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Saving the Culture: Soca and Dance Hall in Philly

December 1, 2005        Commentary Archives

Jimmy Cliff once referred to reggae as "the cry of the people."  The popular protest music that propelled  Bob Marley's popularity here in the States, and made reggae a popular form of music the world over.

In recent years reggae (dance Hall) has been called murder music, homophobic music among other things. Bob Marley must be resting most uncomfortably.

Is there something gone wrong with our culture that isn't wrong with the rest of the world? I used the term, gone wrong, others might argue, wrong by who's perception, it feels good.

Where is my Reggae man!

One notable Australian news paper refer to Reggae dance hall, as murder music, Homophobic music and in their opinion reggae has shifted from "fighting" external oppression to causing self-hatred and cultural corruption

In England back in 2004 street protest forced  promoters to cancel shows by VYBZ, Kartel and Sizzla. And they weren't allowed to change the venue to another area, because folks didn't want the problems that came with it. Gays protesting in the streets.

Has Dance hall trumped Calypso in Philly

The last time  to my knowledge there was a major Calypso show in Philly was back in December, 2002.  Headlined by Sparrow, Singing Sandra, The Desperado Steel Orchestra with special guest. Beat that line-up.

Well the Calypso culture in Philly didn't take notice. I can still remember the words of Sandra as she looked out over the Academy of music ordinance in dismay at the empty seats, as she exclaimed. "Where all de people...from Trinidad, let dem come home for carnival, a gonna fix dem. Dey don't want come here. I ain't singing for dem when they come..."

About two weeks ago here on West Philly's 52nd street I asked a proprietor of a popular West Indian store. What was going on. No major soca or calypso events here in Philadelphia, in almost 3 years. His answer was "Trini' don't come out for soca, they come out for reggae."

Is the sweet social protest of reggae over? We see that the pop-culture desire for change is constant. If you look at broader society you'll see consumerism is driving force behind all of this. Something new, something different... Ummm, you say. That however, is in it self, a subject and a half .

Would reggae have survived as we know it? I'm not saying traditional reggae is dead, mind you. Is it not the case that reggae much like any other form of popular music got caught up in the popular culture revolution, with its veracious freaky appetite for something different. To feel good. Or to have what others tell 'em they need to be happy. But enough of this digression.

Back in the 70's rock 'n' rollers feared Disco was going to bury their music. But the extreme behavior, the poor moral governance in disco clubs, and a great number of the performers perceived to be gay, created a societal back lash that created its demise. Rocking on.

Unlike disco which the main cause of death was homophobia, in that the imagery (many of disco's performers were...strange) created greater consternation, than the words coming from rap and dance hall. Words that I suppose would've been welcome back then by some, as a counter to the disco imagery.

 All in all, I'll confess nothing jams like the rhythms of dance hall. Who listen to the words anyway. We may yet see a more softer side to dance hall.  As the old saying goes. Sometimes you have to leave to find your way home. There's another saying: "Hope springs eternal..." Bob Marley will find peace again.

You may read and evaluate these ramblings, on a monthly basis.
and suggestions are welcome.

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