Jamaican D.J or Dance Hall Music

D.J is an acronym for Disc jockey. Over time, this acronym came to represent a musical style derived from reggae music. This form of music involves lyrics chanted over a beat. A synopsis of the evolution of Dub music should shed some light on the nature and structure of D.J or Dance Hall music. Dub is derived from the Version, "B'' or flip side of vinyl polymer reggae recordings. The versions had only the instrumental accompaniment of a song. Dub was not a musical arrangement but was formed from studio techniques, which entails the engineers extending the bass and drum patterns making it the main body of the "B" side replacing the vocalist as the center of attention.

Deejays such as Papa Michigan and General Smiley first used the dub section of vinyl polymer records altered by the various studio engineers to chant their lyrics over. This act of chanting is referred to as "Deejaying inna rubba dub style". As time progressed the Deejays laid their own rhythmic patter ns to chant over. It was at this point that Deejays acquired the capital letters D.J that represented the newly formed form of music. Later on the term Dance Hall music was also used to represent, and used interchangeable to mean the same musical form.

Features of DJ or Dance Hall music

The lyrics used in the performance of D.J or Dance Hall music are usually of a social, political, economic, and sometimes humorous nature. During the 1990's the lyrical content of many Dance Hall songs took on a sexually explicit overtone or what some people refer to as "Slackness". In addition, they also refer to issues such as apartheid in South Africa and black history. For example Brigadier Jerry- Free Mandela and Ernest Wilson & Briggy - Them Free Mandela Others compose lyrics that exploit female.

On the other hand, performers also used Jamaican proverbs, melodies of Jamaican and Caribbean folks tunes, nursery rhymes used in children's games and wise Jamaican sayings for example," A Nu everyting yu du, yu fe mek pickni see''. (Interpretation: It is not wise to allow children to see all that an adult does). They also used the lyrics of American Rhythm and blues, Ballad or pop music and chant these over an accompanying reggae rhythm. For example, Ninja and Tingas remake of the song I believe the children are the future by Whitney Houston.

The use of the voice

Starting from the days of the plantations, repetition has been a main feature of Jamaica's popular music. This element is also one of the main characteristics of D.J or Dance Hall music. The repetitions are usually of single word or phrases. These phrases are repeated at different points throughout the performance and may constitute a chorus. D.J style is considered "half- talk- half sing". The speech pattern is quite rhythmic with syncopation as another feature. Look at the following example which is normally repeated a number of times in the song.

All an / pull up selector now / come down entertainer/ all an pull up selector now/ Come

Down entertainer.

Most times, "nonsense" words are used to fill in when there is a break in the instrumental accompaniment. Other times, high pitch "siren" sounds focusing in the nasal region or low pitches that are sounded in the throat are utilised. Another use of the voice within this musical form is the sliding effect that can be heard in some D.J pieces. These sliding sounds can also be used as" fill-in", also, rhyming of words has also become a feature of D.J music. However this is not unique to D.J but also appears in other folk forms in Jamaica and the Caribbean. The overall style of speaking in D.J or Dance Hall music is a mixture of English and Jamaican Creole.

Vocal Intervals

Ettu is a Jamaican folk form that originated in the parish of Hanover. It is a socio- religious form, where the presence of the ancestral spirit is invited to ensure the success of everyday undertaking. This is done through a ceremony called a "play". The intervals between notes of the songs used in the play are quite close to the tonal center. This type of closeness of pitches to the tonal center is also evident in D.J music. In D.J, there is a tonal center chosen by the performer which often see ms to have no relationship melodically with the accompaniment. The range of pitches used in the Ettu play may not surpass a major 2nd, a major 3rd or a minor 3rd above or below the tonal center.

The question could then be asked, are there filterage or hereditary factors that cause two forms of two different periods to have approximately the same sort of intervallic relationship? One thing that is outstanding is the similarities they do have. The voice is used mainly as a melodic instrument, especially when the performers "redo" American Popular music over a selected reggae rhythmic accompaniment. This kind of integration takes the listeners ears some time to get accustomed to, especially when a chord or melodic line introduced within the accompaniment has no direct link harmonically with the performers tonal center. Rhythm plays a very important part in D.J music and especially in the way the instruments are used.


D.J music involves the u se of the following instruments: drum set, drum machine, piano, synthesizer, bass and rhythm guitar and now computer software. Sometime sound effects are introduced in D.J pieces. These special effects are normally used during a break in the vocal line. The sounds of bongos and hand claps, and cowbells are sometimes heard; these are produced by electronic means i.e. synthesizer or computer software which have these sound programmed in their memory bank.

In a live performance, either all these instruments are employed or combinations. These instruments are also utilized when a band is laying tracks to accompany the Deejays. The use of these instruments will depend on the creativity and inventiveness of the engineer involved in the production, the wishes of the performer or the leader of the band. Most dancehall music displays a characteristic use of Instruments which retain some of the rhythmic features associated with traditional reggae music.


A Study of the Evolution of Jamaica Popular Music, Jamaica School of Music (1986) Music of the Americas lecture notes

Jahn, B., & Weber, T. (1992). Reggae Island, Jamaican Music in the Digital Age, Jamaica, Kingston Publishers Limited

Obrien, K, & Chen, W. (1998). Reggae Routes: the story of Jamaican Music Jamaica; Ian Randle

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