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The Sound System: Contributions to Jamaican Music and the Montreal Dancehall scene

By John Constantinides (M.A)


Faculty of Music, department of Ethnomusicology

Universite de Montreal 2002



            Many people, from laymen to musicologists, often equate the concept of  "Jamaican music" with one word: reggae.  There exists a conception among Jamaicans and outsiders alike, that anything musical coming out of Jamaica is or was considered reggae.  Reggae music has taken over as the main conceptual label for "Jamaican music" since it's birth more than 30 years ago.  In the past 40 years, few people have appreciated the full spectrum of Jamaican music along with its rich history and significant international influence.  This influence sheds some light on the conceptual monopoly of reggae in Jamaican music.  It is by far, Jamaican music's most famous export.  This is due in part to the fact that it hit the right place for major recognition: American popular culture.  This experience, this meeting, coloured many basic conceptions, if not stereotypes, about what Jamaican music is to the rest of the world.  The type of reggae which made it to the popular charts, influenced rock bands and spawned films and documentaries was of a particular style, yet it came to dominate all others in public consciousness regarding Jamaican music.  The musical style in question is what many would now call "roots" reggae or "roots and culture" reggae, an expression signifying its role in exploring black Jamaican heritage from Africa to the Caribbean.  The group which most commonly represented this style is perhaps Bob Marley and the Wailers (see track 1 of the CD supplement).  Through their immense popularity, especially outside Jamaica, they came to codify what is meant when one talks about reggae music in the popular sense.  Features of this music include: a full live band similar to an American soul or funk band (drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, horns, singers), mostly black, dread-locked men in some kind of Jamaican attire (wool hats, colourful shirts), a typical reggae "beat" featuring a 75-80 bpm tempo, accented "upbeats" and heavy bass, and texts dealing with either socio-political problems, Rastafarianism or love (for a unique treatise on Rastafarians, see Lewis and Gregg eds.,  Soul Rebels: The Rastafari, 1990).  This set of norms is fundamental to many people's conception of what Jamaican music is or should be.

            Throughout this study, this overwhelming popular conception will be dismantled and re-inserted it into the continuum of Jamaican music, from ska (see tracks 2,3) to what is known as dancehall (tracks 6, 9, 10, 12, 13).  This process will clearly show that there are other important aspects of the Jamaican music framework which structure the reality of this topic.  Simply put, the popular "roots" reggae conception comes from a specific style which happened to gain international popularity in the 1970s and early 80s.  It "fit" with popular American musical acts because it was a group-based, live type of music, reminiscent of, but distinct from, African-American soul music.  People could buy albums by groups like the Wailers, listen to them at home and then anticipate a live concert.  This popular, commercial system of music promotion and distribution forms the basis of the Western music industry.  Media promotion, distribution of recordings for private consumption and live tours are the cornerstone of any modern musical group's career (and have been since the mid 20th century).  Jamaican popular music traditions are unique in that their method of distribution is centered around an extremely important and influential "third party:" the sound system.  Whereas the typical North American-style music industry typically brings its product from the studio to the store shelves using the media as an advertising tool (radio play of singles, music videos), its Jamaican counterpart is structured in a fundamentally different way.  It so happens that in Jamaica, people meet their music primarily through what are called sound systems (Stolzoff, 2000).  The object of this study, the sound system, is the lynchpin of Jamaican music.  By the expression "sound system" one should already have a clue as to what this phenomenon is.  In the strictest sense, one would be dealing with a mechanical system of musical amplification and diffusion including turntables, speakers, and a PA (public address) system.  However, in the Jamaican sense of the term sound system (or soundsystem) is expanded to include certain human actors, one of which is the deejay.  This term will be differentiated from the expression "DJ" whose connotation is North American in origin.  The essential difference between the two is that the Jamaican word deejay refers to one who speaks over records being played using a microphone, while a North American DJ commonly refers to one who selects and plays records (at a nightclub, for example).  In Jamaican culture, the latter role is filled by another key sound system actor, the selector.  This assemblage of man and machine is the primary mediator of Jamaican music at social gatherings (mainly in dancehalls), and has been so ever since the equipment became available (post-WWII).  The sound system also came to be associated with a specific type of music which took its name from the venue in which it was performed: dancehall (tracks 6, 9, 10, 12, 13).  While taking on many outward forms, this style is essentially distinct from others in the Jamaican culture by the concept and methods used in its production and performance.

            Therefore, coming back to the popular conception of "Jamaican-music-equals-reggae," the second amendment which must be made to one's view, in addition to the fact that "roots" reggae is not the only representative style, is that in Jamaica most Jamaican popular music is not frequently heard or seen live (performed by live bands).  The sound system involves recorded music.   Jamaican music is largely a publicly or socially consumed recorded music culture.  This must be kept in mind as the history and reasoning behind the phenomenon of the sound system is delved into.  It is the goal of this study to show how the sound system fits into the scheme of Jamaican music, what it consists of, how it has changed and where it is today.  In addition, and perhaps most importantly, the originality of this study lies in the elucidation of  how the Jamaican sound system is not only a mediator or diffusor of recorded music, but an influential creative actor in the production of Jamaican musical culture wherever it may be found.

            The geographical area studied is not the island of Jamaica itself but rather, the island of Montreal.  All of the data were collected in the city from first-hand observations of sound system parties, interviews, or printed or recorded media on the subject.  The bulk of the fieldwork, which mainly consisted of attending sound system events (dances) and conducting interviews, was done in the period between November 2001 and April 2002 (see p.vi).  Since this is not a Jamaica-based study, an extra level of investigation presents itself relating to the diasporic setting.  Therefore, this study will be unique in that it will take into consideration the specificity of the Montreal (or Canadian) Jamaican music scene with respect to that of its island of origin.  The social, cultural, economic and aesthetic spheres of this study will therefore have a comparative spin on them, with emphasis on the relationships created through the exposure of Jamaican music/culture to a different environment. 

            This study will also function as an academic addition to a relatively sparse area of discourse.  Many texts dealing with any aspect of Jamaican music are outdated (1980s) and deal with "roots" reggae music.  Modern studies which take into account dancehall music and sound systems, such as Norman Stolzoff's Wake the Town and Tell the People: Dancehall Culture in Jamaica (2000), are few and far between. This thesis can be seen as a more in-depth, ethnomusicological look at one of Stolzoff's themes, namely the importance of the sound system within dancehall culture (the culture surrounding the dancehall space as well as the music bearing the same name).  His general approach is more anthropological in tone, exploring how the culture of the dancehall articulates with the larger social, political and cultural spheres of Jamaican society.  In short, this study will focus on how the sound system itself functions within dancehall culture, as well as how it relates to other musical cultures (e.g. hip hop) in a diasporic environment.  Therefore, it will be somewhat more ethnomusicological than Stolzoff's study, as more importance is given to the musicality of the sound system, that is, its unique contributions to Jamaican music and its institutions.

            The structure of the text consists of three main chapters.  The first, The Sound System and Jamaican Music, opens with a survey of the various types of music played by sound systems, from their inception to the present day.  This chapter also deals in specific terms with what a sound system consists of, and how it functions.  The dimension of the sound system's evolution and significance will then be added to this survey.  The general flavour of this chapter will be factual and historical.  In dealing with the object of the sound system, the human aspect will be explained in detail, from the different roles necessary to the functioning of a sound to the specific techniques used by its various members.  Crowd participation will also be discussed, but the focus will always remain the sound system itself.

            In chapter 2, The Montreal Setting, aspects of physical spaces for dancehall events, as well as advertising/communication networks in the Montreal community will be explored.  The discussion will also touch on the socio-cultural reality of the fieldwork setting, with regards to Jamaica and its diaspora.  Themes of immigration, ethnic identity and social relationships will surface as the study's demographic focus is narrowed.  An understanding of how musical issues are affected by cultural milieu will arise by contrasting Jamaican realities with the Canadian/Montreal environment.  An exploration of social issues within and between communities, as well as media representation of Jamaican events, will complete the background aspect of this study.

            Chapter 3, Aesthetics & Ideology, is an analytical look at the structures inherent in the Jamaican musical culture, from Jamaica to Montreal.  Relationships will be discerned which may not be readily apparent, that is, how the sound system has affected thinking about music and production, how Jamaican music relates to other types of music (rap, hip-hop, etc.), and what artists and audience members might think of the whole culture, that is, the relationship between audience and producer/performer as observed through sound system phenomenon.

            Finally, the conclusion to this text will serve as a review of the key points developed in each chapter.  These will be synthesized around the main axis of investigation, which is the sound system and its importance in Jamaican music and dancehall culture from its inception to the present day.





1.1  A historical survey of Jamaican popular music       


            The Jamaican popular music tradition is unique in the Caribbean musical landscape.  Its sound can be clearly discerned from other styles, such as meringue, zouk, or the Martinican beguine (Desroches, 1999), whose African and European influences might be more easily perceived.  With respect to many other Caribbean styles, the peculiarity of reggae relates to its familiarity among North American audiences.  In order to understand the uniqueness of a phenomenon like reggae, one must appreciate that most Jamaican popular music after World War II owes a significant part of its style to a relationship with the United States.  This is not to say that African influences do not contribute to the Jamaican sound.  It is simply a fact that those influences are more subtle, especially to North American listeners who readily focus on the intelligible aspects of the music, those closer to styles created in the U.S.  This relationship with the U.S. is what makes Jamaican music unique in the Caribbean.  More specifically, it is the relationship between Jamaicans and African-Americans that has shaped the evolution of Jamaican music.  Black American musical styles, such as jazz, rhythm and blues and soul have had a tremendous impact on early Jamaican music, while some Jamaican creations later managed to influence American styles such as hip hop.  This back-and-forth exchange should be the stepping stone to understanding the complexity of Jamaica's popular music evolution after World War II (Stolzoff, 2000: 36).

            The next important concept that should be linked to the Jamaican music world is the role of the sound system.  It must be understood that the sound system has played a crucial role both as a mediator and as a creative force throughout the evolution of the various styles of Jamaican popular music.  During the late 1960s, the sound system's role came to differ from its beginnings as a mere outlet for music when producers began incorporating sound system techniques (performed in the dancehalls) into their studio pieces.  Thus, the various features of some Jamaican musical styles only fully make sense when considering their relationship to the phenomenon of the Jamaican sound system.


1.1.1  The concept of Jamaican "popular music"

         The word "popular" must be dealt with before any further details are explained.  In this particular case, the term will be used to describe music that was created and disseminated on a large scale, coinciding with rural exodus, technological advancement and national independence in Jamaica (mid 20th century).  In this sense, "popular" can be equated with "urban" and "commercial."  This distinction must be made because there existed many forms of music in Jamaica's history before the mid 20th century, such as jonkanoo and mento.  These, however, were rural styles which one could call "traditional."  Mento is still played mainly for tourist entertainment around the island.  These traditional styles never reached the status of later urban styles and largely fall outside the scope of this inquiry.  It is enough to note, however, that these styles combined African and European (mostly British) musical influences into a unique indigenous expression (Davis/Simon, 1982: 32).




1.1.2  Early influences: jazz and blues

            Popular music first wafted into Jamaica on radio waves from the United States during the post-WWII era (late 1940s).  This music took the form of black America's two greatest traditions: jazz and blues.  These exciting musical expressions found a highly receptive environment in Jamaica's newly urbanized black community.  Early indigenous styles such as mento, although still somewhat popular and respected, were losing touch with the realities of urban life (ibid: 38).  American jazz, whether in the form of hot, swing or bebop, became extremely popular in local dances and concerts, spawning many indigenous Jamaican jazz virtuosos.  These individuals would later play a significant role in shaping Jamaica's first unique urban music.  Blues seized the Jamaican public's spirits when it was manifested as jump-blues, later called rhythm-and-blues or r&b.  This style was energetic, exuberant and deeply emotional, having an edge unseen in earlier musical styles.  It later evolved into the sweeter sound of soul which also took hold in Jamaica.  This "Afro-American invasion" of Jamaica's musical culture resulted in some attempts to locally duplicate American style blues singers and was met with initial acceptance.  However, the popularity and respect of Jamaican blues or soul bands and singers such as Jackie Opel or Laurel Aitken could not hold a sustained battle against the influx of "authentic" black American records.  The public knew what it wanted and that was not what the Jamaican singers ultimately provided.  The focus remained on the original source of this music, on artists like Wynonie Harris and Big Joe Turner (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 17).  Meanwhile, the Jamaican jazz community composed of an elite group of trained musicians, provided talent for local big-band or r&b style dances across the island while steadily gaining individual notoriety.  One of these musicians, the legendary guitarist Ernest Ranglin, went on to become an integral part of Jamaica's musical history along with a host of his peers from the jazz community (ibid: 53).

            In 1962, Jamaica gained its independence from Britain.  The generalized identity crisis that accompanied this event manifested itself within the island's musical culture.  The 1950s had been a decade of muscial exploration and appreciation for Jamaican audiences but the local creative forces had not yet come up with a suitable Jamaican answer to the invading American styles.  With independence, the lack of originality in its music threatened to send Jamaica further into cultural crisis.  The rural had given way to the urban, ghetto realities grew more dismal every year, and old values including music, didn't answer any cultural needs.  Jamaica had entered into the international community as an island in flux (Constant, 1982: 61).


1.1.3  Ska

            Fortunately, a group of musicians led by a famous sound system promoter and producer, stepped into the cultural void and gave Jamaica its first local popular music sensation: ska.  The producer's name was Clement "Coxsone" Dodd, operator of the famous Downbeat sound system.  The group of musicians, which included icons such as Don Drummond, Jackie Mittoo and Roland Alfonso, became known as The Skatalites (or Ska-talites) (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 40).  This was Jamaica's first all-star supergroup composed of musicians who had made their name in the jazz circuit.  Although short-lived as a group, the Skatalites along with their most famous producer, Coxsone Dodd, were responsible for laying down the foundations of the first uniquely Jamaican modern sound (Liner Notes, Foundation Ska, 1996).

            Ska, like many names of musical styles in Jamaica, is a word with obscure origins.  Some say it comes from corrupted hipster expressions of the day like "skavoovie," or that it is a word that imitates sounds in the music itself, such as the "ska-ska-ska" accents of the saxophone on the upbeats (ibid.), or the "skank" sound of the chunky guitar chords on that same accent (Davis/Simon, 1982: 38).  In any case, ska can be seen as a mixture of jazz and blues in a Jamaican context.  Early ska borrows its rhythmic pattern directly from rhythm and blues.  The characteristic "shuffle" feel of this rhythm is clearly illustrated by the Ska-talites' Scandal Ska (track 2).  However, some rhythmic reorganization is already taking place at this early stage.  Essentially, all changes in the rhythm from America to Jamaica involve an increased emphasis on the "weak" or after-beats of the rhythm, that is, the 2 and 4 of 1, 2, 3, 4 (see fig. 2, p.14).  In addition, the "upbeats," that is the and in 1 and 2 and 3 and 4, are emphasized in a stronger fashion by the piano, guitar and sometimes saxophone.  This gives ska, and later reggae, its most unique "feel."  It is important to note that these upbeats exist in African-American music from swing to rhythm and blues, but they are more intensely isolated in the Jamaican context.  While the 2 and 4 beats of a 4/4 structure are also re-emphasized in ska, this is often done by omitting the bass drum's hit on the 1 and 3, while keeping it on the weak beats.  The classic Skatalites piece Occupation clearly illustrates this rhythmic pattern (track 3).  Blues often emphasizes the bass drum on every beat creating a more consistent "riding" effect.  Ska has rearranged this pattern to create a tension-buildup-and-release feel that is at the essence of Jamaican music.  It is important to note that at this point, the bass guitar (or contrabass) is still locked into the classic "walking" pattern of blues or boogie-woogie music.  Ska's jazz element can be heard through its horn arrangements.  The instrumental style of the Ska-talites mirrors the classic head-solo-head pattern of American jazz.  Call-and-response is also apparent, highlighting African-American and ultimately African, roots (Davis/Simon, 1982: 38).


