In This Chapter

Killing Talk

Postmodernism and the Popular – Violence and Jamaican Dancehall Music

Authored by: Hippolyte Idara

The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature

Print publication date:  June  2011
Online publication date:  June  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415485777
eBook ISBN: 9780203830352
Adobe ISBN: 9781136821745


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Even a cursory study of the history of Jamaican society demonstrates that the surprise and outcry that attend the level of violence in its most recent and controversial popular cultural product, dancehall, is somewhat disingenuous. Throughout Jamaican society, from early in its history, violence has been central to – and even constitutive of – aspects of national life. The features that are considered peculiar to dancehall because of the period of its ascendancy in the mid-1990s are the concentration on gun-related violence and ‘the glorification of gangster behaviour and values’. The first characteristic results from technological and economic factors related to the greater volume and organization of the small arms trade between Jamaica and, especially, the United States. Arguably, the popular ‘Rudie’ songs in the ‘Rude Boy’ era of the 1960s are precursors to more recent ‘gangster’ tunes. Nonetheless, a peculiar intensity and specificity seem to imbue dancehall lyrics that do not allow them to be subsumed under a general tendency of Jamaican music to celebrate outlaws and to reflect the weaponry of the day. The pointed socio-economic critique that dancehall lyrics contribute in their theorizing of violence and the values that the lyrics and practices represent may owe something to the moment of the form, in what I have argued elsewhere is the Jamaican postmodern. In this light, violence presents a special challenge, both as the underside of postmodern culture (Baudrillard 1998; Jameson 1998) and as a particular preoccupation that dancehall is uniquely positioned to critique and enact.

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