Wake the Town and Tell the People

Dancehall Culture in Jamaica

Wake the Town and Tell the People

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 44 b&w photographs Published: June 2000

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Caribbean Studies, Music > Ethnomusicology

Jamaican dancehall has long been one of the most vital and influential cultural and artistic forces within contemporary global music. Wake the Town and Tell the People presents, for the first time, a lively, nuanced, and comprehensive view of this musical and cultural phenomenon: its growth and historical role within Jamaican society, its economy of star making, its technology of production, its performative practices, and its capacity to channel political beliefs through popular culture in ways that are urgent, tangible, and lasting.
Norman C. Stolzoff brings a fan’s enthusiasm to his broad perspective on dancehall, providing extensive interviews, original photographs, and anthropological analysis from eighteen months of fieldwork in Kingston. Stolzoff argues that this enormously popular musical genre expresses deep conflicts within Jamaican society, not only along lines of class, race, gender, sexuality, and religion but also between different factions struggling to gain control of the island nation’s political culture. Dancehall culture thus remains a key arena where the future of this volatile nation is shaped. As his argument unfolds, Stolzoff traces the history of Jamaican music from its roots in the late eighteenth century to 1945, from the addition of sound systems and technology during the mid-forties to early sixties, and finally through the post-independence years from the early sixties to the present.
Wake the Town and Tell the People offers a general introduction for those interested in dancehall music and culture. For the fan or musicologist, it will serve as a comprehensive reference book.


Wake the Town may just be the most comprehensive piece on the functions of the Jamaican dancehall.” — Howard Campbell , Margins

Wake the Town serves as a comprehensive written documentary of Jamaican music as a whole and the dancehall culture in particular. Its culture, its people and its impact are embraced with a reverence that is refreshing.” — Caribvibe.com

“An admirable attempt to change the terms of the debate engaged in by the foreign journalists and tastemakers who have dominated the discourse on Jamaican music. . . . Stolzoff’s historical analysis of dancehall culture, particularly how it grew out of the gang rivalry sponsored by Jamaica’s two main political parties, effectively maps the socio-political onto the music. . . His fieldwork and reportage of numerous yard dances is a crucial contribution to the literature.” — Peter Shapiro , The Wire

“An engaging anthropological study of dancehall.” — Aaron Cohen , DownBeat

“[A]n important and pioneering approach to studying Caribbean music through the interactions of society, culture, and dancehall.” — Kevin Birth, Journal of Anthropological Research

“[D]estined to become a classic.” — Donald Hill , American Ethnologist

“The first comprehensive study of a largely misunderstood and underestimated phenomenon.” — Publishers Weekly

“[T]his is the best kind of scholarly writing—careful research driven by a fan’s consuming passion. . . . Wake the Town offers valuable insights into dancehall’s enduring power—and into the reasons so many international critics have missed the point entirely. Stolzoff deserves our thanks, for, as any DJ knows, the record must be set straight.” — Rob Kenner , Vibe

“We are indebted to [Stolzoff] for his time and effort in putting together what must be, essentially, the most academic work on dancehall culture so far. . . . A very interesting and attractive book, it ought to be a watershed for how the music is studied in the future: As being much more than just music and dance and dubplates and deejays, but an intrinsic cultural force which has obviously influenced our society much more than many of us want to admit.” — Balford Henry , Jamaica Gleaner

“Delivering an illuminating profile of an undeniably infectious form, Stolzoff weaves his strands of interdisciplinary research into a focused depiction of social struggle and ghetto stardom. . . . Wake the Town takes its rightful place at the top of a growing list of hands-on reggae analyses.” — Jeff Gibson , Bookforum

“For the Reggae enthusiast, [Wake the Town] is simply the most detailed, informative, and immersive account of how, why, and where Reggae music is really happening.”
Peace Magazine

“Norman Stolzoff seems to be the ideal chronicler. . . . Calling Wake the Town one of the best books written about Jamaican music is of course faint praise. . . . Armchair travelers will be rewarded with a visit to a place armchair travelers almost never go. Not the least of this book’s virtues is its title, which is taken from a tune by U Roy. In like fashion my summary paraphrases King Stitt: ‘No matter what the people say—this book leads the way.’ ” — Michael Turner , Beat

“Norman’s love of dancehall music coupled with his probing anthropological mind takes you into the world of dancehall culture . . . . Many books have scratched the surface of Reggae music but this is the first book, to my knowledge, that dives into the subject with both feet. Wake the Town and Tell the People is definitely one for the collection for reference purposes if you are already knowledgeable about dancehall music or as a thorough study into Jamaican music for the beginner.” — Miss Mention , Black Hole

“Probably the best book yet written about reggae, this will be the benchmark against which future books on Jamaican music must measure themselves.” — Zinc Fence