1.1.4  Rocksteady

            While ska's lyrics dealt mostly with love and relationships, some songs touched on social commentary, such as the Wailers' Simmer Down (featuring the Skatalites).  Violence and gang activity grew as the ghettoes did, and this ultimately got reflected in Jamaican music as it did in American urban centers.  The relationship between gangster imagery and music grew with the advent of rocksteady, a slower, more intense version of ska (Davis/Simon, 1982: 42).  The word, describing the drummer's necessary solidity,  refers to a dance as well, as most Jamaican music names do.  The bass in rocksteady is emphasized a bit more as its pattern begins to loosen from the strict walking-blues bass arrangement.  Rocksteady's most noteworthy aspect relates to its extra-musical character.  It so happened that gangster types, called rude boys, were gaining notoriety in Kingston ghettoes at the time and became the subject of many a rocksteady-style song such as Desmond Dekker's 007 (Shanty Town) (track 4).  This style gave the gangster image its dual character, that of both hero and villain.  While most songs involving rude boys contained a warning or denouncement theme, the elevation of the gangster into a creative icon in both music and film (The Harder they Come, 1973), set the stage for a sort of acceptance of the rude boy phenomenon as a powerful and revered outlaw (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 61).  This idea is taken to the extreme in later Jamaican musical styles.



1.1.5  Reggae

            Rocksteady can be seen as a transitional style between ska and Jamaica's most famous creation, reggae.  Making its appearance in the early 1970s, the reggae style is thought by some to start with Toots and the Maytals' Do the Reggay (track 5).  This song refers to a dance called reggay or reggae, from the words "raggedy" (Davis/Simon, 1982: 45) or "ragamuffin" (Constant, 1982, 37) both implying an ill-fitting, or unorthodox character.  In this style the bass is strongly emphasized and free of its strict "walking" bond.  It is also amplified to a higher degree than it has been so far in Jamaican music.  The characteristic "stutter" or drive in the rhythmic pattern of the highly amplified bass later becomes synonymous with a specific type of reggae, known as the rub-a-dub style.  This sub-style is distinguished by other reggae types such as "vocal," "rocker," or "lover's" by its heavy, driving bass in that stutter-stop pattern, as well as its bass-drum emphasis on the 1 and 3 beats (see fig. 3, p.14), an innovation by drummer Sly Dunbar (Davis/Simon, 1982: 130).  The rub-a-dub style is significant when sound system deejays of the late 1970s/early 80s are considered. This theme is explored in section 1.5.6.  The general rhythmic pattern of reggae is sometimes more drawn-out as compared to rocksteady (due to omitted snare accents), giving the illusion of a much slower tempo.  This creates more space for expression and improvisation around the beats.  In reality, reggae's tempo is not much slower than rocksteady's (~75 compared to ~80 bpm respectively), but its atmosphere has a spacious, fluid character which makes it unique in the Jamaican musical spectrum.  Reggae is commonly associated with Rastafarianism.  It did not necessarily arise from Rasta action or beliefs as many early reggae songs have no mention of the faith at all.  The relationship between reggae and Rastafarianism is due to the conversion of some artists,


such as Bob Marley, to those beliefs.  In this way, the reggae style became an expressive vehicle for the Rasta message and gained a more "conscious" or philosophical edge in addition to its role as social or political commentary (Mulvaney, 1985: 90) (see track 1).  With reggae, the African roots of Jamaican popular music seemed to come to the forefront, whereas earlier styles wove these influences with more subtlety.   West African drumming styles such as nyahbingi and buru, can be said to be the chief African influence of reggae in terms of musical patterns (Leymarie, 1996: 274).  This exploration of traditional rhythmic movements was combined with a general sense of Africanity or "return to the roots" concepts which deepened the power and meaning of reggae music.  With this spiritual awakening in Jamaican music through reggae, a dichotomy was created in the musical culture which exists to this day.  The spiritually active, politically subversive, and socially conscious messages of certain reggae songs are typically foiled by a more down-to-earth, humorous, sexually charged, and violent lyrical style, known as slack or slackness, popularized by sound system deejays in the 1980s (Hebdige, 1987: 124).


1.1.6  The rise of deejays and "dancehall" music

            This slack-style is considered to be somewhat of a reaction to the heaviness of the reggae message and came to dominate the crowd's interest through the 1980s and early 90s in Jamaica.  Throughout these decades, Jamaican music became heavily influenced by hip hop, a style which in fact arose in New York City with the help of sound system deejays from Jamaica (ibid: 137).  This roundabout pattern of influence is characteristic of the close relationship between black communities in the U.S. and Jamaica.  Through this relationship a new form of music called dancehall emerged in the 1980s.  Essentially all popular Jamaican music owes its life to the sound system and the dancehall, yet the term "dancehall" came to describe a particular style which arose post- "roots" reggae (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 261).   The musical label "dancehall" illustrates that the sound system played a significant creative role in shaping Jamaican music by the 1980s.  Although most styles can be called "dancehall music" beginning in the 1980s, the expression currently tends to be used to describe a more modern (late 1980s/early 90s) form of Jamaican music which is a popular staple to this day at sound system events.  It is characterized by a heavy, syncopated drum beat (see fig. 4, p.14), often electronically generated, fast-flowing, with an aggressively delivered lyrical content.  Synthesized bass or keyboard sounds often accompany the rhythm in a somewhat minimal fashion. Sampling is common in dancehall, underlining its connection to hip hop music.  The vocal style is akin to rap in that the rhythmic aspect is often more highly developed than the melodic statement.  The terms ragamuffin or ragga are sometimes used to describe songs with this type of lyrical flow, which are more modern in origin than "dancehall" songs from the early 1980s, whose lyrical flow is closer to a sung tune and contains less aggressive messages (ibid: 305) (tracks 9, 10).  Lyrical content that was commonly "slack" in the mid-80s reaches a distribution pattern from slack to conscious in the current scene.  A "roots revival" occurred in the early 90s in which some dancehall artists started to incorporate conscious or Rastafarian messages in their lyrics.  Many artists, however, fall somewhere in between alternating between a gangster-type persona and a spiritual leader or sometimes combining both in one song.  A good example of modern dancehall music is Buju Banton's Champion (track 6), a song whose violent-sounding tone is nevertheless broadcasting a positive message of power and confidence in relationships.  Early dancehall representing a crucial turn in Jamaican music's evolution, is discussed in conjunction with the sound system in section 1.5.


1.1.7  The legacy of dub

            From the inception of what is now called "roots" or "roots and culture" reggae, a sub-genre of Jamaican music branched off and became known as dub.  As a style in its own right, dub was spawned from instrumental versions often simply called versions, of reggae songs in which the vocals were "dubbed out" for the purposes of mastering (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 227); (see track 11; section 1.5.3).  It can be understood as a musical expression involving the creative manipulation (or re-mixing) of instrumentals.  Its sound is akin to an esoteric, effects-laden voyage through the reggae soundscape and may include vocal snippets.  Dub's main producers are notorious for pushing the envelope when it comes to making a musical statement and often bring the earthy sound of reggae into the realm of science-fiction.  The two most important dub producers are King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry, along with his band the Upsetters (ibid: 237).  Perry's Alien in Out a Space (track 7) clearly illustrates his modern techno-magical indulgences.

            Dub is important because it was the first type of Jamaican music whose creative statements were based on existing records, whether they be entire instrumental tracks or samples.  It also brought studio and sound system manipulation to the forefront of the creative process exposing Jamaican music's crucial link to studio producers and their technology.  Dub music ushered in an era where the sound system became an important creative factor in Jamaican music's production.


1.2  The anatomy of a Jamaican sound system


            In compiling a detailed description of the components of a typical Jamaican-style sound system, information was gathered from an interview with the chief "informant" Prymtym, a disc-jockey and staff member of CKUT 90.3 FM (Radio McGill).  Prymtym hosts one of the very few radio shows dedicated to reggae music in Montreal, the weekly Positive Vibes <www.ckut.ca>.  His personal experience with Jamaican music and sound systems (as a member of Montreal's Virgo sound; see fig. 3) proved invaluable in the task of sorting through the facts, definitions and histories of the global and local scenes.

            Isolating the different aspects of a sound system can be rather tricky, so it is best to approach this task with a few basic concepts in mind.  It has already been stated that in the Jamaican sense of the expression, "sound system" (sometimes written soundsystem), includes human beings as well as machinery.  Our North American definition of sound system, on the other hand, might be restricted to material components only.  A Jamaican sound system can be thought of as a musical group or band.  In such a group there are essential roles that must be filled (playing instruments, singing, etc.), but in the broadest sense, the members are not limited to a specific number, nor must there be a strict minimum (perhaps at least one person).  A sound system requires that certain roles or "jobs" be taken care of by any number of individuals.  Thus, rather than thinking that each role demands one person, one should appreciate the flexibility and potential for multi-tasking that occurs within the human aspect of a given sound system.  Stricter requirements exist when dealing with the material aspect of a sound.  In this arena, one encounters more consistency throughout various events.

1.2.1  Material components

            The simplest aspect of a sound system to understand is its material composition.  No matter who owns it, brought it, rented it, or set it up, a typical modern sound system setup consists of the following: turntables (at least two), DJ mixer, headphones, microphone (at least one), public address system/amplifier, and an array of very large speakers, especially for the lower frequencies (these are known as boxes or bass bins).  A record collection is obviously the final material component needed to make a sound system function.

            Behind the scenes of the material, the ownership of the physical sound system and records is slightly more complicated.  Historically, the equipment and record collection were acquired and owned by the sound system's promoter (ex. Coxsone Dodd), and traveled from dance to dance.  Any operators of the sound system at a given dance were hired by its promoter.  The sound as a whole was hired through the promoter as well, who collected most of the profit.  Thus, the quality of the sound (physically) and the record collection were symbols of the promoter's prestige.  In modern times, at least in Montreal, the non-record materials (speakers, etc.) are not typically part of a given sound system.  It has become the duty of the venue management or the event organizer to provide and maintain the physical setup.  The individuals that are part of a sound are now simply responsible for bringing records and performing (some might prefer to use their own turntables or microphones).  Therefore, when one currently refers to a sound or sound system, one can be talking about a group of individuals with records and various talents that perform at various events.  One could in fact be talking about a single individual.  The record collection, while still being a symbol of prestige, is typically owned by whoever is playing it.  Any managerial or promoter type person who might be associated with a modern sound system occupies a primarily administrative/marketing role.  The creative input of a modern sound system promoter is thus reduced.


1.2.2  Human components

            With respect to the human element of a sound system, several roles can be isolated which are necessary for a proper performance.  These are: sound man (or box man), selector, mixer (or disc-jock), and deejay.  Some sound systems also include dancers as part of their performance, but the core roles are the four listed above.  It is important to keep in mind that these each of these roles need not correspond to a specific individual on a one-to-one basis.  One person may fill a combination of several roles.  In essence, the human element features the connection to the sound system's audience, bringing static media alive in a unique performance.


1.2.3  Sound man       

            The sound man (or box man) role involves the setting up and maintenance of the physical sound system.  In the early days, promoters hired sound men to specifically take care of their equipment at dances.  This involved checking connections, making sure sound could be heard and was balanced, and protecting the equipment from damage (although in some cases, this last role was taken over by armed guards).  A sound man could become a permanent member of a sound system, being exclusively associated with it and its promoter.  Today, this role is almost entirely absent from a typical sound system, as the maintenance of the physical setup is usually the responsibility of the venue.  Some places have a sound man as a permanent member of their staff that stays on the premises to take care of the performance, while others hire a temporary one or leave it up to the promoters.


1.2.4  Selector           

            The selector (or selecta) chooses the records to be played.  Someone who fills the role of selector must provide a proper flow of songs based on the relationship between the musical statement he wants to make and the will of the audience.  This role is perhaps the most subtle, as it must rest on the negotiation of crowd reaction and personal expression.  The poles of intention and expectation clash through this negotiation, and subsequently feed off each other.  A good selector should not act as if he is detached from the audience's desires, nor should he let the audience completely dictate the sequence of songs.  Thus, two levels of appreciation are set up: that of the performer (selector, other members of sounds) and that of the receiver (audience).  Rarity, originality, and sequence or thematic flow of records are all factors which heavily influence appreciation by "professionals," that is, those involved in the performance.  Popularity, "danceability" and content (both musical and lyrical) tend to figure more prominently in the spectator or layman's appreciation.  These features are not strictly associated to either of these levels.  For example, a selector might be impressed with another's performance through observation of the crowd's reaction.  In essence, the selector must string together the thematic flow of the dance while navigating time limits, mood changes and observed behaviours.




1.2.5  Mixer

            The mixer (or disc-jock) aspect of the sound system is commonly combined with the role of selector into one individual.  Nevertheless, it can be isolated as a necessary role distinct from the selector, and has been known to be the sole domain of one particular person within a given sound system.  The word mixer simply refers to the role of stringing or mixing together various records in sequence.  Disc-jock  (a more modern term commonly used in hip hop), a derivative of disc-jockey, describes one who physically manipulates records according to various techniques (mixing being one of them).  The word mixer is flexible and can be used to describe one who does a variety of technical manipulations as well (described in the next section).  In essence this role builds on that of the selector by adding a technical level of creativity to the mental work of the selector.  A good mixer must essentially make the chosen records flow into each other nicely.  This can be done in a basic way by pitch-shifting the record (using a dial or slider on the turn table) which speeds up or slows down the tempo of a record in order to match that of one currently being played.  This procedure, known as "beat-matching" is currently used in many different musical scenes, from funk to techno.  Since many reggae songs have similar rhythms,  beat-matching provides a smooth, almost imperceptible transition between songs, contributing to the establishment of a "vibe" or atmosphere.  Since song selection obviously contributes to the "mixability" of two given records, the selector must keep in mind the job of the mixer when selecting a sequence of records to play.  This intimate relation between mixing and song choice is perhaps the main reason that the mixer and selector roles often coincide with one individual.  When this occurs, the label selector is the one that is applied.  Therefore, it is common to associate technical manipulations with the selector of a sound system.  Within the sound system community various selector-types can be known as "better mixers" or "better selectors," that is, one person's stronger point is their record selection, whereas another's is their technical ability.


1.2.6  Deejay

            Last but not least, the deejay role is the sound system's direct connection to the audience.  The expression "MC", used in hip hop culture, is equivalent to the Jamaican deejay, but is more informative.  As a Master of Ceremony, the deejay's role is to animate the dance, keep the atmosphere interesting, and "bring alive" the recorded music.  This can be done by adding toasts, thematic commentary, "nursery doggerel" or even percussive mouth-sounds to records being played (see sections 1.5.2 and 1.5.6).  Toasting is a form of salute or recognition and is important in that it connects the audience with the performance.  Moreover, it can convey respect or admiration for certain performers whether they be present at the dance or heard through records.  Thematic commentary (talking about what is being heard what is being seen, or what has happened in the world) serves as a self-reflexive narrative which can crystallize emotions, trends and symbols in an entertaining and potentially subversive way.  Nursery doggerel is a form of altered nursery-rhyming (see tracks 10, 12) and is indicative of the post-modern nature of the deejay performance.  It can be combined with lyrical snippets, slogans, "nonsense" words (scatting), movie dialogue, and advertising to form the content of a deejay's spoken-vocal flow (see track 8).  These textual tidbits are reconstructed by the deejay in a personally relevant way resulting in a LŽvi-Straussian bricolage that hints at how the individual's mind is working to perceive the environment (La PensŽe Sauvage, 1966).  An important part of a deejay's prestige comes from the references he might use in his performance and the crowd's familiarity with them.  A common strategy is to use lyrical references from popular songs and reformat them into one's own performance.  The way in which he strings these references together, perhaps twisting their meaning in order to form an incisive comment, also contributes to his appeal and respect.  If all of this can be done in a humourous or entertaining way, the deejay's success at the dance is almost assured.


1.2.7  Division of labour

            While all of these roles are necessary for a successful sound system, it is important to remember that they need not be filled by separate individuals.  With the separation of equipment and talent, it is currently possible to have a sound man, selector, mixer and deejay in one person (although forcing the talent to be the sound man is often indicative of poor club management).  This solo manifestation can be seen in sounds around Montreal such as Little Thunder.  However, groups of individuals called crews are more commonly associated with sounds.  Earthquake Sound Crew is a local example of this.  Because of this modern emphasis on the talent rather than the audio equipment, the word "system" is more commonly dropped from the original expression leaving the word "sound" to describe an individual or a collective.  Therefore, the material "system" is no longer a part of a sound's prestige.  The only material element which is important for today's sounds is, of course, the record collection.

