Inna di Dancehall: Popular Culture and the Politics of Identity in Jamaica

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This report pertains to Inna di Dancehall: Popular Culture and the Politics of Identity in Jamaica by Donna P. Hope, ISBN: 976-640-168-3, University of the West Indies Press, Mona, Kingston, Jamaica, 2006, soft cover, cost at $170.00TT, five chapters and one hundred and sixty eight pages. In relation to the book, it gives a detailed perspective on the elements that structure, define and contest the complex ideal that is dancehall. She describes that dancehall music and culture came about as “a popular type of music that was played at dancehall events” (Hope 12) into a cultural phenomenon stemming from the lower-working class inhabitants of the inner-cities of Jamaica’s Kingston, St. Andrew and St. Catherine all the way back from the 1980’s. It does incorporate a present day analysis of the past hierarchal order from which Jamaica’s traditional and patriarchal society stems from due to “the dominant Eurocentric and the subordinate African elements of the society” (Hope 37). This is appropriate in describing how the gender roles affect dancehall culture and goes even further into how they may affect inner-city constituents attempts’ to come out of poverty. There are main and subsidiary themes dealt within the book such as gender, sexuality, patriarchal societies, race/colour/class and education, the importance of wealth when determining social status but more importantly how that wealth is attained etc. Thus dancehall music and culture, like the culture of the wider Jamaica society, is shown to be still very much impacted by a patriarchal system. Also like the wider Jamaica society, dancehall music and culture attempts to condemn certain immoral practices by their definition of immoral such as homosexuality, particularly male homosexuality but glorify others such as gun violence and criminal behaviour. All in all, dancehall culture is an attempt by Jamaica’s lower-working class constituents to attain a form of social status within their dancehall realm that they cannot attain out in the wider Jamaican society. However, as distant as it may seem from the traditional Jamaican culture upheld by the upper and middle classes, both cultures still recognize race, colour and class as a criteria for judging one’s social status in Jamaica.

The writer’s main intention was to give a clearer understanding of dancehall as an aspect of Jamaican culture, its impact on society, the gender/power relations within dancehall culture and how these and other matters such as violence are viewed within the dancehall community and the gap between dancehall culture and the wider Jamaican society. Her use of anecdotes and intellectual analysis provides ample evidence to prove and properly explain her aim. It becomes more and more convincing as she delves deeps into dancehall’s creation by going back to as early as 1944 and onward to explain how certain political events affected society, mainly inner-city communities who suffered the most due to structural adjustment and this political turmoil. Due to the political and economical state of affairs in 1980’s Jamaica, poverty was on the rise, thus forcing the emergence of “a new genre of the entrepreneurial class” called the “informal sectors of the society” or the informal economy (Hope 7). Under Jamaica’s social, political and economic circumstances in the 1980’s, dancehall came about as a relief from the aggravation and discouragement of many Jamaicans who now came to benefit from the informal sector as it was their only means of survival. As the writer goes deeper into the inner-workings of the dancehall realm, she uses anecdotes and interviews with fellow dancehall constituents to show how concepts such as the power/gender relations with dancehall music and culture are played out using roles such as “the babyfather”, “the don shotta”, “the big ooman/the independent ooman” and how these roles are glorified by those who create dancehall culture and who consume it. She also uses anecdotes and...
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