Underneath It All: Reggae Dancehall


There’s a slim line between essentializing and claiming your own. Take aerobics, for instance: The bigger and bolder the signage for Zumba, Bollywood, and Arrow’s Hot Hot Hot Calypso, the bigger and bolder the draw for the instructor of a crowd.

No doubt, this kind of pump-up has its monetary and physical rewards.

But go past these visible externals: The underlying stereotyping that transfers from a genre to its populations to stigmatize and limit remains. And, of course, this tendency to limit and stigmatize based on genre and population is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Nonetheless to hear “America saved …Tessanne Chin” last night on The Voice was pure joy.

Like Dancehall or not, class it raunchy or not, like Lady Saw’s repertoire or like it not, underneath it all, there’s nothing like losing yourself in your own lyrics, in your own song. Your body claims it, the windpipe claims it. It is yours.

Let’s acknowledge fusions and hybrid forms, but at the base this is not your everyday clone.

Is the term “world music” still around? – that category coined to designate “ethnic” and non-Western? And whatever happened to the World Music Awards where the winners have been conventional and unconventional? From the origin of these awards, perhaps the tag and tie to the poor and underdeveloped, carried an unwitting message. Whatever has happened there, for the past two years, World Music Awards has been on hold.

However, to get back to Tessanne Chin’s choice and performance … it takes guts to choose against all odds, in an arena dominated by Western genres, to come out from left field and inhabit your body, your space, your throat, your own voice.

That is what making music is about.  It needs no tag … but sorry for the contradiction, I’m glad that it does have one – Reggae, Dancehall.

Because it’s nice to play dress up, try on different styles of voice, but sometimes the way the body hug, the size, the shape, you just have it put it on. This goes way past essentializing. It’s a call.

So A Big-Up to Tessanne Chin!

Now for some Trinidad Chutney on The Voice.


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