‘Dancehall on life support’
THERE have been few harsher critics of dancehall music than Dennis Howard. Since the late 1990s, Howard has written extensively in this newspaper and other publications about the genre self-destructing. Many of these observations can be found in his book Rantin' From Inside the Dancehall, released in 2012. On Friday, one day after Vybz Kartel and three men were found guilty for the October 2011 murder of Clive 'Lizard' Williams, Howard spoke to Jamaica Observer writer Howard Campbell about the state of dancehall.
Howard Campbell: You have been writing about the decline in dancehall standards and attitudes for over 15 years. With the incarceration of key players and banning of others from overseas travel, where does the genre stand now?
Dennis Howard: The genre is really on lifesupport for various reasons including the fact that, musically, popular music in Jamaica has moved on from the classic dancehall sound. But many are in denial and pretend that dancehall is still viable internationally. What is still viable is the new sound that has been created by the acts in popular music like (producers) Major Lazer, Alkaline, Sean Paul and Jr Gong. Additionally, the top dancehall acts are for the most part compromised by various controversies and incarcerations. This has made them unpalatable internationally.
HC: Where did dancehall go wrong? What blame, if any, should media and academia take for its current state?
DH: Dancehall's failure is a society failure. The continued marginalisation of working-class males through various institutions, including the justice system, schools and the Church, have helped to create so many at-risk youth who only see the music and/or crime, as the only viable alternative. Unfortunately, the two collide too often.
HC: What impact will the Kartel verdict have on artistes being signed to overseas labels and being booked for shows?
DH: Not much, as it has been affecting the music already. It will only continue until there is a dramatic change in perception of Jamaican popular music.
HC: What is the difference between dancehall's heyday of the 1990s and now?
DH: The music is different and led by technology which, while democratising music production, has disrupted the communal music-making process which has affected the creativity in the music.
HC: Given the challenges pioneers like Clement Dodd and Duke Reid faced in getting 'underground' music on radio, what would they think of the music today?
DH: It's hard to say. Those guys were futurists in the real sense, so I guess they would embrace the best of the music and reject most of the garbage that poses as music.