Dancehall culture refers to a space for the cultural creation and dissemination of symbols and ideologies that reflect the lived realities of its adherents, particularly those from the inner cities of Jamaica.
Dancehall culture actively creates a space for its “affectors” (creators of dancehall culture) and its “affectees” (consumers of dancehall culture) to take control of their own representation, contest conventional relationships of power, and exercise some level of cultural, social and even political autonomy.
Such a drastic change in the popular music of the region generated an equally radical transformation in fashion trends, specifically those of its female faction. In lieu of traditional, modest “rootsy” styles, as dictated by Rastafari-inspired gender roles; women began donning flashy, revealing – sometimes X-rated outfits.
This transformation is said to coincide with the influx of slack lyrics within dancehall, which objectified women as apparatuses of pleasure.
These women would team up with others to form “modeling posses”, or “dancehall model” groups, and informally compete with their rivals.
This newfound materialism and conspicuity was not, however, exclusive to women or manner of dress.
Appearance at dance halls was exceedingly important to acceptance by peers and encompassed everything from clothing and jewelry, to the types of vehicles driven, to the sizes of each respective gang or “crew”, and was equally important to both sexes.
Jamaican cultural model or worldview has been very influenced by that which it was arguably created to oppose, namely Babylon or the Western influence.
This trend is related to the rise of market capitalism as a dominant feature of life in Jamaica, coupled with the role of new media and a liberalized media landscape, where images become of increasing importance in the lives of ordinary Jamaicans who strive for celebrity and superstar status on the stages of dancehall and Jamaican popular culture.
Despite dancehall culture’s ability to challenge social inequality, it is a hybridization of American aesthetics and the hardships of Kingston, Jamaica.
Through dancehall, ghetto youths attempt to deal with the endemic problems of poverty, racism, and violence, and in this sense the dancehall acts as a communication center, a relay station, a site where black lower-class culture attains its deepest expression.
Thus, dancehall in Jamaica is yet another example of the way that the music and dance cultures of the African diaspora have challenged the passive consumerism of mass cultural forms, such as recorded music, by creating a sphere of active cultural production that potentially may transform the prevailing hegemony of society.
Ten of the major cultural imperatives or principles that constitute the Dancehall worldview are:
- It involves the dynamic interweaving of God (Jesus) and Haile Selassie (Rastafari)
- It acts as a form of stress release or psycho-physiological relief
- It acts as a medium for economic advancement
- The quickest way to an object is the preferred way (i.e., the speed imperative)
- The end justifies the means
- It strives to make the unseen visible
- Objects and events that are external to the body are more important than internal processes; what is seen is more important than what is thought (i.e., the pre-eminence of the external)
- The importance of the external self; the self is consciously publicly constructed and validated
- The ideal self is shifting, fluid, adaptive, and malleable, and
- It involves the social existential imperative to transcend the normal (i.e., there is an emphasis on not being normal).