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University Celebrates Jamaican Dancehall Culture and 'Riddims'

Female dancehall performer in Jamaica
Female dancehall
performer in Jamaica
Originally Published 04 November 2002
Erotic Disguise: (Un)dressing the Body in Jamaican Dancehall Culture

5.30 pm, 12th November, Arts Centre Conference Room, University of Warwick

Dancehall Culture, a tradition that has profoundly influenced Western music and culture, is the topic of this year's Walter Rodney Memorial Lecture delivered by Professor Carolyn Cooper from the University of the West Indies, Jamaica on 12th November at 5.30pm at the Arts Centre, University of Warwick.

Through the sheer force of its personality reggae has rocked generations. Driven by the Jamaican spirit their music has changed over the years from ska, to reggae and to the popular dancehall of today. Professor Cooper explores the cultural-historical sources of dancehall, which enables women to claim freedom to play out erotised roles restricted by social conventions. Although the dancehall arena is male dominated, the female reigns supreme.

The dancehall empowers and liberates women as their erotic rebelliousness is revealed in creativity expressed through outrageous fashions, a distinct vernacular and ever-evolving music. Scrutiny of 18th and 19th century popular songs shows that the sexualised black female body is an elaborate disguise employed by women to survive dehumanisation.

Contemporary dancehall women are often deemed lewd, crude but incredibly in control. Lady Saw, aka Marion Hall, is the unofficial queen of dancehall reggae. Featured in the recent No Doubt single, Underneath it All, she has also recorded with Beenie Man and Missy Elliott. While Lady Saw's brash, raunchy style has made her the most popular woman in dancehall reggae, it's also caused controversy and led to several accusations of obscenity.

Carolyn Cooper, Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies, praises the dancehall as a 'carnivalesque' space where women are released from oppressive roles. She explained: "Dancehall subverts expectations about the female body being subdued. We shouldn't devalue the pleasure that people take in the female body and in female sexuality. Funky, ferocious and filled with raw energy dancehall expresses the vibrancy of the Jamaican spirit."

While dancehall culture stems from music and performance, it heavily influences current cinema, fashion design, language, art and choreography, and pervades the day-to-day lives of Afro-Caribbeans.

Professor Gad Heuman, Director of the Centre for Caribbean Studies at the University of Warwick, said: "Professor Cooper highlights the social and political history of Jamaicans and their displaced brothers and sisters through the expression of their greatest art form, reggae music. This year's Walter Rodney Memorial Lecture is a must-see for anyone interested in contemporary music, African-American studies, or the Caribbean."

Tickets priced £3.50 and £1.50 (concessions) can be obtained from the Warwick Arts Centre Box Office, Tel: 024 7652 4524 Email:


For more information and interviews contact: Jenny Murray, Assistant Press Officer, University of Warwick, Tel: 024 76 574255, Mobile: 07876 217740, Email:

Carolyn Cooper is Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica and Head of the Department of Literature in English. She teaches Caribbean, African and African American literature and initiated the University's Reggae Studies Unit. Professor Cooper's book, Noises in the Blood: Orality, Gender and the'Vulgar' Body of Jamaican Popular is widely used as a textbook in a variety of courses in the Caribbean and beyond. Professor Cooper is currently completing another book, Border Clash : Jamaican Dancehall at Large.