“Stolzoff has produced an admirable and thorough piece of scholarship here, and anyone interested in Caribbean culture or the history of Jamaican music should definitely take a look at it.” — Alan Waters , Signal to Noise

“Stolzoff’s detailed research chronicles the uniquely Jamaican phenomenon of the sound system, its catalyst role in originating the island’s vast recording industry and in popularizing every form of the island’s indigenous recorded music from folk influenced mento to the mid-80s computerized rhythm tracks over which ‘deejays’ and singers laid their vocals, which came to be known as Dancehall. . . . [Stolzoff] presents a wealth of heretofor uncollected facts according overdue respect to the current manifestation of Jamaican music’s esteemed lineage (Dancehall) by illustrating the dancehall’s role in the development of popular Jamaican music.” — Patricia Meschino , Skywritings

“The book’s real strength is in the vivid and precise details Stolzoff gleaned during months of field research.” — Simon Reynolds, Voice Literary Supplement

“This excellent work goes straight to the heart of the matter; the Jamaican sound system in all its innovative glory. . . . [It] will prove interesting to both newcomers and longtime fans alike. . . . Fascinating stuff.” — Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton , Rough Guide to Reggae

“This is a thought-provoking read for serious students of Jamaican musical history, who wish not just to know facts so they can sling them in trivia contests, but also to understand the development of Jamaican music and culture in proper context. It is a decidedly necessary book, if only to provoke deeper analysis, discussions or arguments. Still, this is a decidedly colorful and fun book to read as well, with many first-hand accounts and lively stories from various paticipants in reggae history.” — About.com

“This study is certain to become a manual on how to write about music, but especially Jamaican music and culture.” — Caribbean Historical and Genealogical Journal

"[A] milestone in scholarship on Jamaican music. . . . [E]ssential reading. . . ." — John D. Galuska, New West Indian Guide

"[A] well-researched, well-realized work that will provide an important foundation for future studies on 'dancehall' in these new spatial, cultural, and political terms." — Marvin D. Sterling , Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

"An extremely important piece of scholarship and an enormous contribution to studies of popular culture, both in Jamaica and beyond. . . . The first sustained analysis of dancehall culture that I know of, and the first analysis of any kind that is so holistic in its coverage. . . . Impressive. . . . Should generate considerable debate in the field of cultural studies." — Belinda Edmondson, interventions

“Dancehall is not just about music, it is about a way of life. Norman Stolzoff clearly understands this. I would tell anyone who wants to get a picture of reggae and the Jamaican people to take a read of Wake the Town and Tell the People-it's worth it. ‘Blessed.’ ” — Beenie Man, reigning king of the dancehall and two-time reggae Grammy nominee

“Norman Stolzoff has gone where many fear to tread - to the very heart of the dancehall milieu in the depths of the Kingston ghetto, emerging with the first full, objective look at this fertile birthing ground of Jamaican music. Wake the Town introduces us to many of the prime figures in DJ culture—producers, promoters, selectors and artists—and traces their history back hundreds of years. It is a remarkable work.” — Roger Steffens, coauthor of Bob Marley: Spirit Dancer

“Stolzoff's comprehensive analysis will unquestionably be an important contribution to the growing field of Latin American/Caribbean popular music studies. But beyond its importance as the ‘first’ study of dancehall, this book is outstanding because of its theoretical sophistication, its comprehensive scope, and its firm grounding in extensive fieldwork among dancehall participants.” — Deborah Pacini-Hernandez, author of Bachata: A Social History of Dominican Popular Music

“This is the first sustained study of Jamaican dancehall music and culture in all of its aspects. Everyone interested in the island music, and in popular music in general, will find something useful in this book.” — Andrew Ross, author of The Celebration Chronicles


Availability: In stock
Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Norman C. Stolzoff, Ph.D. is president of Ethnographic Insight, Inc., a consumer anthropology and marketing research firm in Bellingham, Washington.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations xi

Preface xiii

Acknowledgments xxv

1 Dancehall Culture in Jamaica: An Introduction 1

2 "From Way Back When": The Dancehall from Slavery to World War II 20

3 "Talking Blues": The Rise of the Sound System 41

4 "Get Up, Stand Up": The Dancehall in Post-Independence Jamaica 65

5 The Dub Market: The Recording Studio and the Production of Dancehall Culture 115

6 "I'm Like a Gunshot Heading Toward a Target": The Career Trajectory of the Dancehall Entertainer 151

7 "Run Come Inna the Dance": The Dancehall Performance 193

8 The Politics of Dancehall Culture: A Conclusion 227

Notes 249

Bibliography 273

Index 285
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, International Association for the Study of Popular Music Book Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2514-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2478-2
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