Stanley Niaah looks at dancehall

Stanley Niaah looks at dancehall

Observer senior reporter

Thursday, February 18, 2021

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Creating a space for dancehall culture to be accepted as part of the broader discussion about Jamaican popular culture is the thinking behind the publication Dancehall: A Reader in Jamaican Music and Culture , edited by University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturer Dr Sonjah Stanley Niaah.

The work, which has been 10 years in the making, is part of her bid to bring aspects of dancehall culture, which she pointed out is not just music, but rather runs the full gamut of cultural expression, and is spread out over 31 chapters which are divided into nine parts.

“Even before I did my PhD, my thing was to make this part of our popular culture a lot more accepted as part of scholarship. This reader is the first in a series that I proposed to the UWI Press on sound culture, as I felt is was really important to bring visibility to Jamaican popular culture in general and dancehall culture in particular,” Stanley Niaah told the Jamaica Observer during an interview.

Dancehall: A Reader in Jamaican Music and Culture brings together the essays written by some scholars in the area of popular culture, whom Stanely Niaah noted have produced some of the seminal academic discussion and theories on dancehall culture. Contributors who have been drawn from all over the world include Professor Carolyn Cooper, Norman Stolzoff, Garth White, Peter Manuel, Wayne Marshall, Marvin Sterling, Tracy Skelton, Julian Henriques, and Ray Hitchins. The topics covered include an assessment of the Sleng Teng rhythm, the interconnection of the nine night and dancehall, Obeah and band mind in Dancehall; one chapter is also dedicated to late dancer Gerald “Bogle” Levy and his impact on dancehall. The impact of dancehall culture outside of Jamaica in countries such as Colombia, Japan and on the African continent is also covered in this work.

For Stanley Niaah, Jamaicans are the only people who have really struggled with the acceptance of dancehall as a legitimate part of our popular culture worth studying and scholarship. This, she says, is due to the fact that it arises from the underbelly of the society and there is often scoffed at by the middle and upper classes and this is a remnant of the legacy of colonialism.

“If you look at the trajectory of Rastafari and other such cultural forms, it was recognised outside of Jamaica before accepted locally. I really don't blame Jamaicans for this as we have been living, vibing, creating, surviving and sharing lived with these cultural expressions all our lives and only recently have we begun to tell our own stories and rewrite the narrative. But, of course, this is part of the legacy of slavery and colonisation,” she said.

Dancehall: A Reader in Jamaican Music and Culture is not yet physically available locally, but the work is available for purchase via online platforms as well as in ebook format.

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