Loco for dancehall!

BY RICHARD JOHNSON Observer senior reporter johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, July 18, 2015

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DANCEHALL music and culture is alive and well on the South American mainland.

Trass Passa, a recent conference in the Venezuelan capital Caracas, explored the influence of Jamaican dancehall music and culture on that country. Organised by the British Council in Venezuela, the events of Trass Passa drew on the expertise of Jamaican cultural analyst and lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Dr Donna Hope, as well as dancer/choreographer Orville Hall of Dance Xpressionz fame.

Hope told the Sunday Observer that the information age has allowed for a transfer of knowledge between Jamaica and Venezuela.

"Dancehall culture in Venezuela has a history that is connected to sound systems and also the rise of the Internet and access to YouTube videos. The young people I met and interacted with were heavily into dancehall dance and the music that provides the framework for this dancing ... and the slang and fashion and style of dancehall. And another group was deeply interested in the writings and history of dancehall from Jamaica," said Hope.

She was struck by how young Venezuelans have adopted dancehall music and culture.

"The young people, many without much English, have logged on to and owned dancehall culture as theirs. The love they have for Jamaican culture -- and most importantly -- how even with the language and geographical barriers, how these young people, my Venezuelan family, have absorbed dancehall culture and continue to use it as a part of their entertainment, and dance activities. I met so many young people from Caracas and other parts of Venezuela, who were in love with Jamaica and wanted to meet people as diverse as Elephant Man, Ishawna, Skatta (producer Orville Burrell). There were also (Vybz) Kartel fans," she said.

Jamaican acts such as Anthony B and Sean Paul have performed there and Caracas has a vibrant sound system scene.

The city is home to several ska and reggae groups such as Desorden Público and Papashanty Saundsystem.

Language barrier aside, Hope stated that the most glaring difference between dancehall culture in Jamaica and Venezuela is the failure on the part of the South Americans to see the economic possibilities.

"In Venezuela, dancehall is seen as fun and enjoyment...a way to entertain themselves and not a way to gain economic resources. Even though many of them came from the barrios, the connections to economic empowerment for many persons from the inner city in Jamaica was lost in translation -- maybe because of the different economic and political structure of Venezuela," she surmised.

Hope reiterated that this Venezuelan experience proved that Jamaican music and culture is valuable in all its manifestations and reaches beyond borders, beyond language, beyond time and space. It has taken wings beyond its confined origins and continues to spread and develop.

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