A small island with a great heart

Lucie Kožnarová
Mr. Kool Herc – the so-called father of Hip Hop. Why, you might ask. Kool Herc was the first person ever to bring outside sound systems into the city of New York in the 1970s, to the Bronx, to be exact, where he lived. He started to throw “block parties”, where all of the five Hip Hop elements were formed – rap, DJing, breaking, graffiti and beatboxing. However, before all of this could happen, he had travelled back to his home country – a small island situated in the Caribbean Sea, called Jamaica, where he had seen these phenomenal sound systems for the first time. It is extremely interesting to see such a small country having a major impact on creating what has today become the world’s biggest music genre.

Speaking of impact, it is not only the music industry that Jamaica has influenced and continues to influence. A Jamaican national dance called dancehall is moving the entire dance community all over the world. What started in the 1990s as a way of getting out of the gangster life is now a huge business, enabling many people to live a law-abiding life they otherwise could never afford.

Bogle, born Gerald Levy in 1964, also known as Bogle Dancer, Mr. Bogle, Father Bogle, and Mr. Wacky, is said to be the founder of dancehall. The dance steps he created were easy to learn and became extremely popular throughout the country. Although he was shot dead in 2005, his work lives on in the dancehall community and Jamaicans still refer to him as the greatest dancer of all time. On the Internet you can find a few videos of him dancing, although the very poor quality indicates the time they were recorded. Among the many famous dance moves he founded are Bogle Dance, World Dance, Willie Bounce and Wacky Dip.

Even after Bogle’s death, dancehall has remained very much alive. Every day, new dancers enter the community, new steps are created, and new videos are shot. You might wonder why I am talking about videos, but since we live in a time of social media, it is essential for these dancers to promote themselves on platforms like Instagram or Tik Tok. Each and every one of them has their own Instagram account and, as most of the dancers belong to a particular dance group, they are part of that dance group’s account, too. It is amazing to watch the rising popularity of these dancers online. People from all over the world learn and record dancehall steps, then post them online, giving credit to the creators. We can surely all imagine the pleasure it gives these artists to know that people from countries such as China or Ukraine have learned something they created on the other side of the world. That is simply the amazing power of the era we live in.

There is one more reason for the importance of being active on social media. If you want to make a living based entirely on your dancing skills, people need to know you. People need to want to learn from you, not only via Instagram videos, but in person too. Many Jamaican dancers are currently travelling the world, teaching workshops and giving lectures about their home culture, which is something that most people can only dream of; we all dream of doing something we love rather than going to a mundane job that would kill our creativity on a daily basis.
I would also like to point out that some of the dancers leave Jamaica to find a better life. Very often they settle in European countries that offer a bright future, such as England, Sweden, Switzerland or Austria, where they make money by teaching regular workshops or open classes.

As to the kind of music dancehall dancers dance to, it is called dancehall music – simple as that. Though the name makes it sound simple, the evolution of dancehall music as we know it today was much more complicated. It all started at the beginning of the 20th century when the genre called mento was formed. Then ska took over, followed by rocksteady leading to reggae, which is a term I believe most people are familiar with, since its main protagonist Bob Marley was and still is a world-famous artist. Although established in the eighties, dancehall music did not leave the shores of Jamaica until the early 2000s, as the government and other important representatives of the country tried to limit its spread. They did not like the fact that the lyrics referenced gangs, guns, political brutality, sex and sexuality, all typical, then and now, of the lives of people living in the poor area called “downtown” in the capital city, Kingston. Nonetheless, at the very beginning of the new millennium American record companies started to take notice of this catchy style of music. These companies signed contracts with many Jamaican artists, so opening new doors to them. One of the most famous Jamaican artists in dancehall culture is a man called Sean Paul, whose songs gained world-wide popularity and quickly defined dancehall as a mainstream genre in the 2000s. The influence of dancehall can still be felt in many popular songs and genres today.

In conclusion, I firmly hope I have shown you that even a small island can have a great influence on the world, just as one person can have a huge effect on the masses. I believe that we should always think big and not take no for an answer. That is the main reason why I find Jamaica and its people so inspiring.