            Typically, individuals involved with sounds fall in either of two categories: selector or deejay.  Here, the selector is the multipurpose technical guru who usually owns, chooses, and manipulates the records.  The deejay handles the microphone and directs the proceedings of the dance.  This dichotomy is apparent in other musical cultures such as hip hop and jungle, where performers are either musical-types or vocal-types (DJs or MCs).  Some crews have multiple people in each domain who take turns as the performance flows.  For example, having two deejays in a sound system creates another level of interaction which entertains the crowd.  The use of alternating selectors (sometimes called a "versus") also causes intrigue and heightens the competitive aspect of the performance.  The interplay between the two different selectors and their material adds another dimension to the performance which further draws the crowd's attention and participation. The competitive aspect is especially highlighted if one of the selectors is clearly favoured over another.


1.2.8  The sound clash

            The competitive level rises considerably if these alternating selectors are from different or rival sound systems.  This phenomenon is often organized and referred to as a sound clash (or DJ battle in hip hop terms).  In this event the crowd becomes the collective judge of the overall performance, declaring a winning sound based on the criteria of each role described earlier.  It is interesting to note that this "clashing" aspect can be found in some West African musical traditions such as that of the Anlo-Ewe of Ghana (Avorgbedor, 1994: 112).  It has become an important part of many record-based musical scenes, namely reggae, hip hop and electronica from house to drum Ôn' bass.  In the dancehall world the clashing aspect is an important tool for drawing in crowds and building up prestige.  While it symbolizes a battle, it is not necessarily a simple reflection of the violence inherent in a given society.  For the Ewe as much as the Jamaicans, musical clashes are a good way to establish power relations within the musical community as determined by the tastes of the crowd (Stolzoff, 2000: 10).  Thus, sound systems ritualize their inherent competition in a way that includes their audience.  This gives the receptors an opportunity to influence the production of the performance.


1.3  Specific techniques of the sound system


         Each basic creative role in the sound system has certain specific strategies or techniques associated with it.  The set of these techniques can be divided into two domains -one that is technical and the other vocal.  These correspond to the selector/mixer and deejay respectively.  The various techniques used by these members of a sound system occur through a relationship between the selector and deejay which is the backbone of the dancehall performance.  Communication is important between these actors as it would be between members of a live musical group.  However, while a typical band's on-stage communication might often be implicit or hidden from the audience, the deejay-selector exchange is explicit and an integral part of the performance. 

The deejay often acts as the "voice of the dance," expressing his particular thoughts and desires with regards to the progression of the performance.  More than just idle chatter, the deejay's comments can serve as a litmus test for the state of the dance.  They can also fill a more creative role when then are focused on the selector.  Deejay chatter which involves "directing" the selector's actions is codified into recognizable commands or requests which correspond to a technical procedure which is executed by the selector/mixer.  Some of these are listed below:



1.3.1  Haul and pull up! (haul and pull)

            This command requires the selector to physically pick up the needle off the record and return it to the beginning of a song.  This is perhaps the oldest technical trick that emerged in the era of single turntables.  In order to replay a song from the beginning during this era, one had no choice but to stop the record and physically place the needle at the beginning.  Nowadays, the dual turntable setup allows for more sophistication in this procedure, as one record can be playing while the haul and pull is executed on the other.  The significance of this procedure relates to the idea of crowd pleasing.  In the early days, crowds who reacted strongly to a particular record were treated to a second hearing through a haul and pull.  This, combined with anticipatory deejay chatter of the  "Are you ready for it again?" type built up the energy at the dance.  In some cases, a haul and pull can be thought of as a teasing maneuver when only the beginning of a song is heard before the needle comes off the record.  This creates tension and anticipation as the crowd's appetite is whet with a brief musical tidbit (Stolzoff, 2000: 54).  In some cases, tension can be heightened by playing a snippet of a recognizable song, and then replaying the whole piece only after a couple of other songs have been played.


1.3.2  Rewind!

            Also known as a backspin, this technique involves spinning a playing record backwards with one's hand.  The actual sound of the reverse-spinning record is meant to be heard clearly, and is part of the mixing procedure.  For maximum effect, the rewind must be done in time, so the rhythm is not broken from song to song.  The rewind typically refers to a controlled, slow manipulation of the record which causes it to rotate backwards.  In order to achieve this, the selector simply places his fingers near the center of the record and rotates them in a reverse direction.  This creates the same effect as the haul and pull, but in a more dramatic fashion.  The idea in both cases is to return to an earlier part (or the beginning) of a record.  The deejay often lays down chatter on top of the rewind, adding to the tension buildup.  Another way of rewinding a record is to do it in one fell swoop, creating a much faster backward sound.  In this technique, the selector appears to slap the record back in one motion.  This is most often used as a sound effect or transition between two records.  Again, timing is crucial to the flow of the mix.


1.3.3  Deejay-selector interplay

            It is important to remember that the physical techniques mentioned above are ones which are associated with deejay commands having the same name (for example, the deejay command "rewind!" asks the selector to execute that manoeuver).  This does not necessarily mean that they can only be executed at the request of the deejay, but it usually means that if the deejay tells the selector to perform any of them, it should be done.  The relationship between the deejay and selector is underlined in the way the requests are phrased.  If a haul and pull is desired by the deejay, he would typically refer to the selector as "my selector," in the form "Haul and pull up, my selecta!"  This way of speaking tends to reinforce the bond between the two roles, while affirming the deejay's position as that of conductor or director.   It should be noted, however, that historically the deejay's role has evolved considerably from the beginning of the sound system to the present.  In earlier times, the record playing aspect was most central to the performance and the deejay's job was to add flavour to it.  By the time of dancehall music, the deejay became the central focus of the show and assumed a more directorial role.  In some cases, the records came to serve the lyrical performance, as in the use of versions (track 11), that is, instrumental versions of exisitng songs (see section 1.5.3; track 8).  These provided a base for different vocal performances in the dancehall (see section 1.5.4; tracks 12, 13).  The Jamaican sound system's use of versions has also structured other music scenes where the separation between music and vocals is at their core (hip hop, for example, with the split between MC and DJ).  This dichotomy resulted in the development of each craft in a relatively separate way.  However, in order to complete a performance and fully please the audience the two worlds must inevitably merge.  A smooth interplay between the deejay and selector is as crucial as the harmony between musicians and singers.  A disjointed performance where the selector's manipulations clash with the deejay's chatter or requests, quickly destroys any kind of "vibe" or energy at the dance.


1.3.4  Bass Drop

            While it is commonly accepted that the deejay is responsible for conducting the show, some technical manipulations are more dependent on the will of the selector, and do not necessarily correspond to deejay requests.  In fact, the selector can have input on the course of the performance by subtly manipulating the records in conjunction with deejay's vocal flow.  An example of this type of technique is the bass drop.  This essentially involves taking away the bass from the record by turning a knob on the mixer.  This leaves the song quite thin, especially since the bass frequencies are typically amplified to the extreme at sound system dances.  A variation of this technique is to "cut" or take away the music entirely using the mixer's fader, leaving the crowd in a state of greater suspense.  The idea is then to reintroduce the bass or music at a moment of maximum tension, such as just before a verse begins.  During this break in the song, the deejay can embellish the sense of tension with chatter and anticipate the striking return of the song to its full range.  This is typically a live technique but it has worked its way into the studio to be featured on recordings since the late 1960s.  When it was first played at a dancehall, the format of dropping out bass or rhythm and having deejay chatter come in before reintroducing the song caused a sensation among stunned crowds who were not expecting to hear sound system techniques on record.  This phenomenon is important because it is one of the first instances where the influence of the sound system was clearly heard on recorded media produced in the studio.


1.3.5  Juggling          

            Another important and influential selector technique known as "juggling," involves stringing records (that have the exact same rhythm) together in a seamless fashion.  This creates a continuous flow or "groove" that extends the rhythm indefinitely.  This is akin to American disco dance mixes whose nonstop groove is meant as a service to the dancers.  Juggling is important because it shifted emphasis away from the deejay and back to the selector as the efforts of the sound system became geared to the needs of the dancers.  It also included the crowd in the performance on a greater level through its emphasis on a non-stop dance beat.  This type of dance eventually replaced the vocalist-driven dance in the late 1980s (Stolzoff, 2000: 109).  Juggling also came to be featured on recordings and spawned the phenomenon of one-rhythm albums, in which one instrumental track provided a nonstop back-beat to various vocal "versions" of the same piece  (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 451).


1.3.6  Calls and sound effects                                                            

            Other sound system features which eventually found their way onto records include calls and sound effects.  Calls made by the deejay are forms of toasting that involve expressions of respect.  These are interspersed throughout the performance and are used in reaction to people, records or events that the deejay feels deserve special mention.  Such expressions which include shockout!, big up! and legal!, are shouted in order to convey some sense of respect or admiration.  For example, the deejay might call shockout! to some members of the crowd whom he feels are worthy of being singled out for praise.  This essentially conveys the feeling of "you're special" (this specific call is an older one according to Prymtym).  Big up is a common expression that has worked its way into mainstream language among the youth.  It is commonly used in conjunction with someone's name in the form of a respectful salutation, as in "Big up to Prymtym."  It can also refer to objects or places which the deejay feels the need to mention and to praise.  Legal! is a unique expression common to the dancehall that has specific historical origins.  It derives from the presence of police or military personnel at dances in Jamaica.  Originally, the deejay would call out a respectful legal! (as in members of the law) to the militiamen around the dancehall, inviting a gunshot salute in return (or vice-versa).  The call was later used as a metaphor to suggest that something reflects the power of a police or militia officer.

            Sound effects which can be commonly heard at dances and on recordings include firecrackers, air horns and gunshots (real or imitated).  These are essentially used to heighten the energy of the dance and reflect the celebratory nature of these events.  They can also serve as a communication tool for the audience in reaction to the performance. Historically, gunshots either came from lawful persons as a salute, or from gangsters seeking to disrupt the dance (referred to as licking a shot in Jamaican slang). Their inclusion on the records serves as a reminder of live events and adds to the intensity of a piece.  Imitation of a gunshot, through the expression boh!, is commonly used by deejays and crowd members alike in order to convey appreciation for a particular thing.  Certain expressions in the dancehall dialect link the concept of lethality to the quality of the music or vocals.  In this way, a performance or piece of music that "kills" or is "murderous" is a good one.  The association of violent imagery with quality or success is common in dancehall culture, as illustrated by the expression "I'm like a gunshot heading toward a target" in Stolzoff's chapter on the career trajectory of a dancehall artist (Stolzoff, 2000: 151; also see track 14, featuring the expression "sound killer").  The expression mash up, used to describe a successful performance which gained much crowd support, further illustrates the association of success with violent imagery in dancehall culture (ibid: 159).


1.4  Time: the proceedings of a sound system dance


            Throughout the fieldwork in Montreal, it was observed that sound system dances tended to be scheduled in the same way as events at a typical nightclub.  They always occur at night and officially begin at around 10:00 p.m. (doors open).  Much like a regular club, the sound system venues rarely attract many people this early on, although it has been known to happen.  On a typical night if there is no extremely popular attraction such as a singer from Jamaica, people start to congregate at 11:30 or midnight.  The event lasts until the universal 3:00 a.m. bar closing time in the city, at which point people start to slowly dissipate.  Much of the night's success is judged by the crowd participation.  A good night features a large audience which is receptive to the performance (i.e., dancing, interacting with artists).  This is so crucial that much of a deejay's chatter is aimed at getting the crowd's energy and confidence built up so that they may dance and enjoy themselves.  Teasing techniques, such as playing the beginning of a song only, are often used as strategies to get the crowd's attention and get people on the dance floor.  An event in which everyone is surrounding the perimeter of the dance floor (which was observed) is not considered successful.  Along the same lines, it is important for the female audience members to feel comfortable and confident, and having a circle of men surrounding the dance floor is not encouraging.   It seems the participation of females is especially important since many deejay comments revolve around the presence of ladies at the dance.  Songs are often dedicated to "the ladies" or played on the condition that females get involved in dancing.  Females are saluted more than males as they enter the venue (usually by male deejays).


1.4.1  Song choice and set breakdown

            In addition to deejay chatter, song choice is important in connecting with the crowd.  According to Prymtym, modern dancehall music is essential to every current sound system performance.  Field observations supported this claim, in that it is that type of music which tends to elicit the most intense crowd reactions.  However, different styles are commonly played at dances in the city.  Prymtym arrived at a breakdown of a typical selector's 30 minute set: 10 minutes "vocal music"; 10 minutes "roots & culture music"; 10 minutes "dancehall" (see section 1.0).  Vocal music refers to "classic" sounding reggae songs which are very melodic, contain lighter, up-tempo rhythms and lyrics usually about love and relationships.  Roots & culture reggae is deeper, more drum and bass oriented, and contains themes of Rastafarianism and resistance (track 1).  Dancehall usually refers to the modern, hip hop influenced sound, sometimes called ragga, which currently dominates Jamaican music (track 6). 

            This sequence of styles characterizes a typical set, as the first two styles consist of a "warm up" to the heavier dancehall portion.  Even if there are many selectors who take turns throughout the night, this progression is usually repeated each time a new person takes the turntables.  However, as the night progresses it is common to observe that the dancehall portion of the set gets larger, or that the other types of music are dropped altogether.  Some types of dances referred to as "oldies dances," reverse this situation and concentrate on the more "classic" sounds of early roots or dancehall reggae (tracks 1, 5, 8, 9, 10).  These are rarer than standard dances but do occur in the city from time to time.  They tend to draw older and more varied crowds, whereas the modern dancehall events tend to appeal to younger people primarily from the black community.  This feature of the modern dancehall audience combined with the North American environment of Montreal tends to bring out quite a few hip hop songs at dances around the city (track 14).  It is common to hear some of the latest American rap or r&b hits mixed in with the dancehall music in a selector's set.


1.5  The significance of the Jamaican sound system


            With regards to Jamaican music, the sound system can be seen as having two distinct roles.  The first is referred to as a mediator and the second as a creative force.  The mediation aspect, that is, the conveying or diffusing of recorded music, is the oldest and most fundamental role of the Jamaican sound system.  Since their inception in the late 40s, sound systems have been the major diffusers of music in Jamaica.  They are the main connection between the studio and the audience.  In this way the mediator role of the sound system can take on a second meaning, that of an intermediate level between production and reception, a sub-framework on which the music is presented.  However what is especially unique about the Jamaican sound system is its creative role in the Jamaican musical complex.  This role is fulfilled by the human component of the sound system and acts both on the technical level of the recorded music media (by the action of selectors) and the vocal level through talk-over or toasting by deejays.  Recorded-music perfomances which feature other types of music such as techno, do contain the technical level of creativity imposed on the static media (records) by disc-jockey manipulation (mixing, cutting, frequency altering).  However, the added feature of talking over records by Jamaican deejays is what makes these sound system performances truly original.  In addition, some technical aspects of Jamaican sound system manipulations are unique to the genre and will be discussed in detail in the next sections.  While first appearing in live sound system performances, these creative aspects took Jamaican music in an interesting direction when they reached the studio.  Here, the studio - sound system - audience connection gained a new dimension, reorganizing the framework into sound system - studio - sound system - audience.  Thus, the mediator turned back to influence the production of the music it was exposing to the audience.


