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Pon Di Riddim | Best Books On Dancehall Culture

Jamaican author and academic Carolyn Cooper's book, Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Culture at Large describes Dancehall as "the enfant terrible of reggae. Like Rap, Dancehall is first and foremost a music that conveys the experience of poverty. It provides an echo of the harsh living conditions of the Kingston ghettos. Dancehall often scandalizes 'polite society,' both by its staging of sex, violence and money – issues that all relate to slackness (i.e. debauchery) – and by the social criticism voiced by its artists, who challenge the values of the ruling class who are opposed to the principles of their culture, that is of the excluded of Jamaican society. Between culture and slackness, such a perspective goes beyond the boundaries of the music scene and opens up an original perspective on Jamaican popular culture, its resistances and its conflicts."

While some believe the constant reference to guns in Dancehall music leads to violence and crime, and lyrics are homophobic, others think Dancehall is a tool for empowerment. But all agree that Dancehall is part of Jamaica's culture and society. To form your own opinion, here's our 11-book reading list, a playlist, and a link to the first part of a documentary on the phenomenon that is Dancehall.

Photo credit : Beth Lesser


This definitive study of the 1980s Jamaican Dancehall scene features hundreds of exclusive photographs and an accompanying text that capture a vibrant, globally influential and yet rarely documented culture that has mixed music, fashion and lifestyle since its inception. With unprecedented access to the incredibly exciting music scene during this period, Beth Lesser’s photographs and text are a unique way into a previously hidden culture. Dancehall is at the center of Jamaican musical and cultural life. From its roots in Kingston in the 1950s to its heyday in the 1980s, Dancehall has conquered the globe, spreading to the USA, UK, Canada, Japan, Europe and beyond. This jam-packed visual history tells the story from its roots to its heights from the vantage of the true, respected insider. In the early 1980s, as Jamaica was in the throes of political and gang violence, Beth Lesser ventured where few others dared, and this book is a never-before-seen record of the exciting, dangerous world of Dancehall.

Inna Di Dancehall

This work provides an accessible account of a poorly understood aspect of Jamaican popular culture. It explores the socio-political meanings of Jamaica's dancehall culture. In particular, the book gives an account of the power relations within the dancehall and between the dancehall and the wider Jamaican society. Hope gives the reader an unmatched insider's view and explanation of power, violence and gender relations in Jamaica as seen through the prism of the dancehall.

Reggae soundsystem original reggae album cover art

Reggae Soundsystem is a new deluxe 200 page hard-back 12"x12" book featuring hundreds of stunning full size record cover designs that span the history of reggae music. The book is compiled by the celebrated author and reggae expert Steve Barrow (Rough Guide to Reggae/ Blood and Fire Records) and Stuart Baker (Soul Jazz Records). Beginning in the 1950s, Jamaican music developed into one of the most important and influential music industries in the world. From its early Mento (Jamaican Calypso) beginnings through to the invention of Ska, Rocksteady, Roots, Dub and Dancehall, Jamaican music is also one of the richest and innovative veins in popular music. This stunning hardback deluxe book is a timely look at the endless visually creativity of reggae record cover designs, iconic, classic, rare and unique artwork spanning sixty years of Jamaican sounds. The book includes a fascinating introductory essay on the history of reggae by Steve Barrow and the book is edited by Stuart Baker (founder of Soul Jazz Records and editor of the book Dancehall, and cover art books on Bossa Nova, Freedom, Rhythm & Sound and Studio One Records).

Sound Clash

Megawattage sound systems have blasted the electronically-enhanced riddims and tongue-twisting lyrics of Jamaica's dancehall DJs across the globe. This high-energy raggamuffin music is often dismissed by old-school roots reggae fans as a raucous degeneration of classic Jamaican popular music. In this provocative study of dancehall culture, Carolyn Cooper offers a sympathetic account of the philosophy of a wide range of dancehall DJs: Shabba Ranks, Lady Saw, Ninjaman, Capleton, Buju Banton, Anthony B and Apache Indian. Cooper also demonstrates the ways in which the language of dancehall culture, often devalued as mere 'noise,' articulates a complex understanding of the border clashes which characterize Jamaican society, and analyzes the sound clashes that erupt in the movement of Jamaican dancehall culture across national borders.

