Dancehall culture is hardly the shyest in the world. Renowned for its flamboyant and overtly sexual lyrics and dance moves, no one expects artist like Mavado, Busy Signal and Vybz Cartel to produce songs to foxtrot to.
But the latest dance craze to sweep the scene has caused outrage across Jamaica as the country’s staunch Christian right are convinced that the rude move from the dancehall is having a negative effect on the nation’s youth.
Daggering involves a male-female combo performing explicit moves that resemble simulated sex on the dancefloor. It’s enough to make even the most ardent bashment fan blush. Moves are often exaggerated so much that, according to some reports, the number of broken and bruised penises in Jamaica has risen by a third within the last eighteen months.
The craze has been bolstered by songs such as Mr Vegas’s homage to the dance, aptly named ‘Daggering’ and tunes by other artist like Beniton The Menace and Vybz Cartel, whose hits like ‘The Daggering (bruk it off)’ have become standard daggering accompaniment. The dance’s popularity has been a springboard for unknown artists to emerge, with around thirty to forty tracks all dedicated to daggering being released in the last six to twelve months. But the dance is not just an improvised free-for-all; now, in dancehall culture, dance groups are starting to put together forms of choreographed daggering, just as American urban dance groups who perform juking and krunking have done in the past.
Gabriel Myddelton, who creates refixes of dancehall songs on his brilliant Heatwave blog as well as djing at various raves around London and Europe, isn’t that surprised by daggering’s emergence on the dancehall scene.
“It didn’t strike me as being particularly out of step with what had come before. I don’t remember thinking ‘this is something totally different’. There are other things which have been going on for years. It is more explicit, but it’s not like explicit dances haven’t been around before,” he explains.
The evolution of daggering is traceable and follows a pattern in dancehall which has produced darker tracks and more explicit dances to go with them. As Gabriel notes dancehall is a genre which has been on the cutting edge of dance music since electronically produced tracks like ‘Under Me Sleng Teng’ and emcees like Cutty Ranks ignored convention and changed the face of Jamaican music forever.
Daggering has not sat well in the conservative pious setting of Jamaica where it has been accused – just as previous trends in dancehall culture have been – of corrupting the country’s young. The establishment’s concerns are understandable, especially in a country where it is still illegal to be gay and right-wing Christian views guide society’s moral compass.
Gabriel adds, “Jamaica has definitely not accepted it [...] for me that is not a new thing: Jamaican music has a history of being outrageous and scandalous and ahead of its time in terms of music, fashion, slang and the way music is produced and released. Dancehall has a habit of pushing boundaries in that way.”
Daggering hasn’t yet made its way onto the dancefloors of London and the rest of the UK but, as Gabriel comments, back in 2003, when he started djing, not a lot of people were doing the moves to ‘Pon de River’, whereas if he plays a track like ‘Sweep’ people follow, step for step, in 2009.
Dancehall’s more outrageous elements do have a way of becoming acceptable, so it might not be long before simulated sex and on-beat thrusts are seen at nights in Camberwell and Birmingham. But daggering’s emergence also underlines the public relations issue that dancehall has. As Gabriel points out, when the genre receives press coverage, it’s usually about how shocking it is, rather than how avant-garde and interesting artists like Mavado and Cutty Ranks are and were.
“I can see why it gets so much attention, because it is so funny and different and out there. It’s a bit of a shame that it takes things like daggering for the genre to get attention though. The kind of coverage it gets can make it seem a bit stupid or ridiculous or outrageous, and it is those things but there is a lot more to it than that.”
But the attention that daggering is getting has died down as the genre moves forward at its usual breakneck rate and as Gabriel says with dancehall nothing stays the same for long. Perhaps daggering might get dancehall’s innovative artists the attention that their music deserves.
By Lanre Bakare
[For JUKE Vol.01]