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Dancehall Jamaica
How Jamaicans Party: Then Vs Now

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Dancehall Jamaica | (Photo: Lonely Planet)Dancehall Jamaica | (Photo: Lonely Planet)

by Venesha Johnson | Associate Writer

Dancehall is part of the Jamaican identity, not just the music but the parties themselves. I must admit it isn’t for everyone. Even Jamaicans are unable to keep up with the pace and the expressiveness of the genre at times. Those considered “proper” would avoid it in most cases.

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For me, it is quite amusing when Jamaicans from the older generation witness something suggestive, explicit, outright dangerous or downright nonsensical. It is almost always followed by a cry in shock, “Dancehall gone to the dogs.”

This basically means dancehall no longer has any limits and has become derogatory. I dare say, dancehall's explicit nature was from the beginning, the late 70s when it was created.

The late 1970s in Jamaica. A dancehall in Kingston, the country's capital, is packed with working-class people. They're dressed to the nines and are waiting for the selector and deejay to set the mood. The selector plays an instrumental vinyl record, or what is known as a riddim in Jamaican parlance.

With a microphone in hand, the deejay steps forward and begins to toast, delivering his best lyrical prose to a crowd that grows more excited with each bar laced with bravado.

It was a liberating and entertaining way for its patrons to escape the burdens that economic hardships imposed on their lives. Who knew it would later evolve into something much more than a musical genre, serving as a portal for outsiders to see Jamaica beyond the resorts and beaches?

The roots of dancehall began with and were informed by the lived experience of Kingston's lower and working-class people.

Two of the biggest dancehall parties to come out of Jamaican history are Passa Passa and Weddy Weddy Wednesdays.

Passa Passa

Passa Passa is a weekly street party that began in Kingston, Jamaica and has since spread throughout the Caribbean. It is said to have started on Ash Wednesday in 2003, with Carl Shelley coining the name.

It contains dancehall music. It spread throughout the Caribbean, including Colón, Panama Limón, Costa Rica, and, eventually, Puerto Rico. It is comparable to a block party. The Passa Passa usually begins around 1 a.m. and has been known to last until 8 a.m.

Bogle, Ding Dong (dancehall performer), Marvin, Kartoon, Aneika Headtop, Ravers Clavers, Black Blingaz, Timeless Crew, Shelly Belly, Spikes, John Hype, Sample 6, Sherika Future, Jermaine Squad, Sadiki, Swatch, Maestro, Beenie Man, and Future Girls are among the artists, selectors, and dancers who regularly attend and have contributed significantly to the development of the dance.

Because the event is typically videotaped for mass DVD distribution, Passa Passa has drawn many professional and amateur dancers into the media spotlight. Many famous Jamaican dancers, including the late Bogle and Ding Dong, have appeared in these videos.

The growing popularity of dancehall, particularly in Japan and Europe, draws many international dancehall fans in addition to the hundreds of Jamaicans who attend weekly.

But Passa Passa was more than just patrons dancing and listening to music. Most female patrons were scantily dressed, leaving nothing to the imagination. Patrons weren't shy, and neither were the cameramen as videos would frequently show captures of upskirts, sans undergarments. There were even live “adult” activities.

For this particular reason, Passa Passa DVDs were rated X and videos are usually found on popular adult entertainment sites. Fortunately, while still quite raunchy, these acts have reduced, becoming mostly non-existent.

Dancehall Jamaica | (Photo: Jamaica Star)Dancehall Jamaica | (Photo: Jamaica Star)

Weddy Weddy

While Passa Passa was mainly for the “downtown and ghetto people”, Weddy Weddy pulled a more “uptown” crowd. Weddy Weddy is a weekly dancehall party held on Wednesdays at 41 Burlington Avenue in Kingston, Jamaica. This is also the global Immortal Stone Love Sound System headquarters.

The party begins early in the morning and ends at 2:00 a.m. Stone Love's sound system provides musical selections and audio, with guest selectors occasionally performing. At this party, dancehall fashion is always on display.

The ladies and gentlemen show off their best outfits and hairstyles. On any of the party nights, you will undoubtedly meet and party with local and international dancehall and reggae fans. Dancers are always performing their moves.

Most top dancehall and reggae music artists always attend this session and occasionally perform. Weddy Weddy, Jamaica's longest-running street party, celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2019.

You see, dancehall has always been exactly what it is today, a place to let go, be free and express yourself without reservations. No rules apply.

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References & Sources For Dancehall Jamaica

  1. Daily Red Bull Music Academy. 2022. The Essential Guide to Dancehall. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 August 2022].
  2. Dancehall Reggae World. 2022. Weddy Weddy "Partying Uptown Style". [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 August 2022].
  3. 2022. Passa Passa - Wikipedia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 August 2022].

Dancehall Jamaica | Written: August 30, 2022

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