From Sleng Teng to Smokin’: The Development of Jamaican Dancehall Riddims by Shari Akua Williams

Dancehall is currently the most popular genre of indigenous music in Jamaica, and it enjoys a similar popularity throughout the Caribbean region. Since its emergence in the early 1980s, it has risen to prominence and stayed in the spotlight for the past fifteen to twenty-five years. Of all the genres of Jamaican popular music, dancehall is arguably the most musically versatile, and it has stayed relevant for the longest time. However, the changes and transitions it has gone through – particularly the instrumentation – have been so drastic, that its music is almost unrecognizable when compared to its early days in the mid 1980s and early 1990s. This has led to debates on whether or not dancehall is still dancehall as it was described initially, or if a new genre has emerged.

This thesis will attempt to provide answers and theories for this debate by examining the stylistic evolution in the composition and production of the backing tracks used in dancehall, riddim versions. Although the focus is on the genre’s emergence in the 1980s to 2010, musical characteristics of Afro-Jamaican folk traditions along with Jamaica popular genres are also examined for comparison and contextual purposes. By focusing on the production of these backing tracks, along with vocal delivery techniques, this thesis examines dancehall from a musicological standpoint as opposed to simply a historical, cultural, and sociological view. As such, it will add to the existing literature on Jamaican popular music.

Keywords: Shari Akua Williams; dancehall; riddims; music genre; Jamaican popular music.

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