Culture in Jamaica
Norman C. Stolzoff (Duke University Press)
$19.95, cloth $59.95
This new study of
Jamaican music by Norman Stolzoff arrives at an opportune time, when
there is a new resurgence in young fans eager for deeper knowledge of
ska and reggae history.
That is indeed what makes Wake
The Town and Tell the People stand out
from the more commercial publications on reggae music. It is at heart
an academic research study, by definition characterized by a central
thesis or argument. In brief, Stolzoff's central point here is that
we can understand Jamaican music more intensely through a revisioning
of the term "dancehall." Most casual observers will
associate dancehall culture with modern Jamaican DJs and dance music,
but Stolzoff asserts that the essential elements of dancehall culture
are not new. Dancehall is a specific kind of meeting place and site
for cultural formation that has always been a part of Jamaican
culture, even pre-dating modern popular music. The
"dancehall" is a musical meeting place, which can be traced
back to slavery era and which has characteristics which are evident
in every phase of Jamaican music.
Jamaican music is a
matter of living peformance, where the recorded music is simply one
part of a larger equation which also includes the dancehall leader
(the DJ or Selector), and the audience, whose participation in
dancehall interactions becomes the entry point for the formation of
national and personal identity.
Sound like heavy reading?
Well, certainly, it is at points. This is definitely not a book to
just skim for cool photos or quick factoids. This is a
thought-provoking read for serious students of Jamaican musical
history, who wish not just to know facts so they can sling them in
trivia contests, but also to understand the development of Jamaican
music and culture in proper context. It is a decidely necessary book,
if only to provoke deeper analysis, discussions or arguments.
Still, this is a decidely
colorful and fun book to read as well, with many first-hand accounts
and lively stories from various participants in reggae history. By
the courtesy of the author, we are able to present some of the many
more compelling and interesting passages of this study. I guarantee
it will only make you want to read more.
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