1.5.1 Early days: the sound system as a mediator

            In the beginning, the sound system was simply a vessel for recorded music to be presented to Jamaican audiences.  The first types of music which caught the attention of urban, lower class youths in the post-war era were jazz and blues from the U.S.  Before this craze, it was not uncommon to see live bands playing around the island in indigenous styles such as mento or imported ones such as swing.  The rise of the sound system in the 40s and 50s contributed to the decline of the live band format during social gatherings in Jamaica.  Dances became the domain of the new technology as a result of a few specific historical facts.  Firstly, the types of music played by live bands in Jamaica in the 40s encountered severe competition from the fresh sounds of the U.S. due to their lack of connection with the urban realities of a growing number of Jamaicans.  Secondly, the economic issues limited the live band's commercial appeal.  It was much cheaper to hire a sound system which employed one or two men and could play the non-stop music people wanted to hear all night long (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 11).  Since people wanted to hear American r&b and club owners didn't want to pay for full a band's concert, much less their ticket to Jamaica, the sound system became king of the dancehall.  Economic factors also shaped the reality of the first sound systems in a significant way.  In the early years, the popularity of a given sound system was entirely due to its record selection.  To keep ahead of the game a sound system (or simply, sound) had to have the latest records and have exclusive access to them.  This required frequent trips to the U.S. in addition to mail orders and special requests from record dealers (ibid: 17). Consequently, only a few individuals could manage a successful sound system, thereby creating an elite group of sounds early on in the scene.  The most popular sound system operators were known as the "big three": King Edwards, Duke Reid, and Clement "Coxsone" Dodd.  Their systems dominated the dancehall scene in the 1950s and 60s and sparked tremendous competition which often erupted in violence (ibid: 14).  These individuals built, promoted and managed their sound systems, hiring others to man them during dances.  At their peak, these promoters could own several different sound systems that operated simultaneously in different locations (ibid: 13).  The bottom line was that one had to win over the audience to his own sound and this was usually accomplished by jealously guarding records. Certain strategies were employed to ensure a record's exclusivity, such as renaming the songs or scratching off the record label (ibid: 17).  Gang warfare was also employed to disrupt rival dances and sway audiences to one's banner (ibid: 14).


1.5.2  Growing prestige: from the sound system to the studio

            As the owners gained notoriety for the quality of their record collections or sound equipment, the hirelings who actually ran the sound systems also began to acquire their own prestige.  The jobs necessary to run a sound system intitially involved setting up and maintaining the equipment, choosing the records and playing them.  The earliest sound systems had only one turn table, eliminating the possiblitly of overlapping mixes and any creative input involved.  However, creative additions to the sequential playing of records came in the form of deejaying or disc-jockeying (ibid: 11).  The Jamaican definition of this term is closer to our radio-broadcast definition.  A disc-jockey on a typical radio station supplies the chatter, the inter-song commentary or information regarding what is being heard, or what's happening in the outside world.  He or she does not necessarily choose what records are being played.  A more modern definition of disc-jockey or DJ exists in North American culture that is borrowed from hip hop terminology.  A DJ in hip hop (and other types of modern music) is one who selects, plays and manipulates records.  This is not congruent with the Jamaican sense of the word deejay.  Early Jamaican deejays were influenced by the disc-jockeys of American radio whose quick-witted chatter added spice to the sequence of records being played (Davis/Simon, 1982: 33).  Their craft became known as toasting or talk-over, since their speeches were usually comments based on individuals at the dance and were incorporated into the actual playing of a record.  The first known "talker" was Count Machuki who was initially hired for the sound system known as Tom the Great Sebastian and later for Coxsone's famous Downbeat.  In addition to disc-jockey style wisecracks over the music, Machuki spiced up the sound of records by adding his own percussive "peps" and by producing the sound chick-a-took with his mouth against the microphone (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 19).

            Sound system owners eventually became producers who used the studio to put together bands for original recordings.  Ska's first and only all-star group, the Skatalites, was produced by one of the original sound system owners, Coxsone Dodd.  Dodd is a perfect example of the few musically savvy individuals who converted their vast experience with sound systems and  knowledge of African-American music into a uniquely Jamaican expression (with the help of talented musicians).  Many others followed him into the studio, producing their own bands and releasing records. Coxsone's legacy is legendary and so is his studio/record label, Studio One (ibid: 39).  Since his experience first started with sound systems and then took him into the studio, one could say that the sound system began influencing the production of music at this early stage.  However, the studio productions with bands like the Skatalites were akin to the traditional way of making records, that is, simply recording a live band in a studio (Liner notes, Foundation Ska).  The "studio sound" had not yet reached its full potential in Jamaican music in the time of ska.


1.5.3  Version: the sound system becomes a creative force  

            The creative influence of the sound system on Jamaican music production can be appreciated on a higher level with the emergence of reggae and subsequently, dub.  Reggae instrumentals formed the basis of early dub pieces.  These instrumental versions, simply referred to as versions, were usually "b-sides" of released singles (45 rpm records) featuring the same song without the vocal track.  Dub producers typically used these as the basis for their craft, adding effects and dramatic pauses or "breakdowns" to the music.  Sometimes they used live bands to record instrumentals and then deconstructed the piece by using the original tracks from the mix (Davis/Simon, 1982: 106).  In the sound system setting, versions allowed for more vocal improvisation on the part of the deejay.  One of the pioneers in the use of versions in conjunction with deejay chatter was U. Roy (fig. 6, p.42), starting in 1969 with the song Wake the Town.  This piece contains a typical deejay-style introduction, that is, the highly quoted line "Wake the town and tell the people... Ôbout the musical disc coming your way!"  U. Roy's second release, Rule the Nation (track 8), boasted a spoken introduction that underlined the growing importance of versions in Jamaican music and culture: "This station... rules the nation... with version!" <>.  The singular word version came to represent a concept or phenomenon where many different versions of a song were produced using the same instrumental recording.  Different versions of a piece could contain singing, deejaying or dub-style manipulations (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 453).  This general process can be referred to as "versioning" or making different versions of a piece.


1.5.4  Development of vocal styles in the dancehall

            As the vocal part of the sound system deepened into a performance in its own right, different categories of vocal style emerged giving rise to some basic classifications.  In terms of a vocal performance with a sound system, one must distinguish between the singer and the deejay.  By the 1980s, singers came to be featured at dancehall events, singing over versions as opposed to live bands.  These individuals became known as "dancehall-style" singers (Stolzoff, 2000: 170).  Their style is more melodic than that of the deejay, whose emphasis is more rhythmic in nature.  Furthermore, the singer's lyrical language was closer to standard English than that of the deejay who employed Jamaican patois.  This reflects the fact that a dichotomy had been created between the deejay style which was only locally popular, and the sung style which had more international or "crossover" appeal (ibid: 98).  An example of a dancehall singer is Sugar Minott (see track 10).  Singers are vastly outnumbered by deejays but their conversion to the dancehall setting underlines the importance of the sound system performance in Jamaican music (ibid: 168).  Because of the proximity of the dancehall singer to the craft of the deejay, many singers' style contained hints of deejay-like improvisation or commentary.  In some cases the rhythmic, rap-like art


of the deejay became equally fused with the melodic range of the dancehall singer.  This mix of styles produced the hybrid sing-jay, a popular style coined by artists like Tenor Saw (see tracks 7, 10; fig. 5, p.42) (ibid: 171).

            Whatever their particular style, sound system vocalists' performance essentially consisted of various combinations of singing, rhyming and toasting laid over instrumental versions of existing songs (which had originally featured vocals).  These instrumentals eventually acquired a life of their own, being produced, bought, sold and traded solely for the purpose of deejay-type vocal performances and other versioning.  They came to be known as riddims, a term which underlines their role as rhythmic accompaniment to vocals.


1.5.5  The legacy of version: specials, dub plates

            The legacy that U. Roy had begun by using versions had blossomed into a Jamaican music staple by the 1980s.  The song Pass the Dutchie by Musical Youth contains a deejay-style introduction based on U. Roy's famous quote that clearly illustrates version's expanded status at the time: "This generation... rules the nation... with version" (emphasis added).  As the new craze spread, support for more traditional acts such as Bob Marley and the Wailers' brand of live roots reggae, diminished.  Marley's death in 1981 is considered by some to be the symbol of the decline of roots and culture music and the rise of the deejays (ibid: 100).  These new heroes of Jamaican music offered the crowds songs rife with humour, sexuality and violence, woven with threads of rapping, rhyming and word-play.  In addition, this was all done over instrumentals that the crowd could recognize as existing popular records. However, this dimension also created the expectation of original riddims. Thus, the element of surprise with respect to instrumentals became an important


addition to the deejay's performance.  This need to dazzle the crowd gave rise to specials which are recordings that are made exclusively for use by a sound system.  These had come about earlier in the development of the sound system, as producers sought to increase the prestige of their sound by creating truly exclusive records.  Specials fit the needs of the deejay extremely well in that they allowed for truly unique performances, many of which often talked about the quality of one's own sound system (see track 12).  Today they dominate the performances of the most popular sounds (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 453).

            It was not long before deejays or singers who had accumulated much respect in the sound system scene were brought into the studio to record their talents.  The early 80s saw a boom in dancehall-inspired records, many being re-mixes of classic records featuring the new vocal style of sung-rapping and commentary.  Original riddims were also created, adding a fresh wave of instrumentals for use by Jamaican music's new superstars.  In this era, dub plates, or acetate records, became a popular medium for disseminating original tracks for use by sound system deejays or record producers.  These were a quick, cheap way to spread instrumentals around and could end up in record shops along side the quintessential vinyl 45s (ibid: 449).  A sense of do-it-yourself performance permeated the Jamaican music scene in this era due to the fact that any aspiring deejay could buy instrumentals and sing over them.  At the same time any producer could make an impact by producing his own riddims and by inviting deejays to add vocal tracks.  Thus, an important precedent was set in Jamaican music which would later go on to profoundly affect other musical cultures such as hip hop: the separation of music and vocal recordings, mirrored by the split between the deejay and selector arts (Stolzoff, 2000: 98).  This opened the door for the re-mix to become an important musical phenomenon.

1.5.6  Version, vocalists, and the rub-a-dub style

            It so happened that one of the most popular instrumental styles of reggae which coincided with the rise of deejays and versions was rub-a-dub.  Because of this timing many early deejay/singer recordings were laid over tracks of this style.  In addition, many of the lyrical themes of these recordings dealt in a self-reflexive way with the concept of rub-a-dub, its popularity, its appeal and its international status.  Therefore, the vocalists who recorded over this style encouraged its spread not only by using it as an instrumental basis, but by elucidating how, why, and where it is so popular in their texts (ex. "Rub-dub-music is international!" see track 9).  The style became so popular that early dancehall events were sometimes referred to as "rub-a-dub dances" (ibid.). Two perfect examples of this phenomenon are the songs Rub-a-Dub Market (track 8) by the legendary deejay-singer Tenor Saw, and Rub-a-Dub Sound (Tune In) by the equally prestigious dancehall singer Sugar Minott (track 9).  These pieces both clearly illustrate the rub-a-dub instrumental sound with its heavy, stutter-stop bass pattern and "one-drop" bass drum emphasis (ibid: 130).  Furthermore, the lyrics of both songs deal with rub-a-dub itself and its status at the time.  The lyrical style, particularly in Sugar Minott's song, is also typical of early deejay/singing vocals in that it contains tidbits of what is called "nursery doggerel" or nursery rhyme references (Mulvaney, 1985: 92), specifically from The Butcher, the Baker and The Candlestick Maker in this case.  These types of references were often tied into the song through word play and illustrate the "mental sampling" that occurs as deejays weave together lyrical flows from disparate elements of their knowledge and experience.  In this golden age of the deejay some artists became known for their stage presence and crowd-working skills as much as their vocal talent.  Outrageous performers such as Yellowman and Eek a Mouse gained notoriety for their humourous, often teasing remarks, as well as their manipulation of scat or "nonsense" words (Davis/Simon, 1982: 124).  Amidst all of this levity some "conscious" messages worked their way into song lyrics but these were not as heavily associated with Rastafarianism as in the case of roots reggae.  More general messages of awareness and spirituality came through in songs like Lots of Sign by Tenor Saw.


1.5.7  Particularities within dancehall music

            All of the version-driven music described so far falls into a category which could be called "early" or "classic" dancehall.  This style is markedly different from what would be referred to as "dancehall" today.  Early dancehall recordings featuring deejay-singers whose sound system experience was translated into the studio, tend to feature vocals which have an important melodic quality to them in addition to their unique rhythmic emphasis.  Being a contemporary of rap, modern dancehall features lyrical flows in which the rhythmic aspect has taken over the melodic development.  Thus, an early dancehall vocal performance is typically closer to a song, while that of a modern dancehall (or ragga) is closer to a rap (see track 5).  Throughout dancehall's development in the 1980s electronic riddims emerged and all but replaced the use of "classic" instrumentals recorded by live bands.  Initially, digital equipment was used to duplicate the classic reggae rhythm.  However, the rhythmic emphasis shifted in modern dancehall/ragga in the late 80s.  New riddims contained a more syncopated, heavy bass-laden pattern which caught on rapidly (see track 5).  The basic patterns of these new rhythms were drawn from traditional Jamaican styles such as buru and mento (Stolzoff, 2000: 107).  These form the basis of most records played at sound systems to this day as well as that of aspiring deejays' performances.  This electronically generated, sample driven riddim style created an explosion in the sheer number of instrumental tracks available as production became easier and cheaper (ibid: 106).  Re-mixes now swamp the sound systems as the crowd's expectation shifts to include quality, as well as originality, in the highly post-modern production arena. The sound system still remains the testing ground for new talent, new instrumentals and new re-mixes, and acts as a connection between the studio and the people.




2.1  Space: dancehall culture's physical negotiation in Montreal


         The most fundamental aspect of the fieldwork was attending certain Jamaican events involving sound systems which took place around Montreal.  A typical Jamaican-style sound system event, or dance as it is commonly called, features a group of artists performing for an audience using vinyl records and an array of audio equipment (turntables/mixer, amplifiers, speakers, microphones).  This event inevitably requires a certain type of venue in order to take place. This venue is usually referred to as a dancehall.  The area must be large enough to accommodate a sizeable crowd and feature a flat, open space for dancing.  Sitting areas around the dance floor are also common, but not crucial, since standing up is the most common position for the audience members.  Booths or tables must be set up in order to sell alcohol and food (typically Jamaican), which are staples at these events.  Within the venue, the sound systems usually occupy a commanding position in front of the dance floor.  They can be set up on tables or have their own booth or traveling frame (as was popular in earlier years).  In any case, there is a delineation between the crowd and the sound system which is highlighted by spatial boundaries such as raised platforms or enclosed areas (or both) where the sound system's members reside.

            In Jamaica (fig.1), two types of spaces are used for dances.  The island's climate allows for outdoor events in addition to indoor ones which commonly take place in dance halls (hence the modified Jamaican word dancehall, which refers to this event, its culture, and certain types of music associated with it).  Outdoor dances are often referred to as lawns because they take place in grassy fields or vacant lots (Stolzoff, 2000: 48).  Depending on the size of the lot, these types of dances can accommodate more than one sound system set-up at a time, up to three or four in some cases.  This creates a more competitive atmosphere referred to as a clash (described in detail in chapter 2), where the sound systems are focused on outdoing one another on the spot through their performance (ibid: 9).  Lawn dances, being outdoors, broadcast their music in a more audible (and visible) way than indoor dances and are therefore subjected to much more harassment by police or military personnel.  Despite this, they remain an important outlet for the expression of dancehall culture in Jamaica.  Traveling sound systems (fixed to the back of a pick-up truck, for example) which blare records throughout the island's poorest communities, serve as an important connection to the masses which cannot purchase records or radios, and have otherwise little media exposure (Davis/Simon, 1982: 33).  Many of these people are unable to attend organized sound system events, especially ones taking place in dance halls.  In these indoor venues the physical set-up is essentially the same as the lawn's.  Enclosed spaces contribute to overcrowding and heat problems.  They  also make the music a lot louder, adding to the overall intensity of a hall's atmosphere.

