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‘I want [the world] to understand the importance of dancehall culture’

Professor Donna Hope’s launches ‘Dancehall Queen: Erotic Subversion’

Published:Monday | April 22, 2024 | 12:05 AMKwela Cole/Gleaner Writer

Hours before transforming into the weekly held Triple Thursdays, The MECA Jamaica at Marketplace in Kingston had chairs set across the dance floor conference-style in front of a small stage complete with a podium and mic, hosting the launch of Dancehall Queen: Erotic Subversion/Subversión Erótica edited by Professor Donna Hope and Carla Lamoyi.

The book focuses on the Jamaican dancehall queen as a cultural form seldomly recognised officially due to its suggestive themes. It is first and foremost a response to the lack of literature documenting indigenous cultural forms and expressions. A senior lecturer at the Institute of Caribbean and Reggae Studies (ICS) at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, its addition to Hope’s extensive bibliography addresses this need. It is a fact that her colleague, Dr Dave Gosse, director of ICS, who gave his greetings earlier in the programme, noted. Gosse spoke to Hope being one of the most published members of the ICS faculty and helping to expand the literature of local music, dancehall, and fashion in the process.

Speaking to The Gleaner, Hope said there were more titles on the horizon. “I have a lot more work to come, and I’m encouraging my students here in Jamaica and researchers to write more about dancehall culture. If you realise, they don’t talk about dancehall [to say it] is dead, so we are way ahead of that. Dancehall is over 40 years old, and we need to put down more written work,” the lecturer and socio-cultural analyst said. “I want [the world] to understand the importance of dancehall culture, the music, the fashion , and the style. [I want to emphasise] the importance of spreading dancehall queen culture across the world as a movement.”

As a bilingual book also written in Spanish, Hope’s newest publication is a testament to how far-reaching the culture is. The launch saw Mexican Ambassador to Jamaica Juan Gonzalez Mijares speaking on the emergence of dancehall queen contests and culture in Mexico City. The sharing of culture in the relationship between Jamaica and Mexico is vast according to him and further speaks to the demand of the academic recording of dancehall and its translations into other languages. This process is well underway. Hope shared that the book is widely available. “ Dancehall Queen: Erotic Subversion/Subversión Erótic is available in over 30 countries all over the world. The Latin, South American, and European audiences are scraping it up. It’s very, very powerful,” she said.

She also spoke of how the Spanish translation came to be. “Many of the Spanish speakers don’t have any material like this … . They are grateful for the work in Spanish. Very grateful. I had already published one of my articles in 2011 in Spanish with one of my collaborators from Venezuela, [ Dancehall Queen: Erotic Subversion/Subversión Erótic co-editor Carla Lamoyi]. So when Carla reached out to me again, I said we need to do a book now in Spanish. People who speak Spanish love dancehall but don’t have any material to read. I’m planning to translate my first book, Inna Di Dancehall, into Spanish. We have to make it available,” said Hope.

Professor Hope’s book also sought to give power back to the women of dancehall who are demonised for expressing their sexuality in the way that is customary in the cultural form. The encouragement was echoed by Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange in her remarks at the launch. Grange, who has her own history in the dancehall through her experience as an artiste manager during the golden age of the genre, recalled the vibrant expression of dance and music before it became widely sexualised and about the women such as herself who found fulfilling careers out of dancehall. She spoke of parallels between dancehall and other traditions, namely, revival, which featured partnered dances depicting provocative movements. “There is nothing wrong with whining if you feel like it,” said Grange.

On the topic, Hope shared: “I want to empower women in Jamaica, black women and working-class women. I want [people] to read and recognise that even though people see the bodily movements as negative, there are many positives in how DHQs can control their body, their environment, and use their own life to make a better life for themselves.”

The launch of Dancehall Queen: Erotic Subversion/Subversión Erótic was kept information rich and highly engaging. The original Dancehall Queen, Carlene Smith, who has first-hand experience on the subject, spoke briefly, but her anecdotes on her emergence on to the early dancehall scene and her rise to the top as the now titular DHQ and cultural ambassador set the stage for the introduction of the book of the evening and its author.

In between the addresses, the intimate audience was regaled by performances ranging from poetry, music, and dance. Student Kiseon Thompson, winner of The National Library of Jamaica Poet Laureate of Jamaica’s Young Writer’s Prize for Poetry, gave a rousing, dramatic reading of his prized poem, Ode To Whining.

Holding an impromptu stage show as a duo were General B and Roundhead, who ran ‘90s dancehall along with greats such as Beenie Man, Buju Banton, and Lady Saw. Upcoming dancehall artiste Purpl-S followed along with My Dream singer Nesbeth. Closing out the show in a fashion appropriate to the night was reigning Queen of The MECA, DHQ Raquel Cautiion, who had the crowd gasping at her passionate delivery of her winning dance performance.