The history of Dancehall

in dance •  last year

If you have been on the Internet in the last few months, there is a big possibility you heard 'Work' by Rihanna or 'One Dance' by Drake. Both of these songs are pretty catchy, they have a great dance rhythm and a feel-good vibe, which is probably the reason they became huge hits. But what genre are they? Even though a lot of people call it tropical house, the correct name has a much more history to it: dancehall.

What is dancehall?

Dancehall is a music genre which originated in Jamaica in the late 70s. It was largely influenced by reggae and ska, but it has more of a dance vibe to it, than this two genres. The name comes from the dance halls, which was a place where Jamaicans would get together and dance. Since they were always dancing to it, there is now also a dance style with the same name, and it is getting a lot of attention lately.

How come dancehall isn't more popular?

Dancehall is still a pretty unknown music genre precisely beacuse it was created in Jamaica. Jamaica is not a very influental country, it has a little bit less of 3 million inhabitants, which is not that much, and it is a poor country and not a big tourist attraction. Also the songs are full of Jamaican slang which is not easy to understand so the word about dancehall never got out to the whole world. At least not until a few months ago. The only dancehall artist that became famous outside of the borders of Jamaica was Sean Paul; since the beginning of his career he has been writing dancehall songs, but it seems that his biggest hits became the non-dancehall songs.

However, with the rise of artists such as Rihanna and Drake who have strong connections to dancehall (Rihanna was born on Barbados, which is an island close to Jamaica, and Drake has origins from Jamaica) dancehall was finally introduced to a larger audience. And people seem to love it! Not only did their dancehall songs chart great, but they also encouraged a lot of other artists to take a chance on dancehall. For example, Justin Bieber's 'Sorry' is a purely dancehall song, and it is his biggest hit yet. You can also hear the similar beat in his collaborations with Major Lazer and DJ Snake. Even though the dancehall songs of non-Jamaican artists are different from those of Jamaican artists, we should still give credit where credit's due and call it by it's real name, and not try to give a new name to a genre which exists for more than 40 years.

What does dancehall mean to Jamaicans?

Dancehall is a big part of Jamaican culture. Since the majority of the population is rular, it is not rare to see a group of people gathering on the streets and dancing together to dancehall music. And it doesn't matter how old or young you are, everybody dances. It is not something they have to take special lessons for, they just watch and copy the moves from people around them. Since basically anyone can make their own move, there is a lot of moves, and there probably isn't a person who knows them all. But dance enthusiasts, who are trying to know as much as they can about dancehall as a dance, came together and formed dance groups. Some of the most famous groups are: Black Eagles, Overload Shankaz, Unique Rockazz and Hectic Dymondz. Even though dancehall as a dance can now be learned at a lot of places around North America and Europe, dance groups from Jamaica are still very respected beacuse they are the ones who make up the moves which are later taught elsewhere.

I hope I helped you get to know dancehall and Jamaican culture a little bit more.
What do you think about dancehall? Will it get more famous or will the hype around it soon diminish?
Thank you for reading!

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Interesting insight into Jamaica.
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