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The music, the language, the fashion and most importantly the people of the Jamaican dancehall have influenced and inspired the world. Our people and our way of life have been mimicked, albeit often times not very well, in movies, T.V sitcoms, cartoons and commercials overseas. These applications are only some of the sources of revenues created as viable spin-offs from the dancehall cultural space. It is now even at the point where presently, those same people who wanted to have the music censored and the people who perform and enjoy it alienated are now trying to get their own slice of the pie. Jamaican corporations are now using the popularity and influence of Jamaica’s biggest musical stars to endorse and market their brands to the Jamaican masses and beyond.
Dancehall culture also has had a social effect on Jamaica. The lower class could now be able to earn a living without the acquisition of formal education beyond the secondary level. Youths from impoverished communities could be now inspired to find or create their own niche within the culture in order to generate income. The dancehall was originally a gathering and a space where dances are held and where sound systems and artists performed long before the technological innovations of the dancehall music we hear today. By all accounts the dancehall has its origins documented from mid to late fifties. Where it started as just a place where young people would hang out: “The chief legitimate rendezvous for adolescents were the ‘blues dances’ periodically held in outdoor settings around Trench Town, Denham Town and Jones Town. In 1957, the most renowned of these were sponsored by the great Sound System boss Sir Coxsone Downbeat on Love Lane and on Beeston Street. All of Kingston was abuzz with runnings about Coxone’s mighty “control tower,” a heap of hefty turntables and glowing gizmos studded with silver, black and gold knobs, all wired up to several columns of bass speakers, booming out murderously overamplified songs by Fats Domino, Amos Milburn or “Louis Jordan an’ de Tympani Five an da tekin’-nuh- prisoner attack!” as the “toaster” (Dj) would announce it”, excerpt from Timothy White’s Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley.
At that time the only people making money were the vendors selling refreshments, the operators of the Sound System and the dance promoters. During the period of the sixties, the music created in the dancehall was starting to be recorded and manufactured in order to keep up with the new demand around the island for local produced acts. By the mid-1960s, just before reggae’s arrival, many small specialist record shops had opened around the country. This was chronicled by Economist John McMillan in his academic paper Trench Town Rock: the creation of Jamaica’s music industry: “To meet the shops’ demands for records, entrepreneurs started distribution firms. As a result, record producers no longer needed to operate their own sound systems to create a demand for their product, but could simply sell their records via the new wholesalers and retailers.”
Apart from a distinctive sound, a distinctive market emerged with unique products, such as dub plates and versions. The distribution of records was concentrated among a few relatively (for the industry) large companies, but was also extended by many small, and some informal, enterprises. Apart from the distributor, the central figures of the fledgling music industry were the artistes, the producers, often performing multiple roles – financing, recording, promoting, managing -, and the promoters of dances and shows.