            Montreal's dances are almost exclusively indoors.  The cold climate restricts any possibility of an outdoor event to a few short months out the year.  Within these months, there is still not an abundance of lawn dances in Montreal.  In fact, one of the only times when one might hear Jamaican music being played over a sound system at an outdoor event is on Jamaica day (last Sunday in July), a cultural festival <joca.freeservers.com/catalog.html>.  Outdoor musical events require strict permits in Montreal, limiting the possibility of an off-hand (not strictly legal) lawn party which might spring up more easily in Jamaica.  Music is also forbidden outdoors in the city after midnight, restricting a dance's potential duration. <www2.ville.montreal.qc.ca/permis/fiches/fiche11.htm>.  In addition to this legal environment, it is safe to assume that the bias against black musical events (such as hip hop concerts) that is apparent in this city's law enforcement community would severely restrict any hope of a sizeable outdoor dance occurring.  Such bias does exist in Jamaica, but the cultural infrastructure of dancehall is much stronger in that environment, promoting resistance against authority in those particular events.  Montreal's Jamaican music scene has not yet reached the mainstream media, nor does it form a seething counter-culture with the power and influence it exhibits in its country of origin.  Remaining a community-based scene, the dancehall culture of Montreal cannot compete with the empires of hip hop or electronica that have seized the minds and wallets of many scene-supporting youths.  These musical juggernauts have reached an expanded, generalized status, which has freed them from narrow cultural associations.  Hip hop has "crossed-over" into mainstream music through media such as commercial radio and music video television channels.  Its strict associations with black youth have yielded (through the 90s) to include many different backgrounds of performers and audiences.  Electronic music (techno, house, etc.) has reached mass appeal through formerly "underground" parties called raves, which can draw thousands of spectators from varied ethnic backgrounds.  Highly organized, commercial raves hit the mainstream in the late 90s, drawing in much commercial sponsorship and profit.  The cultural multiplicity of both performers and audiences involved with these musical styles has made them commercially viable in an extreme sense, and accounts for their domination of any large-scale outdoor events in Montreal.  While the playing of Jamaican music is not limited to the Caribbean community in Montreal, a dancehall music performance which includes all the elements of a traditional Jamaican-style sound system is in fact limited to certain community-operated venues.  The missing elements are, in general, found in the human aspect of the sound system phenomenon.  Whereas a typical club disc-jockey simply selects, plays and mixes records together, a Jamaican style sound system includes members whose role deals exclusively with audience connection.  These could be called MCs (masters of ceremony) in North America, or deejays (confusingly) in Jamaica (Davis/Simon, 1982: 33).  The presence of these individuals, or rather, this role (since the person playing the records could fulfill this role as well), is often what distinguishes the Jamaican sound system event from any other type of recorded music performance. 

            In order to appreciate this art in Montreal, one must attend an event held at one of the few Caribbean-based venues around the city.  There are three main venues for sound system dances in Montreal.  All of them are in the N.D.G/C.D.N. (Notre-Dame-de-Gr‰ce, C™te-des-Neiges) area in the Western part of the city which is also home to most of the city's Jamaican community (see fig. 8, p.53).  Tiffany hall or Tiffany's, as it is commonly called, is a banquet-hall style space complete with a stage, a fully stocked bar and a large dance floor.  It is a black-owned establishment famous for hosting major Caribbean concerts featuring live bands as well as sound systems.  Prymtym gave the impression that it is a stable, relatively problem-free venue which hosts a variety of popular Caribbean events including calypso and soca concerts.

            Another famous (or infamous) venue for Jamaican events is Rainbow Ites (fig. 8, p.53), a smaller, bar-restaurant type of place.  It is also black-owned and hosts a wider variety of performances from hip hop to punk rock.  However, it is most commonly associated with Jamaican culture.  This association has proved detrimental at times.  Rainbow Ites has become notorious for violent incidents surrounding musical events held there.  In reality, violence has erupted at hip hop, punk and reggae events alike.  However, its main label of "Jamaican establishment" has caused the various instances of violence in its history to be funneled into a purely Jamaican conceptual association.  The media rarely emphasizes the specific nature of any event held at the bar when something goes wrong.  It is enough for them to say that it is a Jamaican-owned place which serves Caribbean food.  The place's negative notoriety has somewhat dulled its reputation and significance in the last few years, relegating it to a secondary venue for Caribbean events.  It is currently under new management and ads for it have reappeared on local radio stations such as CKUT 90.3 (Radio McGill <www.ckut.ca>).

            The third important venue for sound system dances in Montreal is Marymount Academy (figs. 8, p.53 and 9, p.54), a highschool in N.D.G.  School gymnasia are typically associated with dances in general, as they have plenty of room for dancing, as well as some raised stage area for the sound system or band to set up.  With the proper transformations, a school gym could be converted into a ballroom-like environment able to house tables, chairs, and a sizeable dance area.  Jamaican sound systems, since they depend heavily on the support of local youth, often find themselves connecting with students in school spaces.  Marymount was a popular choice for these type of events in the early 90s.  Violent incidents cut off its popularity in the mid 90s, giving the reggae scene a bad name in general.  This elicited a crackdown on the Jamaican community, which resulted in several deportations.  Its popularity has since regenerated, making Marymount a significant venue for Jamaican sound system dances in the current scene.

            In terms of physical location, all three of these venues share a common thread: they are all outside the city's core (Ville-Marie, fig. 8, p.53).  Being hosts to many events within Montreal's Caribbean community, it is no surprise that they are close to where members of that community live and work.  However, the relative location of the venues to the city center underlines their marginality with respect to the more mainstream music scenes in Montreal, while highlighting their connection with the community they serve.  More than their relative locations, two of the three venues described have peculiar specific surroundings.  Tiffany's is located on a side-street called Buchan, off Decarie boulevard, near the northern border of N.D.G.  Its immediate surroundings are semi-industrial, causing its colourfully lit awning to appear somewhat incongruous.  Rainbow Ites is situated in a liminal zone between the Decarie expressway and a narrow extension of DeMaisonneuve boulevard which is flanked by train tracks.  It is in a peculiar area consisting mainly of small, independent service garages at the crossroads of a few main traffic arteries.  Its colourful, yet somewhat faded sign also offers a perplexing contrast to its surroundings.  One would certainly never find it unless one was deliberately seeking it out.  The same can be said for Tiffany's.  Rainbow Ites' location is slightly more central in terms of major streets, but the fact that it is nestled between interchanges, overpasses and nondescript buildings makes it tricky to spot.  Marymount Academy is on Cote-St-Luc road, a relatively major artery of N.D.G., making it a less unusual venue in terms of immediate location.  The peculiar locations of the other two venues spatially illustrates the idea that these community events are largely outside of public consciousness in Montreal, as they are generally out of public sight.



2.2  Black people in Canada and Montreal


            In order to understand the complexity and subtlety of the Jamaican music network or "scene" in Montreal, one must absorb some aspects of the unique story of Jamaican people in Canada.  In Canada the concepts of "black," "Caribbean," and "Jamaican," articulate to form a unique ethno-historical picture for certain groups. It is not the place of this study to delve into a detailed analysis of Canada's shady past involving black people in general at this point, nor is it to serve as a treatise on the complexity and problems of Canada's esteemed "multiculturalism."  Its goal is to narrow the focus on some realities of Afro-Jamaicans in Canada, with special emphasis on Montreal.  Any facts or references in this area will serve to colour one's social, ethnic and historical framework in preparation for connections with the musical world.  In this particular city's scene, culture and ethnicity serve to limit or expand the music's longevity, quality, and reproduction.

            There is one major aspect of the generalized black community in Canada which gives it its particular "flavour" (to use a tourist-bureau clichŽ).  Seventy percent of black Canadians are of Caribbean descent <www.black-studies.org/contact/study.htm>.  This is an interpretive fact published by black-studies.org, which "revised" the 1996 Canadian census to better understand this country's black community.  According to this group, the 1996 census did not bring out the depth and scope of the actual black community in Canada due to new question wordings, ethnic labels, and statistical interpretation (ibid.).  By looking at the StatCan results, one can see that "black" is used as an umbrella label for certain types of visible minorities, which overshadows the national diversity within the community.  For example, someone from Jamaica, having the same racial characteristics as someone from Trinidad or the U.S. or Ghana, would fall under "black."  Furthermore, from personal observations, the distinction between immigrant and native-born was not made sufficiently clear around the axis of black nationalities or "descents." This confusion was sorted out by black-studies.org and adds depth to the official census results.  Nevertheless, a look at the official results does provide some insight into our featured community.  According to the 1996 census, there are 573,860 blacks in Canada.  312,865 of these (54%) are immigrants, and 57.2% of these immigrants arrived after 1981, with the flow increasing until 1996.  The conclusion, therefore, is that a slight majority of blacks in Canada are immigrants, and most arrived fairly recently.  Confusion arises when one tries to look further into this community and appreciate the diversity within.  Of the total black community in Canada, 188,770 are "Jamaican-Canadian," a label which is informative yet somewhat ambiguous.  According to a Jamaican heritage website, this number does not provide one with the number of immigrants, just the total number of people of Jamaican descent <www.collections.ic.gc.ca/heirloom_series/volume7/countries/jamaica>.  Most reside in and around Canada's largest metropolis, Toronto, which claims 274,935 black residents, the largest black community in the country. <www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/980217/d980217.htm>.  One can assume that a significant percentage are of Jamaican or Anglo-Carribean origin, if one considers the seventy percent figure of black-studies.org.  In Montreal (122,320 black residents) a slightly different picture emerges.  Language issues have allowed for a slightly deeper look at communities in this city.  These issues are found at the heart of the black community which in Montreal, is predominantly Haitian (43,075 immigrants).  The unique influx of Haitians into Montreal has given it a special character among Canadian cities which house significant numbers of visible minorities.  In addition to being one of the only predominantly French-speaking black communities in Canada, Montreal has the largest proportion of blacks compared to other visible minorities of any other city in Canada (30.5%).  According to the 1996 census black people are Montreal's most "visible" visible minority group (ibid.).  This setting creates a very unique experience for Montreal's 9,605 Jamaicans.  First of all, it is understood that Jamaican-Canadians favour English over French as their language of choice (English is the basis for Jamaican patois).  Therefore, Jamaicans could be thought of as gravitating closer to the Anglophone community.  Second, being predominantly black (there are of course, other "racial" types in Jamaica) they are inevitably subject to association to the lager concept of "the black community."  This second reality is stronger in Montreal where there is not enough of a uniquely Jamaican community (demographically speaking) to sustain an important outward distinction of nationality with respect to the black community.  This is not to say that there is no inward distinction made by members of the Caribbean or black community of Montreal, sustaining people's Jamiacanness, Bajanness, or Guyaneseness within the banner of a city-wide Caribbeanness.  Indeed, the chief informant underlined this interplay between the individual national level and the communal "racial" or "regional" level by stating that each nationality (Jamaica, Barbados, etc.) has its own community centers, national festivals and events which serve to retain some autonomy at one level, while allowing for the possibility of talking about "the Caribbean community of Montreal" or "the black community of Montreal" on a more general scope.  This level of "inclusiveness," in terms of Serge Gruzinski's La PensŽe MŽtisse (1999), is often called upon in times of trouble.  When the Caribbean or black community as a whole is "put on trial," mostly by outsider criticism, it must "self-correct" or educate its members in order to remedy a negative situation.  This is done by eliminating specific national ties and uniting the black community in an act of solidarity.

            This Caribbean/black community in Montreal, as was mentioned earlier, is in fact divided most importantly by language.  While Haitians, due to their numbers and cultural influences, have obtained a more distinct ethnic status within the cultural landscape of Montreal, Jamaicans and other Anglo-Caribbean groups seem to have melded together to form a comparably important or distinct "ethnic" group within the Montreal scene.  This negotiation, of course, is most apparent "from the outside looking in," where ethnic communities must interact with others (often more dominant ones) to forge a niche for themselves in public consciousness.  Therefore, there is a significant distinction  between the Franco and the Anglo-Caribbean in Montreal.  However, this distinction is mostly conceptual.  In reality, especially in the areas of popular music, we shall see that this language barrier is often overcome and there is significant cross-pollination at that level.

Another instance in which the language barrier is overcome relates to the creation of a generalized "black community" which transcends national and linguistic associations.  This level of inclusion is often discussed in conjunction with community-wide problems such as violence and racial profiling.  It also serves to create a unified cultural network of education and exchange out of various nationalities which are individually small in population.






2.3  Ethnicity, music, and values


            Within the (Anglo) Caribbean community, it appears that Jamaica has a unique status.  This status happens to be best illustrated in the realm of music.  Whether or not it is proper to talk about a purely "Jamaican" community in Montreal (due to the variety of black Caribbean backgrounds), one can certainly talk about a Jamaican music scene or culture.  It is important to note that despite the fact that ethnic origins seem blurred in the panorama of nations under the Caribbean banner, musical traditions are easier to isolate, and represent a more direct tie to their land of origin.  Jamaican music illustrates this fact quite well.  Whether or not the actors in a typical sound system dance are actually of Jamaican descent, one can always tell that a type of music is of Jamaican descent.  This is not to say that it was made in Jamaica by Jamaicans.  It could have been produced in Montreal by Chinese or in London by St. Lucians, but if it is good reggae, people will hear it as such and it will evoke Jamaica and its values.  However, this does not imply that anyone can make Jamaican music and have it well-received by the audience.  It is still subject to all of the aesthetic expectations in the Jamaican music world.  In essence, the "Jamaicanness" of music can be heard through its use of certain rhythmic patterns, recording techniques and lyrical styles, all of which were presented in depth in chapter 1.  It is interesting to simply show how the underlying ethnic plurality of a scene like Montreal interacts with certain "purer" musical values (what is right in reggae).  In this system, the crystallization of certain norms in the production of reggae, which are cultural products of the Jamaican environment, act as a communal forum in which people from varied backgrounds can talk about similar things, behave in similar ways, and make judgements according to similar criteria.  In Montreal, this specific cultural tradition (Jamaican music), has, served to unite some members of the black Caribbean community from different backgrounds in a positive and creative atmosphere. The word some is used in order to dispel the illusion that Jamaican music is the flagship for Caribbean culture in Montreal.  On the contrary, it shares its important role with other styles such as calypso and soca (soul-calypso) in the city's Caribbean music landscape.  The desired goal is simply to illustrate the importance of the Jamaican musical tradition within the black and/or Caribbean community of Montreal.

            Jamaican culture has negotiated its place among the Caribbean community (if not the world) in large part  through its music <www.jis.gov.jm/information/Culture.htm>.  In Montreal, it articulates with Caribbean culture as a whole to create a unique identity for itself within the community.  Through its music, Jamaican culture has also reached a more general level, in that it interacts with the (generalized) black community of Canada and popular music cultures such as hip hop and r&b.  Finally, it has also reached the "outward" level of interaction with society at large, through forays into highly popular music such as rock and punk.  Using music as a key, Jamaican culture has had the opportunity to enter various spheres of social consciousness, from the local to the global.  But what happens at each of these levels?  How is Jamaican music/culture perceived and received?  What is read into Jamaican music by a society that says something about who is producing or consuming it?  What status does the music give those who are associated with it?




2.4  Perceptions of the black Jamaican community through music


            Since it has been established that Jamaican culture or identity is primarily diffused in an outward fashion through music, one can expect that any preconceptions, judgements or beliefs held by "outsiders" stem mainly from observations or encounters surrounding musical events.  In his book Wake the Town and Tell the People, Norman Stolzoff illustrates the reality of class relationships through the dancehall performance in Jamaica.  On the island "dancehall culture" holds a particular meaning in public consciousness at all socio-economic levels.  It is primarily associated with poor, lower class blacks, and consequently, with violence, drugs, and gang warfare.  This identity is forged through the resonance of preconceptions between the lower and middle/upper classes in Jamaica.  Issues of violence, political resistance, drug trafficking, and general "ghetto life" get thrown back and forth from the dancehall to the newspapers, ending up in everyone's consciousness in one way or another.  The poor and dispossessed view ghetto hardships and gang violence as identity markers, either to be exploited or escaped.  They are in opposition to the upper-class domination, and use the dancehall milieu as a mediative sphere, putting cultural idioms of lower-class life into a creative performance.  At the same time, the middle or upper classes resonate the same lower-class notions about violence and drugs into a moral reinforcement of their own superiority (Stolzoff, 2000: 6).  Here, various concepts are turned into a coherent symbol which has different meanings depending on one's social class.  Violence, gangs, drug dealing, resisting police and accumulating wealth and power are staple aspects of a character or persona which one could call "the opportunistic gangster," made popular by codification in numerous reggae songs.  This started in  the late 1960s  and hardened into an edgier version by the 1990s.  The lower classes might see this idea of a dispossessed youth causing violence, dealing with gangs, and accumulating wealth "by any means necessary" as a potent symbol of resistance and revenge on the "system."  At the same time, upper/middle classes might see the exact same character as a symbol of lower-class inferiority, criminality and moral degeneration (ibid: 12).  Since dancehall music is caught in between all this, it falls into the same symbolic dichotomy: a source of hope, expression, and resistance for the lower-class; an annoyance ("boom-boom" music) or threat to the upper class (ibid: 6).  It can be concluded, amidst all this, that dancehall music is highly politicized in Jamaica and rests firmly within issues of social unrest, class relations, and political manipulation.

