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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Babylon Report, dUb, Higher Learning

On African music and transculturation

African music forms and rhythms that emerged in the Americas constituted a beat that has “always threaded back to Africa.”

In the words of the Caribbean poet, Edward Kamau Brathwaite, the middle passage created “bridges of sound” that carried memories of Africa to the Americas, music that echoed down the generations from “Harlem” to “Havana.”

Individual islands in the Caribbean and the mainland diasporic slave communities in the Americas shared the basic rhythms (and some instruments) derived from Africa. But these were fused with the instruments and rhythms of the cultures with which African slaves interacted, a process that the Cuban ethnomusicologist Frederick Ortiz termed “transculturation.”

Trinidadian calypso and parang, and the samba and son rhythms in Cuba (son was a modified, more refined version of rumba which became popular in the second half of the nine- teenth century) combined the structure and elements of Spanish canción (song) and Spanish guitar with African rhythm and percussion instruments.

Son, samba, rumba, and other Latin and African-Caribbean dances influenced salsa. In the Southern U.S., the European fife and drum convey some of the rural music that has the most authentic African rhythms.

The fife and drum are also the basis of Jonkanoo music in Jamaica (Jonkanoo is a Jamaican Christmas tradition, incorporating African traditions going back to the days of slavery).
This incorporation of European instruments and music forms demonstrates how Africans in the diaspora subverted the dominant culture and asserted positive African identities. Slaves played for their master and learnt European instruments and rhythms but these became syncretized into popular folk music (defined as played with acoustic
instruments). Jamaican mento draws on the fife and drum of Jonkanoo, Pocomania (an African-Christian revivalist cult) and church music, the European quadrille, and slave work songs passed through the generations.

Musical forms in different parts of the diaspora have also retained purer African elements where percussion instruments and call-and-response vocals predominate. Examples here include rumba in Cuba, Rastafarian Nyabhingi in Jamaica, and the Kongo and Yoruba music found in African-derived religious sects such as Kumina in Jamaica,
Shango in Trinidad, Haitian Voodoo, and Cuban Santeria. Such music was performed “beyond the ken” of whites during slavery and continues to be associated with peasant or urban working-class cultures.

From:

Barbara Bush (2006) African Echoes, Modern Fusions: Caribbean Music,
Identity and Resistance in the African Diaspora, Music Reference Services Quarterly.

Image source:  Nyabinghi Drum Circle with Wolf

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