Warge’s misplaced talent

Don’t be surprised; Warge Wanangwa Phiri is a music producer from Lilongwe who took care of Mafunyeta’s latest album, assuming you have listened to it.

He has proven to be one of the most talented musical acts going by the kind of music that he has produced. His company, Warge Records, is more into what is known as ‘Dancehall’ music.

Before you crucify me for calling Warge’s talent misplaced, let me give you a background of what Dancehall music is all about.

This is a popular type of music which evolved from Reggae in the 1970s in Jamaica. It was sparked by producers who removed voice from music to remain with instrumentation which was christened ‘dub’.

Later, deejays started singing and toasting (or rapping) over danceable music – ‘riddims’ – and then they made the rhythm in Dancehall much faster than in traditional Reggae. In other instances drum machines were replacing acoustic sets.

Dancehall’s lyrics were crude or “slack”, as it had sexual tones; the subject matters in Dancehall music lean towards profanity, misogyny and violence. Later on, Dancehall turned against homosexuality.

Dancehall’s caustic tones have been rigorously criticised and most notably by artists and followers of classical Reggae music. One of them is Jamaica’s most ardent Rastafarian poet, Mutabaruka, who has emerged as the most ardent advocate of harsh measures against vulgarity and gun lyrics in Reggae.

Dub poet Mutabaruka maintained: “If 1970s Reggae was red, green and gold, then in the next decade it was gold chains”.

Muta has been “Against slackness in Dancehall style Reggae and the fact that this filth is being exported around the world as Jamaican Culture.” He said that it is: “Decadence that is not uplifting to any people.”

Dancehall is the mother of hip-hop and owes its name to the spaces in which popular Jamaican recordings were aired by local sound systems and readily consumed by its “set-to-party” patronage, commonly referred to as “dance halls”.

Dancehall’s precursor, Reggae, was influenced heavily by the ideologies of the Rastafarian culture and was further goaded by the socialist movements of the era. It suggests the institution of an entire culture in which music, dance, community and politics collide.

As an evolution of first Reggae, then Rocksteady, Dancehall draws upon its roots with regard to its stylistic rudiments. However, that, some say, is where the similarities end.

Such a drastic change in the popular music of the region generated an equally radical transformation in fashion trends, specifically those of its female faction. In lieu of traditional, modest “rootsy” styles, as dictated by Rastafari-inspired gender roles, women began donning flashy, revealing – sometimes x-rated – outfits. The trend objectified women as objects of pleasure.

After the emergence of the harder edged, such as Ninjaman, Flourgon, General Trees, Tiger, Admiral Bailey, Super Cat, Yellowman, Tenor Saw, Shelly Thunder, Reggie Stepper, Shabba Ranks, Johnny P, Peter Metro, Charlie Chaplin, Cutty Ranks and Papa San to name a few later their sound was complemented by singjays” with vocal style that evolved out of roots Reggae and Rhythm & Blues, with proponents like Pinchers, Cocoa Tea, Sanchez, Admiral Tibet, Frankie Paul, Half Pint, Conroy Smith, Courtney Melody, Carl Meeks and Barrington Levy.

The genre was so popular that established Reggae singers like Gregory Isaacs, Militant Barry, Beres Hammond, Johnny Osbourne and U-Roy transitioned into Dancehall.

The years 1990-1994 saw the entry of artists like Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Lady Saw, Shaggy, Diana King, Spragga Benz, Capleton and BeenieMan. A major shift in the sound of Dancehall was born, brought about by the introduction of a new generation of producers.

Black-my-history weblog says in the late 1990s, many practitioners like Buju Banton and Capleton, Bushman, Sizzla and Anthony B returned to the Rastafari movement and changed their lyrical focus to “consciousness”, a reflection of the spiritual underpinnings of Rastafari.

It further says like anything the “popular culture views as outside of the law or outlaw, Dancehall is forging major inroads into the listening spaces of people around the world to the point where even those who realise the extremeness of the lyrics contained in the music, cannot help but rock to the beat and rhythm.

And this is where we are. And this is where Lilongwe’s Warge Records have taken over the old resented ‘dancehall’ period where the producer is doing a great job but the lyrical content is abhorrent.

I have just started and I intend to continue from here in next week’s entry where I would like to show you the good works that Warge Records is doing in Lilongwe and how wrong they are embracing the kind of ‘negative’ Dancehall Jamaicans are struggling to shake off.

Feedback: drummingpen@columnist.com

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