            In Montreal, the picture becomes slightly different.  Some more statistics may help shed light on the reality of blacks in this environment.  First, it is important to note that blacks are one of the most highly educated minority groups in Canada.  Black men have a marginally higher rate of education (levels of education) than the national average.  Second, 70.1% of blacks in Canada were employed in 1991, higher than the national average of 67%.  Finally, 64% of blacks in Canada are under the age of 35 <www.black-studies.org/contact/study.htm>.  An interesting picture emerges from these data.  It seems that the black community of Canada is young, well-educated, and well-employed.  In fact, only the first two statements are more representative of reality.  While the rate of employment might seem high, it is also a fact that black people are seriously under-represented in high-paying jobs and senior management positions.  They are also less likely to be self-employed or supported by investment.  Finally, blacks earn substantially less money than other Canadians (ibid.).  Here, the Canadian system's failure to escape racist practices is plainly exposed.  While poverty is a problem among blacks in Canada (twice the rate of the rest of the population), it differs slightly from the situation in Jamaica.  It seems that in Jamaica, widespread poverty is linked with the history and politics of plantations, rural vs. urban labour, and conceptions of race and "colour."  Most black people living in Canada today do not have a very long history in this country (90% of them were not here 25 years ago (ibid.)).  There has never really been a significant cash-crop economy in Canada, nor has there been a large influx of ethnic minorities from rural to urban areas.  Most minorities (visible or not) arrived here as immigrants, settling straight into urban areas.  In addition to this, as is illustrated by the high level of education among Canadian blacks, one had to have some kind of professional skill or education in order to emigrate to Canada.  A trans-national rural exodus was therefore not possible.  It is a plain fact that black people in Canada are highly educated, yet underpaid, and fall below the poverty line in significant numbers.

            Since we have established that most blacks in Canada are well-educated, while many in Jamaica may lack crucial education (in the lower-class), let us examine how this increase in education might affect the "scene."  It can be argued that a lack of education closes one's mind and makes one more subject to "follow the wrong path" into drugs, violence and gangs.  This path can be even more tempting when combined with the pressure of absolute poverty and desperation.  The instinct for survival takes over any rational thinking when one is under lethal pressure from all sides.  When gangster lifestyles, which provide a glamorous means of survival, are codified and transmitted through music, they gain potency in a typical ghetto youth's consciousness (Stolzoff, 2000: 11).  In Jamaica, the violence illustrated in lyrics and performances can be seen as having a closer relationship to the people and their environment, as compared to Montreal.  In Montreal, the degree of anarchic violence and corruption which could be seen in the shanty-towns of Jamaica is just not present.  In addition, there is a higher level of education among those who might form the audience of a Jamaican musical event in Montreal.  This creates a receptive crowd of more open minds and positive thinkers.  Thus, the environmental realities (of Jamaica) which permeate Jamaican music are absent when this same music arrives in Montreal.  The music remains intact, however, so one can observe an imposition of a specifically codified system of values onto a diasporic environment when the voyage is made.  This diasporic environment (Montreal), having different social, economic, cultural and political realities, then interacts in a unique way with musical influxes from the "old island." 


2.4.1  Music and Jamaican-Canadians

            Since we have established that the Jamaican dancehall event with the sound system at its core, is an important social institution for Jamaicans, what does it mean for Jamaican-Canadians?  As we have seen earlier, the ethnicity of the base population for these events in Montreal is not necessarily purely Jamaican.  However, the music played at these events as well as the manner in which it is presented (sound system), relates directly to a Jamaican ethnicity.  An interesting musico-cultural system is set up at this point.  Jamaican music, reflecting Jamaican realities, is the feature at sound system dances at dancehalls in Montreal.  However, the values which it talks about or is implicitly associated with do not perfectly resonate with the Montreal environment.  Despite this, the music is heartily enjoyed and supported by the local fan base.  The values, despite being slightly foreign, still reach the Montreal youth through various avenues.  Firstly, Montreal (or Canada) is not a utopian society, much less for black people.  Racism exists, and socio-economic frustrations are commonplace.  A latent sense of racism forms an important social pressure on visible minorities such as blacks in Canada.  Blacks, being the largest visible minority group in Montreal, would therefore catch much of the racist flack the community at large has to offer.  That is one way in which the frustrations codified in some Jamaican music can be understood in Montreal.  Second, the media have an immense role to play in this whole system, since it is primarily through them that people learn about each other in this multi-cultural environment.  It was observed that few white people attend typical sound system dances in Montreal.  All of the dances attended during the fieldwork period were comprised of an audience which was over ninety percent black (an average of 3 white people, including myself, per 30 black).  However, anyone can read about any negative consequences around the dances (violence, etc) in the daily newspaper.  Therefore, since the media are responsible for enlightening people about their neighbours, and the media have a penchant for sensationalism, everyone's conceptions about groups they have the least contact with must be tinged with falsehood, partial knowledge and prejudice.  Adding to the racial stereotypes, the fact that sixty-four percent of blacks are under the age of 35 creates more opportunity for prejudice and confusion with regards to the black community of Montreal.  Our society has, since the term "teenagers" was invented in the 50s, been somewhat ambivalent toward young people.  Their image and lifestyle tends to be both glamourized and demonized in mass media.  This phenomenon has grown much in the past 50 years, as pre-,post-, and inter-adolescent youths accumulated more buying power and media influence (see Kalle Lasn's Culture Jam: The Uncooling of Americaª, 1999).  Being a primarily young, black phenomenon, the Jamaican musical scene of Montreal is therefore a conceptual hotbed for media-driven "outsider" judgements, beliefs, and fears.  The threat of violence from lower economic classes is replaced by the threat of violence from lower ages in Montreal.  While hip hop music can now be seen as a generalized popular music for the youth in North America, dancehall music remains an important musical expression for young Caribbean blacks in Montreal.  It has not yet reached the fully expanded status of hip hop, which is now more popular among white, suburban youths.  Where hip hop has made great strides in advancing its cause to all types of people, dancehall, at least in Montreal, is still most associated with the young black Caribbean scene.  This is always changing, of course, as one can typically hear a set or two of this music in popular university-student nightclubs.  Given this general reality, Jamaican events in Montreal have double the strikes against them when conceptualized by outsiders.  On one hand, they are black events, subject to heavy-handed police/security measures, public scrutiny and media sensationalism.  On the other hand, they are youth events, entailing all of the stereotypes, fears and misconceptions about drugs, alcohol and sexual practices that fuel the public's journalistic fantasies.  Therefore, it shouldn't surprise anyone that when something goes wrong, no matter how small or unrepresentative of the community at large it is, everyone will hear about it, and it will colour public consciousness of these events faster than any positive press possibly could.

            There are messages in certain songs which one could hear at a typical sound system event that contain images of violence, resistance and sexuality.  These are often glamourized and proposed as a desirable path in life.  Critics of this culture, and of hip hop, point to these lyrics and images (in videos, for example), as reinforcement for deviant behaviours by members of these communities.  If one applies this method of criticism to some reggae lyrics, one might conclude that since misogyny, drug dealing, violence and gang warfare are discussed and promoted in these songs, the audience might take to these practices and cause problems.

            When brought to the slightly more affluent environment of Montreal, this music takes on a different meaning.  The words and images don't change, but the performance is re-interpreted by local youths according to their diasporic reality.  Dancehall reggae is more of a young black phenomenon here, whereas it might be a young, black, and poor phenomenon in Jamaica.  The environmental constraints of Montreal have made it so that free, open-lawn style parties are impossible.  Dancehall music does not permeate the Montreal landscape the way it might in Kingston.  Here, one must deliberately pay fair sums of money to attend a specific event at a specific time and place.  Sound-system parties have become community or cultural affairs here, where they might be class affairs in Jamaica.  Thus, the economic hardships are not as pressing here as they might be in Jamaica, allowing a typical black youth a few more options.  Therefore, one would not expect that the glamourized drug-dealing life would take hold as much among Montreal's educated young Caribbean community.  In this case, the literal image of a gangster is translated into a metaphor for resistance against the norm, the system, the powers that be that are so rife with racism.  This image becomes more symbolic than realistic, transposing itself into the realm of entertainment as a tool for increasing prestige or originality among sound systems or performers.  This of course happens in Jamaica, but it takes hold especially well in North American society, where image is often worth more than action. 

            In addition to this reinterpretation process, the particularity of  socio-economic conditions in Montreal as compared to Jamaica seem to give dancehall events in this city a more positive character, in that they seldom become pressure cookers which invite severe police retaliation (Stolzoff, 2000:10).  The intense frustrations of ghetto youths don't seem to be as apparent in Montreal events.  A typical sound-system dance here does not have the flavour of a "vent of the poor" which holds the fabric of the lower-class community together.  Montreal events are well-organized and the crowd is generally well-behaved.  Advertising is done mostly through community outlets such as stores, restaurants and radio shows.  Serious problems are rare and emphasis is always on the music or the performance.  There does not appear to be serious gang-affiliation permeating these events, nor is corruption a problem.  Given the generally positive nature of these events, it is shocking to be confronted with the sheer intensity of the security measures taken at the dancehalls.  There seems to be many more armed security guards than are needed.  Attending both dancehall and hip-hop concerts (during and prior to the fieldwork period) has shown that in some instances, large numbers of police in full riot gear assemble nearby  as the venue empties, without any incitement or specific cause for being there.  The question remains then, if these events are generally well-ordered, how is it that an inordinate amount of security seems to be needed to keep them under control?  The argument about more security meaning less incidents is simply false, especially in Montreal where police presence often incites retaliation where it would not have been present in the first place.  It appears that isolated events in the black community, such as shootings or robberies, have a two-fold effect on public consciousness in Montreal.  First of all, incidents involving black individuals seem to reflect more on blacks in general than they should (or do in other groups).  Secondly, incidents involving black youths get associated with musical events more intimately than they should.  We all accept that music is an extremely important expression for youths in general, as reggae is for those who choose to identify with that musical culture in Montreal.  It is no surprise therefore, that Jamaican musical events are an easy target for those wishing to criticize both young people and black people in one act of prejudice.  It is also no surprise, unfortunately, that people who wish to promote this criticism focus only on the negative messages in the music in question.  Choosing to attack black youth through the negative messages in certain types of songs constitutes an act of selective ignorance.  For every song glamourizing money, drugs and violence, one will hear a more "conscious" lyrical message, emphasizing self-knowledge, respect, and love.  These songs are played side-by-side their rougher counterparts at a typical sound-system dance, and can elicit just as much attention from the audience.  The facts have shown, therefore, that the Montreal environment, while providing a more positive milieu as compared to Jamaica for economic reasons, has affected the Jamaican sound-system event through latent racism and fear of youth culture.  The statistics presented in section 2.2 have shown that blacks in Canada are highly educated and employed, yet systematically deprived of significant positions of power in areas such as management and finance.  This suggests a latent racism in Canadian society.  The presence of large numbers of police and riot squads a priori at youth-oriented concerts (witnessed first-hand at hip-hop and dancehall events) illustrates the profiling that takes place with respect to primarily black and youth associated musical cultures. These prejudices are a conceptual factor which limits the spread and influence of dancehall culture into the Montreal mainstream.  So far, it has worked its way into mainstream venues only in combination with hip-hop, and this mainly at university or other youth-oriented  clubs.  Other factors also contribute to the reality of dancehall music in Montreal, such as the physical realities of the city's Jamaican cultural and musical network.


2.5  Summary of comparison: Jamaica vs. Montreal


            The setting for Montreal's dancehall culture is unique.  It is especially different from the Jamaican environment, which spawned the musical phenomena taking place in dancehall venues around the world.  This transposition of specific expressive modes, cultural idioms and social values into a diasporic environment alters the meaning of the dancehall event within its community.  In Montreal, events whose central focus is a Jamaican-style sound system playing Jamaican-style music are enjoyed and supported by people with various black-Caribbean backgrounds.  This music can be produced by people of any nation or ethnic background, yet it must resonate a style that has been created in Jamaica by Jamaicans in order to be fully appreciated.  Thus, the Jamaicanness of the music is a focal point which draws in contributions from different people living in different countries and then reaches out (in Montreal) to a relatively multi-cultural audience. While the production or reception end of things can be pluralistic, the music itself is a template, a sort of cultural blueprint that has very specific origins. Its message and style may remain true to an aesthetic ideal, but it can be re-interpreted in a different environment.  In Montreal, issues of political revolution, social upheaval and resistance take on a more metaphorical flavour as compared to Jamaica's reality.  The audience at large in Montreal does not form a mobilized group of low-class individuals which has the power or desire to cause major social change.  Instead, certain other issues, such as personal gain and prestige, are highlighted.  The idea of accumulating and flaunting wealth by any means necessary, being an ever-attractive image, can possibly be made more of a reality in a North American environment, where there are more opportunities, legal or otherwise, to achieve this "new American dream."  Thus, there is a degree of selection and re-interpretation occurring among the diasporic audience of sound-system events in Montreal, brought out by environment and demographics.




3.1   Crowd participation: the process of reception


            The role of the audience or massive as it is called, is crucial to the dancehall performance.  The role of the crowd ranges from providing energy and atmosphere to deciding winners in sound clashes.  Throughout the evolution of the sound system, the dancehall crowd represented a significant driving force in determining the success or failure of a particular event.  Moreover, the accumulation of prestige by a given sound system depended on the consistent ability of the promoters to deliver what the crowd wanted.  When the sound system was merely a conduit for American r&b in Jamaica, its life or death hinged on the quality, rarity and novelty of its record collection. 

            The record collection was enhanced by deejays as its live performace deepened.  The emergence of the deejay as an important figure of the sound system relates directly to the importance of the crowd.  The deejay's role as animator adding a human touch to a static media performance, stems from the need to connect with the audience and create a synergistic relationship.  A significant part of being a successful deejay is crowd interaction.  The quality or sophistication of a given deejay's lyrical content might take the back seat to his performance's humour or shock value as in the case of slack deejays (see section 1.1.5).  Once deejays and singers (recall the distinction: a deejay's style is akin to spoken word or rapping while the dancehall singer's vocal performance is more melodic) came to the forefront, a sound system's prestige became more intimately linked with the popularity of those individuals associated with it in the dancehall.

            Furthermore, the crowd's influence is paramount in structuring power relations among sound systems and individual artists.  By reacting to a given performance the audience members could increase or reduce the prestige of sound systems during a sound clash, for example (section 1.2.8).  This weakens the division between artist and audience, creating an inclusive musical culture structured by the massive.

            Thus, the dancehall event distinguishes itself with respect to other, more "traditional" Western music performances (live concerts) in that the audience is directly involved in the direction of the event.  By making its sentiments known, whether it be through actions or sound effects, the crowd can cause a song to be replayed, skipped or extended by the selector.  By interacting with the calls and chatter of the deejay, the audience brings itself into the functioning of the sound system's performance.   Therefore, musical reception in the dancehall is an active process.  In terms of communication, the dance with the sound system at its core, turns both the delivery and reception of a static medium (record) into a dynamic event.  The delivery end is enhanced by the deejay and selector while that of reception is animated by an actively participating audience.


3.1.1  The sound system as a musical "testing ground"

            The influence of the crowd is not limited to the dancehall space.  In an indirect way, the audience's musical tastes can work their way into the studio.  This process is achieved with the help of the sound system.  In the same way that the crowd can determine the prestige of a sound system, it can also pass judgement on the recordings through the sound system. 

            In the current scene, crowd reaction and participation is still not limited to deejay performances or sound clashes.  Reaction to records being played is common and clearly expressed by shouting, dancing or other non-verbal gestures (such as making a gun symbol with one's hand; see section .6).  Audience members can highlight their familiarity and fondness for a song by singing along or anticipating the musical changes.  This interaction between audience and record gave rise to the selector-based techniques which were explained in section 1.3, such as the haul and pull.  Thus, the selector can connect with the audience by manipulating the recordings in such a way as to tease or reward the crowd.  This feature of the sound system performance is made even more explicit through the vocal direction of the deejay which adds even more tension to the selector's techniques by Ôpreparing' the crowd with calls and chatter (eg. "Are you ready for it again?").

