The Change of Messages in Dancehall

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Reggae is a form of music that is too broad to be grouped into one particular category. The reggae genre is composed of such distinct forms as roots, dub, and most recently dancehall. Similarly, the message contained within reggae music has changed since the days when the music reflected an adherence to Haile Selassie and the Rastafarian faith. Since the beginnings of reggae in the 1960s reggae has evolved tremendously into the high-bass dancehall form most prevalent today. This musical evolution has not always been without criticism, however. It is true that there is a certain amount of reluctance with any change, for change means shedding a past way of living. It must also be recognized, however, that prior modes of thinking and representation through the medium of music can be preferable.

When critiquing reggae music it is of great importance to distinguish the lyrics from the rhythm. To the unaccustomed ear it is easy to forget, or altogether ignore, the paradoxical fact that such a cheerful, upbeat rhythm is used as a form of protest. Reggae music has traditionally been used as a method to speak against such serious issues as slavery, colonialism/neo-colonialism, repression, and poverty. Thus, to better understand this unique form of music it becomes necessary to analyze the message conveyed in the music from the sound itself.

Dancehall, both as a form of music and especially as a reflection of society and its beliefs, frequently stands directly against the music from the 'golden age' of reggae in the 1970s. One of the most startling differences between these two forms of music is how the DJs of dancehall visions' of the world differs from that of conventional reggae artists. There has traditionally existed a great reverence for a united Africa with Ethiopia serving as heart in the Rastafarian faith and reggae music. This is largely due to the rise of emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.

Standing in direct contrast to the desire for a unified Africa is portrayal of immediate community by the music of dancehall. It is claimed that hopes for a unified Africa no longer remains a theme for inspiration among the current dancehall artists. Chude-Sokei argues, "With raggamuffin sound, which currently dominates the ideologies of Afro-Caribbean youth and black Third World pop/ghetto culture, one is challenged to find references to the mythic signifier of black identity that is Africa.

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