same objective as the selector, which was to do a live remix of the record to heighten the entertainment of his audience. He extended the intoxicating rhythmic feel of percussive conga, bongo, or trap drums sizzling the break of records like Mandrill’s“Fencewalk,” the Incredible Bongo Band’s“Apache,” and the live version of James Brown’s“Give It Up, Turn It Loose” by playing the same record on two turntables using a sound mixer to seamlessly prolong the percussive breakbeats.
Herc pioneered the innovative use of two turntables and a sound mixer as active instruments that became more than passive facilitators, more than just pieces of electronic equipment that merely played what was recorded on vinyl.
These electronic instruments were now used to rearrange prerecorded music to suit the immediate needs of the disco and the dance floor. When DJ Kool Herc rocked a block party, dispatching African American funk with the overwhelming sonic power of a reggae sound system, no other deejay dared to compete.
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.
Sonjah Stanley Niaah (2004) Making space: Kingston’s Dancehall culture and its philosophy of ‘boundarylessness’ , African Identities, 2:2
It was not unusual for the selector to play Latin, Hip Hop, Disco, Rock & Roll, other music, including songs like Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’, and ‘Ain’t Nothing Going on but the Rent’ as examples. Of course these constitute hit songs in their particular genres and their popularity catapulted them into the Jamaican dance scene where they are baptized in Dancehall aesthetic and practice (‘dance- halliﬁed’), especially through dance styles such as the ‘bubble’ along with other directions from the selector. These directions continued in the typical Dancehall style until dawn when the event ended.
From: The dance, found in: Making space: Kingston’s Dancehall culture and its philosophy of ‘boundarylessness’.
Author: Sonjah Stanley Niaah. 2004. African Identities.
Image source:PASSA PASSA KINGSTON JAMAICA