            Whether they are directly involved with a sound system or not, record producers must keep the pulse of dancehall events in order to have a successful career.  The great Jamaican producer, Coxsone Dodd, was himself an owner of many sound systems and had much experience in and around them before he entered the studio.  Through the sound system the desires of the audience reach the studio in a more direct fashion as compared to a record-buying infrastructure.  Basing public taste on record sales is misleading since marketing and media coverage often play an important role in this type of system.  In the dancehall one can gauge the crowd's likes and dislikes in a concrete fashion, thereby producing records that are based on fieldwork rather than statistics.






3.1.2 Levels of expectation: artist vs. audience

            The atmosphere of aesthetic expectation (what the performance is expected to be like) in the dancehall is the result of articulation between two units: that of the sound system and that of the massive.  Initially, the sound system serviced the audience entirely.  However, the development of various arts (deejaying, selecting, singing) within the dancehall has led to significant independent input on the part of the sound system.  This, combined with media exposure to other types of music, can sometimes create a schism between what artists desire and what the crowd desires.

            My main informant, Prymtym, illustrates the perspective of a selector who wishes to mix songs which are rarely heard elsewhere into his set.  In addition, he favours a mix of Jamaican styles from roots reggae to ragga.  Therefore, he comes to the dance with some ideas in mind as to how he will structure his set and what songs it will include.  Being a good selector means being receptive to the audience's mood as the event progresses.  However, if the audience's mood is in a different mental space than that of the selector, a negotiation must take place.  For example, the selector might have to sacrifice that obscure yet interesting track for a more crowd-pleasing alternative that is currently on the popular charts.  The degree to which this "yielding" takes place varies from person to person.  Some selectors might cater entirely to what the crowd seems to want, or play it safe and offer them what they think the crowd wants based on what it most popular in the media.  Others might just stick to their pre-planned set regardless of what the audience thinks.

            Popular hip hop songs are often played at dancehall events in Montreal.  These are often the most current "hits" of that type and are well received by the audience.  The addition of hip hop to a dancehall set is indicative of the negotiation which is taking place between artist and audience.  Based on his feeling about the nature of a crowd, a selector might make the decision to supplement is set with hip hop or modern r&b.  Prymtym stressed the fact that in order to succeed in Montreal, today's sound systems must advertise that they play a wide range of music, from soca to hip hop to dancehall.  Media influence (radio, music videos) has combined with the generally pluralistic nature of Montreal's black community to create a demand for a wide range of "urban" styles.  This latent audience expectation meets that of the sound system in the dancehall space.

            The proximity of reggae and hip hop in the dancehall environment has led to many hybrid styles which gain much popularity as they "fit" into many situations.  A good example of Jamaican-influenced hip hop is track 14, Ol' Time Killin' by the Canadian artist Kardinal Offishal, featuring a host of guest artists.  This song contains Jamaican deejay-style introductory commentary, hip-hop style rapping, and soulful singing (male and female), all laid over a hip hop beat interspersed with samples from classic reggae songs.  According to Prymtym, this song has gained much air play in Jamaica.  Its synthesis of two popular styles has allowed it to spread through both scenes, in addition to media such as radio and music television stations.  Ol' Time Killin' represents the merging of two different expectations, that of Jamaican or "authentic" and North American or "pluralistic" found in Montreal's dancehalls.






3.2  The sound system: changing the way music is conceived


            The popularity of the sound system phenomenon has implications that reach beyond the production of Jamaican music, that is, beyond the recording studio and beyond Jamaican culture.  Dancehall culture with the sound system at its core, has given rise to new ways of thinking and talking about music.  In addition, it has expanded the boundaries of what is considered a "musical performance."  These contributions are more abstract in nature than the reflections of the sound system on actual recordings.  They take place in the minds of individuals forming connections that take a few ideas and turn them into ideologies.  Whether or not these "connections" are consciously thought of on a regular basis by the participants of the culture, they can be elucidated by an analysis of how the concept of the sound system has influenced Jamaican music, its producers, its audience and other music scenes.  The concept of what a sound system is or what is should be, articulates with the concepts of what music should be, how it should be made, and how a performance should take place in the minds of all people involved in a musical culture, from producers to consumers.  In addition to mediating the evolution of music, the sound system acts as a focus around which this ideological articulation takes place.  It is a physical space for testing out music on an audience as much as it is a mental space for thinking about how that music should be made and presented.  In essence, the sound system has changed some of the basic assumptions one makes when deciding to create a new musical piece.




3.2.1  What is an original musical piece?

            There is much emphasis in the commercial music world, if not the music world in general, on being original.  This does not necessarily mean divorcing oneself from past musical statements.  Taking into account the past and building one's own addition to it is a staple concept in Western music, as it is in the Islamic world (e.g. the concept of taqsim is based on improvisation within pre-established formats) (During, 1994).  A successful baroque or classical composer might not be remembered well if they simply copied what came before them.  Indeed, some of the most popular composers such as J.S. Bach or Beethoven are praised for their revolutions in music, based on taking existing forms in new directions (e.g. pastorals, church music) .  There seems to be a latent tendency in Western culture to associate genius with creation even if it involves the unique rearrangement of old forms.  When music is taken into the commercial domain, the idea of originality comes to the forefront.  However, the novelty of a given musical piece must still be intelligible by its audience and so must conform to some basic scheme that has come before it.  This give-and-take between something new, yet something accessible, is at the core of what is "original" in modern popular music .  One must simply turn on the radio or television to find out that the conservative nature of large corporations regarding things that sell has generated a clone-based musical culture that has reached worldwide status (Lasn, 1999).  This is highlighted by international groups trying to imitate "American pop music."  Thus, the commercially "safe" aspect of established successful styles or artists severely stunts the growth of originality in modern music.



3.2.2  The controversy of hip hop

            With all of this precedent for building on established forms for the creation of new music, how is it that some styles, like modern dancehall or hip hop, are considered by some as not being music at all?  (see Stetsasonic, 1988 and Public enemy, 1990).  Hip hop music, which owes much to the Jamaican sound system, is based on a separation between the vocalist (MC) and the turntablist (a modern term referring to the DJ or record-handling individual).  Central to the MC's performance is the art of rapping (hence "rap music") which is akin to the Jamaican deejay's spoken-sung style.  This is done in conjunction with instrumentals on vinyl records which the DJ manipulates (see section 3.3).  Many considered that rapping was not musical, was not song (i.e. melodic), and therefore was amateurish and worthless.  The often violent content of rap lyrics also elicited serious criticism and resistance. Furthermore, the instrumental aspect of hip hop was considered to be even more of an abomination.  The bass-heavy, often minimal beats (see track 14) annoyed many who were used to more balanced, melody-driven styles.  In addition, purists considered electronically generated music to be cheap, inauthentic and "not real."  However, hip hop music's greatest sin was its common use of existing recordings known as sampling.  Whether it was a drum loop, bass line or horn blast, the extraction of musical snippets from exisitng recordings in the name of originality was often seen as thievery, if not outright blasphemy by its opponents.  In addition to having its basic creative roles (mixing, scratching) questioned from all angles, the art of the DJ was certainly not considered to be akin to an instrumental performance.  Many rap lyrics came to deal with sampling, defending the hip hop artists' creative right to use samples in their songs in the face of heavy criticism (e.g. Talkin' All that Jazz by Stetsasonic, 1988).  The public disdain for hip hop was illustrated in the media through instances such as heated debates on talk shows (Oprah Winfrey, 1989) and hateful radio calls (see Public Enemy's Incident at 66.6 FM, 1990).


3.2.3  Resistance to dancehall

            This debate applies to the originator of this musical framework, that is, dancehall music.  This music is to be distinguished from commonly "live" styles such as ska, rocksteady and "roots" reggae.  These styles' reception by foreign audiences is due as much to the way in which they are produced as it is to the content of their music.  From its inception to the advent of ragga the criticism of dancehall is similar to that of hip hop.  It must be noted that this criticism is locally apparent in Jamaica.  The use of pre-recorded music as the basis of its performance and the "questionable" art of the deejay combine in the critic's consciousness to put dancehall music in double jeopardy </history_demo.html>.  It is the use of version that seems to be at the core of outsiders' resistance to this type of music.  Version has created a culture in which one can find dozens of songs featuring the exact same instrumental track.  The re-mix has opened the doors to countless reinterpretations of the same musical idea.  Thus, an outsider could conceive of dancehall music as being unoriginal or "all sounding the same" (Barrow/Dalton, 2001:451).

            What is it then, that incites some people to completely regard these styles as being unmusical?  If one isolates the concepts of version and sampling as the root causes of opposition, does that mean that people are that concerned about copyright infringement?  Are they worried that no "new" music will ever be created if everyone simply re-cycles old records?  It seems the struggle is more conceptual than practical.  Unless one's own record was used for sampling it is doubtful that anyone would care that much about legal issues such as copyrights when listening to music.  Furthermore, if a rhythm, melody or vocal snippet sounds good in its original track, why can it not sound just as good, if not better, in another context?  There is no good reason why it cannot, but mental blocks seem to prevent people from enjoying themselves.  This is due to the fact that basic concepts with respect to the production of sound system influenced music have not spread far enough, whereas the physical materials have.


3.2.4  Modularity                  

            In order to understand how current dancehall music's conceptual infrastructure is laid out, one must use the idea of modularity.  This, in essence, refers to the separate nature of dancehall's musical components.  The quintessential division in this case is between vocals and instrumentals which in the sound system, is reflected by the roles of deejay and selector.  This detachment is associated with a high level of mobility in the form of record distribution in stores and diffusion at dancehalls .  The Internet is currently another method of rhythm or vocal track trading, which is accomplished mainly through file-sharing websites such as   It is important to note that both music-only and vocal-only tracks (called acapellas) are distributed .  This separation and distribution process provides the framework for personalized re-mixes (by selector/producers) and overdubs (by deejays). Thus, the dancehall music system (mirrored in hip hop) involves practically infinite possibilities in combining vocals and instrumentals (or samples).  In addition, both poles contain their own recombinatory processes.  Instrumentals or samples can be rearranged by producers, while deejays commonly cite lyrical references from pre-existing songs in their own performance (see track 12).


3.2.5  Version, re-mixing, and the concept of a musical catalyst

             While providing endless permutations, all these levels of musical recombination do require original or "catalyst" material in order to be produced.  This material is typically drawn from two sources: old or new.  Historically, live bands recorded in the studio provided the instrumental basis, through versions, for any re-mixing/vocal overdubbing (Davis/Simon, 1982: 106).  Initially, these versions were simply released as b-sides to complete songs but came to be produced solely for the purpose of versioning (see section 1.5.3).  By this time digital means were commonly used to create these riddims .  Thus, the musical catalysts which spawned all types of versions went from being unknowing to active participators with the rise of dancehall.  In the current scene, original riddims are being commonly produced using digital means for the most part.  When a new riddim is released there is a scramble of versioning which occurs as each artists struggles to produce the best version, thereby "owning" the conceptual rights to the riddim.  In other words, if a deejay or vocalist succeeds in promoting his or her version of a particular song over all else, that song's riddim track will inevitably come to be associated with that particular vocalist in people's minds.  An example of a popular riddim that came to be overwhelmingly associated with one recording is the Stalag 17 riddim, originally produced by Winston Riley in 1974 (track 10).  This riddim, originally referred to as Stagalag 17 in Jamaica <www.diaent.com/fantra_zine4.htm>, is perhaps the most-used and most-recognized riddim in all of Jamaican music.  At least 15 different versions exist which use it as their musical base (ibid.).  However, the most popular song associated with it is Tenor Saw's Ring the Alarm, which was recorded in 1985 (track 11).  This association is so strong that during field interviews, Stalag 17 was referred to as "the riddim from Ring the Alarm."  This classic riddim was also later used by Sister Nancy in her song Bam Bam (track 11), which, incidentally, contains references to a Toots & the Maytals song by the same name.  Thus, in addition to demonstrating the use of a popular riddim, this song is an example of the sampling or "vocal re-mixing" that occurs within the deejay's craft.  In this case the re-mix involves a gender switch that brings the original male perspective of the Bam Bam lyrics into a female arena (see Pratt, 1990: 145).

            While drawing criticism from certain people, the use of version highlights two key aspects of the current dancehall scene.  First, the role of riddims as accompaniments rather than statements in themselves is highlighted by the use of versions by many different combinations of deejays or singers.  The rise of the deejay in dancehall culture of the 80s shifted the focus to that end of the sound system performance.  It can be said that instrumentals exist to support or embellish the vocal craft and not often the other way around (as it was in the early days of toasting).  However, the prestige or quality of certain instrumentals causes competition among vocalists and the producers that might work with them.  The deejay/producer team's main goal is to appropriate a given riddim's legacy by receiving the audience's favour and beating the competition.  One-rhythm albums featuring many different vocalists capture this competitive aspect on recorded media (Barrow/Dalton, 2001: 451).  This mirrors the live performance of the sound system setting where sound clashes involve multiple deejays as well as selectors.  Second, version makes the role of the producer extremely important in dancehall music.  While the deejays are at the center of the performance, the producer must bring the disparate elements of music and vocals together on recordings.  In addition, producers form the talent base for new riddims, especially when they are digitally created.  Re-mixes bring together old or new vocals and instrumentals in different contexts, and are also an important domain of the producer.  Studio re-mixes mirror the way the selector manipulates music in the live setting.  They might include rewinds, gunshots, air horns or other live techniques.  Thus, the role of the selector in the live domain has been translated into that of the producer in the studio.  Therefore it is common to encounter individuals who can perform both roles.  This is mirrored in hip hop culture where one would encounter the expression "DJ/producer."


3.2.6  Judging quality and "originality"

            With all of this cross-pollination and re-mixing going on, what then, is an original piece?  By what standards can it be judged?  Obviously, one is dealing with a specific way of thinking about music, let alone making it, when one talks about dancehall.  This musical framework has engendered a specific way of judging the "originality" of a piece, that is, its merit in bringing something new to the musical landscape.

            In essence, since the basic framework of dancehall music is divided into the instrumental and the vocal recording, any aesthetic judgement must begin at either of these two poles.  At the instrumental end, there is a further distinction between old (recycled) and new (original) creations.  When a producer uses an old rhythm he is not necessarily considered to be "stealing" or "re-hashing" old material.  This judgement is dependant on the status of that particular rhythm within the dancehall world.  For example, the legendary Stalag 17, while being used to the extreme, is still widely accepted as a great instrumental base for a dancehall song.  During a fieldwork interview with a local ragga deejay, he proposed the idea of using a looped snippet from Stalag 17, or "the riddim from Ring de Alarm" as he put it, as the instrumental track for a new "hit".  This illustrates the fact that the high status of that particular riddim is acknowledged to this day.  In general, the status of the riddim itself relates to its originality.  In this case Stalag 17 represents a unique departure from the classic "reggae beat" which incorporates aspects of American funk music into a Jamaican framework (track 11).  Here one glances at the judgements involved with the production of a new rhythm.  New rhythms that are mainly digitally generated appear constantly on the dancehall scene and form a "creative pool" which can be drawn from websites like .   Their success or failure partially depends on their sound quality especially in the bass frequencies as well as their rhythmic pattern. However, their ultimate fate is linked with the vocalists that come to be featured with them on recordings (e.g. Ring the Alarm).

            Thus, the vocal aspect of a recording comes into the picture to crystallize a particular rhythm's place in dancehall music.  This "vocal appropriation" of a rhythm by a deejay can raise the prestige of a particular rhythm if the vocal style is unique.  One of the major sources for determining a song's originality is the lyrical styles within it.  For example, Tenor Saw's nasal, tenor voice became his trademark as did his vibrato and inter-lyrical additions (e.g. "whoa! hey!"; see track 12). Because of these unique vocal qualities, his tracks always stick out at dancehalls.  His style is often copied by other artists and forms an aesthetic benchmark for dancehall deejays and singers.  Unique singers and deejays thus have the power to raise the status of a rhythm through their own vocal style.  If the rhythm itself represents a unique contribution to the musical pool through its own merit (such as Stalag 17), the addition of a great vocalist can catapult the recording into "mega hit" status as in the case of Ring the Alarm (1985) which can be heard in dancehalls to this day.