The Official Dancehall Dictionary

A Guide to Jamaican Dialect and Dancehall Slang - Chester Francis Jackson With the emergence of dancehall music on the world scene, the language which accompanies it, has gained wide exposure. Many who hear and sometimes use these words may not be fully aware of their meanings.

In Fine Style

During the 1980s Wilfred Limonious became one of Jamaican musicians' most prolific graphic artists, designing countless reggae album jackets and record-label logos. With silly characters, scribbled commentary and outrageous Patois-filled speech bubbles, the world he created was the perfect visual counterpart to the islandand's emerging dancehall scene.

Rantin from Inside the Dancehall

Writing from the reggae frontline Dennis Howard uncompromisingly connects popular music with politics, history and culture within and around it. Often tackling areas that others writers avoid, Rantin From Inside The Dancehall moves key issues from the margins to the centre of debate. A definite read for anyone seeking fresh and challenging perspectives on Jamaican society and popular culture.

Man Vibes

In Jamaica, dancehall music and culture has become perhaps the most prominent expression of Jamaican popular culture. Taking its name from dance halls in which popular local recordings were played by sound systems, the concept of Dancehall as a cultural space has rapidly gained momentum in the last three decades as deejay stars enjoy unprecedented successes locally and internationally. Donna Hope builds on her earlier work on popular culture and theories of sexuality/gender to examine the process and progress of Jamaican masculinities. Man Vibes: Masculinities in Jamaican Dancehall explores Jamaican masculinity through the male-dominated dancehall space that is at once a celebration of the marginalized poor and also a challenge to social inequality. Using the major masculine debates that are articulated in dancehall music and culture, Hope explores the transition of Jamaican masculinity in the 21st century. The dancehall representations of Ole Dawg (promiscuity), Badman (violence), Chi Chi Man (anti-male homosexuality), Bling Bling (consumerist/consumptive) and Fashion Ova Style (stylized transgressions and homosexuality) are all used to evaluate the relationship between dancehall culture and the hegemonic standard of masculine. Man Vibes significantly advances the Cultural Studies agenda and acts as a contemporary reader by speaking not only to dancehall music and culture's masculinities but to Jamaican and Black masculinities in general.

Sounds of the Citizens

Dancehall: It's simultaneously a source of raucous energy in the streets of Kingston, Jamaica; a way of life for a group of professional artists and music professionals; and a force of stability and tension within the community. Electronically influenced, relevant to urban Jamaicans and highly danceable, dancehall music and culture forms a core of popular entertainment in the nation. As Anne Galvin reveals in Sounds of the Citizens, the rhythms of dancehall music reverberate in complicated ways throughout the lives of countless Jamaicans.Galvin highlights the unique alliance between the dancehall industry and community development efforts. As the central role of the state in supporting communities has diminished, the rise of private efforts such as dancehall becomes all the more crucial. The tension, however, between those involved in the industry and those within the neighbourhoods is palpable and often dangerous. Amidst all this, individual Jamaicans interact with the dancehall industry and its culture to find their own paths of employment, social identity and sexual mores. As Sounds of the Citizens illustrates, the world of entertainment in Jamaica is serious business and uniquely positioned as a powerful force within the community.


DanceHall combines cultural geography, performance studies and cultural studies to examine performance culture across the Black Atlantic. Taking Jamaican dancehall music as its prime example, DanceHall reveals a complex web of cultural practices, politics, rituals, philosophies, and survival strategies that link Caribbean, African and African diasporic performance. Combining the rhythms of reggae, digital sounds and rapid-fire DJ lyrics, dancehall music was popularized in Jamaica during the later part of the last century by artists such as Shabba Ranks, Shaggy, Beenie Man and Buju Banton. Even as its popularity grows around the world, a detailed understanding of dancehall performance space, lifestyle and meanings is missing. Author Sonjah Stanley Niaah relates how dancehall emerged from the marginalized youth culture of Kingston's ghettos and how it remains inextricably linked to the ghetto, giving its performance culture and spaces a distinct identity. She reveals how dancehall's migratory networks, embodied practice, institutional frameworks, and ritual practices link it to other musical styles, such as American blues, South African kwaito, and Latin American reggaeton. She shows that dancehall is part of a legacy that reaches from the dance shrubs of West Indian plantations and the early negro churches, to the taxi-dance halls of Chicago and the ballrooms of Manhattan. DanceHall stretches across the whole of the Black Atlantic's geography and history to produce its detailed portrait of dancehall in its local, regional, and transnational performance spaces.



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