3.3  The spread of the Jamaican sound system framework: hip hop


            As much as the unique composition of a sound system and its performance has influenced Jamaican music and culture, it has also contributed in a significant way to other musical genres, the most famous of which is hip hop.  By analyzing how this occurred, the most crucial aspects of the Jamaican sound system will be isolated and highlighted.  This process will also show how they have spread into both consciousness and practice in the modern world.  While the specific conceptual changes with respect to music production have already been explored in section 3.2, this section will serve to illustrate how and why these changes have spread.  This process necessitates putting Jamaican dancehall in perspective with hip hop music.


3.3.1  The link between reggae and hip hop

            Referring to the back-and-forth model for understanding Jamaican music's relationship with Afro-American styles (section 1.0), the emergence of hip hop represents Jamaica's input into American music.  Initially, American jazz and blues infiltrated Jamaica's musical environment causing a major impact.  However, Jamaican sound systems later came to New York City, reciprocating the exchange.  A Jamaican deejay known as Kool Herc, emigrated to the U.S. in the 70s bringing along with him the knowledge, techniques and talent involved in running a sound system (Hebdige, 1987: 137).  Kool Herc played records and talked over them and filled the role of the selector as well as that of the deejay.  He brought the technique of juggling (section 1.3.5) to America which created an extended rhythmic flow for lyrical improvisation.  Coming from Jamaica, Kool Herc's musical base was reggae records.  However, the use of reggae music in this fashion didn't catch on in an expanded way despite the popularity of his fresh techniques.  It so happened that the New York audiences which he played for were sensitized to American urban music such as funk and soul at the time.

            Funk music is important in this framework because it contains the basis for a successful juggling performance: breaks.  Breaks (or breakdowns) are movements of funk songs in which the melodic aspects (vocals, horns, etc.) drop out, leaving the rhythm section (often only the drums) to play for a few bars.  It is important to note that a break is not a solo in the classic sense, in that there is usually no improvisation: the rhythm is simply left to play out for a short time.  This concept essentially stressed the role of the rhythm section, especially the drummer, in sustaining funk music (see track 15).  During this part of a song breakdancers (hence the name) often expressed their particular style of acrobatic dance at clubs and parties (Hebdige, 1987: 140).

            Kool Herc thus increased his popularity tremendously by shifting from reggae to funk for his musical base.  In addition to providing a creative window for dancers, breaks also proved useful for talk-overs.  When Kool Herc applied juggling to funk breaks, dancers and vocalists could extend and refine their performances (ibid: 138).  Thus, juggling or looping a funk break became a musical basis for vocal performance in America in the same way as version did in Jamaica.   When extended breaks became available in the live setting, the idea of talking over records in the manner of a Jamaican deejay deepened into the Afro-American lyrical art known as rapping. 

            Rapping was not new in America at the time, as it emerged from earlier sources such as beat poetry, prison songs and jazz scatting (see Potter, 1995).  Playing music through a sound system at a dance hall was not new either, as discotheques were increasingly popular in the 1970s.  However, the idea of rapping over extended or looped instrumentals (breaks) in a live setting was very new at the time and created the sensation known as hip hop.  In this culture the vocalist became known as an MC, while the record-handler as a DJ.  Thus, the Jamaican sound system framework had influenced the structure of the live hip hop performance with the separation between MC and DJ, or vocal and instrumental at its core.  As in Jamaica, this framework eventually reached the studio where samplers often replaced the classic method of juggling breaks in creating instrumental tracks.  One of the most used (if not the most used) funk breaks in the history of sampling is found in the song Funky Drummer by James Brown (track 15).


3.3.2  The importance of the sound system framework

            Jamaican music initially influenced hip hop not through its actual content but through its method of presentation.  There is nothing about the particular sounds of reggae that initially influenced the development of hip hop music.  Indeed, reggae initially inhibited the sound system's spread in America, as the preferred musical basis for hip hop performances came from funk music.  The vocal style of hip hop is also more American in flavour having roots in American styles such as jazz and funk.  The most important contribution that Jamaican culture has made to that of hip hop is the idea of bringing rapping and record-playing together in a unique live performance.  The sound system in Jamaica thus became reflected as the "crew" in America, where selectors and deejays were called DJs and MCs.  Hip hop even contains the shifting importance of each of these roles where sometimes the DJ is the focus and other times the performance is centered around the MC.

            Hip hop is currently the largest selling musical genre in America <www.time.com/time/sampler/article/0,8599,55635,00.html>.  It has also reached a cross-cultural, international status, such that one can hear original hip hop music coming from countries like Albania or Turkey.  In America, hip hop has expanded from the inner city black community to be embraced by suburban white youths (today's largest consumer demographic -ibid.).  This hyper-generalized status can be contrasted by the nature of Jamaican music's spread.  While it is nevertheless "international," Jamaican dancehall music requires a significant diasporic Jamaican community in order to be sustained abroad.   For example, some of the most famous international Jamaican communities are found in South London's Brixton area and New York's boroughs of Queens and the Bronx.  While it is common to hear of records being produced in these places, one would not expect the same from countries like Albania or Turkey who do not house significant Jamaican communities.  How is it then that the international status of these two commonly-rooted musical cultures (hip hop and dancehall) is so different?

            Kool Herc's substitution of funk in place of reggae records begins to illuminate the answer.  While the basic framework for the presentation of music was conserved from Jamaica to America, the musical content was changed.  Reggae did not connect with American audiences as much as indigenous funk did.  The incorporation of funk into the sound system framework represents a departure from concrete Jamaican associations.  That is, the content of reggae music which is reminiscent of Jamaican culture, was replaced by the content of funk music which reflects American culture.  As jazz and blues were converted into a Jamaican context, the Jamaican sound system framework was converted into an American format through the use of different musical content. 

            Being in an American infrastructure, hip hop had the advantage of being able to spread more rapidly and efficiently through record distribution and media coverage.  Nevertheless it is important to note that hip hop's early struggle was highly visible in the media, adding to its intrigue.  Once the flood gates were opened and hip hop gained recognition and respect (in the 1990s), it quickly took over popular American music, and became the global empire that it is today.  Jamaican music's spread is not so unbridled.  This study maintains that this is due to the narrower association of Jamaican music with the Jamaican community and culture as compared to hip hop with its ethnic base.  While dancehall can be seen as a culture in itself, it is inevitably linked with Jamaican ethnicity through the unique content of the music.  Hip hop, in the same way as jazz, has broken away from strict associations with black American culture through media exposure and audience reception, and can now be easily converted into any context.  It has truly become a culture in itself, whose members can interact in a common framework despite background differences.  As a culture, dancehall can also fulfill this inclusive task, but not on the generalized level of hip hop.  

            The Montreal environment can be seen as a microcosm of the relative spread of hip hop versus Jamaican dancehall.  The sound system scene is associated with Montreal's Caribbean/Jamaican community in an intimate way.  It has not reached the expanded status of hip hop in the city.  As was outlined in section 2.2, its "inclusive" function is more limited to various backgrounds within the Caribbean community.

            In essence, hip hop has taken the basic framework of Jamaican music, the sound system, and dissociated it from its specific ethnic ties.  While initially being associated with a particular ethnicity itself, hip hop's highly adaptive content and powerful infrastructure has caused it to spread and take hold rapidly around the globe, regardless of the presence of Afro-Americans in a given country.  Thus, hip hop is an example of how the sound system framework has been distilled from its original culture and brought into a context which is not narrowly associated with a particular ethnic group.  If anything, hip hop is associated with youth, which transcends cultural or political borders.




            In essence, the aim of this study was to define the sound system and its role with respect to Jamaican music.  Exploring its function within the dancehall space was the key to understanding how the sound system interacts with the framework of the Jamaican music world.  The plurality of the Montreal environment, with respect to both culture and media influence, brought out a comparison with Jamaica's reality which led to an understanding of how the sound system relates to issues of musical production, musical reception, and cultural identity.  An historical overview of the sound system's relationship to Jamaican music and culture supplemented one's grasp of its significance.  Finally, the sound system's contributions to other types of music, namely hip hop, highlighted its essential importance as a unique musical framework.


            The expression sound system, also written soundsystem or simply sound, has a unique meaning which is Jamaican in origin.  It refers to a musical performance complex that includes both mechanical and human components.  The mechanical elements are similar to what most North Americans might consider to be a sound system, that is, an assemblage of equipment designed to amplify recorded music.  This assemblage is used to play records in a dancehall, a space where dances are held.  The Jamaican aspect of the material sound system typically uses turntables to play vinyl records, on 12-inch (33 rpm) or 45 rpm format.  Acetate records, or dub plates, are also used as specials in order to increase the prestige of a sound system through their exclusivity.  A mixer usually links two or more turntables, providing the means for continuous play and technical manipulation of records.  Speakers are usually very large, as they must amplify the lower frequencies to a high degree, causing vibrations which can be felt by the body.

            The human aspect of the sound system features certain roles, namely the box man, deejay and selector/mixer which can be divided among any number of people (even one).  The changing reality of the sound system has caused the human or "talent" elements (including the record collection) to be divided from the material equipment in the current scene, allowing for individuals or groups to be called sound systems or sounds.  Historically, the sound system was akin to a mobile disco that included particular material components whose quality formed part of the sound system's prestige.  Now, the audio equipment is typically handled by the venue in which the sound performs.


            With respect to music, two main roles can be identified from the unique complex that is the Jamaican sound system.  The first was referred to as a mediator.  This expression is polysemic in that it relates to two different levels of action.  In its infancy (1950s) the sound system simply served to play the music Jamaican audiences wanted to hear, namely American rhythm-and-blues.  Its relatively low cost and steady performance contributed to the sound system's overtaking of the live band at dances.  The sound system's role as a mediator in this sense refers to its broadcasting of recorded media; it contributed to the spread of music on a large scale.  As deejays or talk-over artists began to add their vocal craft to the records being played in the dancehall, the sound system began to directly connect with the audience.  Thus, the second aspect of the expression mediator arises.  The deejay's interaction with the crowd as well as the records served to connect the static media with a live audience.  The crowd's reaction to records was also an important aspect which guided the performace.  In this way, the sound system can be seen as a mediator or intermediary between the production and reception of Jamaican music.

            With the technical development of dub versions or instrumental "b-sides" of records, the sound system's performance deepened.  In conjunction with a more developed deejay craft, version provided a new basis for the sound system performance: laying original vocals over instrumental records in a live setting.  This phenomenon influenced Jamaican music so much that it took the name of dancehall music, where that expression could have once been used for any music played in a dancehall.  This live performance quickly found its way into the studio and revolutionized the way Jamaican music was produced.  With version a producer could record many vocalists' (deejay or more traditional singer) performances using the same instrumental track or riddim.  This led to a fundamental split between music and vocals in the way Jamaican music is conceived.

            The emergence of dancehall music represents the second role of the sound system, that of a creative force, in Jamaican music.  This is illustrated by the fact that the live performance of dancehall music using version came to influence the production of recorded music.  The sound system's fundamental division of records and talk-over had blossomed into a unique performance by the 1980s, which replaced the live aspect of "roots" reggae bands such as Bob Marley and the Wailers. 

            Another instance of the sound system's role in shaping Jamaican music is the shift in the thematic focus of lyrics after the 1970s.  The need to captivate and entertain the audience was a crucial feature of the sound system and promoted the rise of slack deejays.  This lyrical style which contained humour, sexuality, violence, and vulgarity, focused on stage presence and "working" the crowd.  This style worked its way onto recordings and dominated the "conscious" lyrics of traditional reggae until the "roots revival" of the early 1990s.

            The importance of the crowd or massive at a dancehall event is a crucial point in understanding how the sound system actually fits into the scheme of Jamaican music.  On one level, the sound system directly affects the production of recordings by the particularity of its performative framework.  However, as in the case of the slack style the tastes of the crowd can deeply affect the sound system's creative direction.  As the fieldwork at Montreal events has demonstrated, selectors must interact with the mood of the audience in order to perform successfully.  Their choice of records must be the result of an articulation between their own creative desires and the will of the audience.  This occurs to various degrees, especially in the plural environment of Montreal.  Media influence can structure the massive's latent tastes as can a multiplicity of backgrounds.  Music videos and radio shows can influence audience members into expecting certain songs at dances, leaving the selector to navigate these desires in accordance with his own.  Considering the different national backgrounds apparent in Montreal's Caribbean community, (and youth community in general) the Jamaican sound system event must explore different musical styles, such as hip hop, r&b, calypso, and soca (soul calypso) in order to be successful.  The interaction between what the audience expects and what the artists intend, illustrates the inclusion of the massive in the complex of Jamaican music.  Sound clashes, a symbolic battle between sound systems in which the audience declares a winning or champion sound, are another instance of the massive's influence in dancehall culture.  This influence is manifested through the framework of the sound system phenomenon.  With respect to record choice the sound system allows the dancehall to become a "testing ground" for new music, in which the audience's reaction can be gauged by producers in a live setting as opposed to a consumer report.

            In addition to connecting the audience with the musical complex of artists and producers, the sound system plays a role in the negotiation of identity.  In Jamaica, dances which feature sound systems are typically associated with the urban lower-class community which is predominantly black.  In this environment sound systems serve as a "voice" or "outlet" for the tension and frustration inherent in ghetto reality.  Economic factors of general popularity such as low cost and mobility are doubly emphasized in the context of the ghetto where many people cannot afford to buy records or stereo equipment.  The music associated with them invites disdain from higher socio-economic classes who often view it as crude or vulgar.   Harassment from authorities is also common, further alienating the dancehall audience from society.  Thus, in Jamaica, the sound system structures identity around social class (see Stolzoff, 2000).

            In Montreal, the nature of the Caribbean community structures dancehall issues of identity in a different way. Montreal's dancehall audience, while predominantly black, has a compound identity as many immigrant populations do in plural societies.  Drawing in from the concept of "black," the major regional identification of blacks in Montreal is Caribbean.  Within this group, language issues conceptually divide the community into French-based (Haitian) and English-based (mixed) Caribbean scenes.  Within the Anglo-Caribbean community, the Jamaican-style dance represents a significant cultural event.  However, its audience is not uniquely Jamaican, despite being mostly black.  The plurality of Anglo-Caribbean heritages in Montreal puts the audience in contrast to the uniquely Jamaican nature of the music typically played by sound systems, hence the pressure to include a varied selection of styles at a given dance.  Therefore in Montreal the sound system's identity-structuring role is more cultural or ethnic in nature as opposed to socio-economic.  By virtue of the massive, it must negotiate a plurality of cultural ties while keeping the integrity of an "authentic" performance in the artist's eyes.  This requirement essentially illustrates the sound system's fundamental role in mediating identity in the dancehall.


            The most important aspect of the sound system is highlighted when one considers its contributions to hip hop music and culture.  The most important link between hip hop and dancehall music is not their sound content, but their method of presentation.  The sound system framework, that is, talking over records in a live setting, arrived in New York in the 1970s through a Jamaican deejay's emigration.  The reggae-based instrumentals of his sound system did not appeal to American audiences on a large scale, so he replaced them with funk instrumentals composed of looping or juggling a rhythmically emphasized part of the song known as the break.  The art of rapping, an American equivalent to the art of the Jamaican deejay, developed over these technically manipulated funk instrumentals in live settings.  Thus, the Jamaican selector/deejay complex was converted into the hip hop dichotomy of DJ and MC.  While the content of the instrumentals had to be changed to appeal to American audiences, the structure and method of delivery at the heart of the sound system remained the same through the conversion from Jamaican to American contexts.  This basic framework is the essence of the sound system.  It is a framework which has spread all over the world in the form of "club culture," broadcasting musical styles from funk to techno.  Therefore, when dealing with the Jamaican sound system's contributions, the medium involved in communication is more important than the message being broadcast.  To quote Canadian communications theorist Marshall McLuhan (1967), "the medium is the message."






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J.(O).C.A. Annual Events 2002





Permis MontrŽal, Fiche de Permis no. 11 (CafŽs-Terrasses, Spectacles, Musique)





Bienvenue CKUT 90.3 Welcome





 The State of Blacks Across Canada: A Few Bright Spots by Egbert Gaye

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Canada's Digital Collections, Heirloom Series Vol. 7: Jamaica





The Daily, Tuesday February 17, 1998  (Statistics Canada)





'HipHop Nation' Is Exhibit A for America's Latest Cultural Revolution by Tony Karon







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