I think I’m more championing dancehall, then a dancehall champion.
Dancehall is now a worldwide phenomenon, and the dancers were the first to take to the culture in South East Asia. I’ve watched a tremendous growth in the Singapore dancehall scene, as the community began to bring in Jamaican as well as respected international Dancehall dance teachers that instilled authenticity by sharing the the history of the dance, the names of the moves and the founders of each movement. They also appealed to the competitive nature of Asian culture and threw successful dancehall battles.
Some of the countries in SE Asia such as Indonesia and Malaysia are Muslim countries, so for women, certain sexy moves or bashment fashion wouldn’t be very popular. There is a large diaspora of young African students in Malaysia especially, that keep an underground dancehall and Afrobeats scene alive. Other areas like Philippines, Singapore and Thailand definitely ‘bruk out’!
Ska and Reggae have larger followings than Dancehall, crossing cultural boundaries because of Live Band element. In fact the common music from Indonesia and Malaysia called Dangdut, has a very similar downbeat and bassline to Ska and early Reggae so the people naturally gravitate to it. The city of Jakarta in Indonesia has over 1000 Reggae bands, and annual Ska festivals can number up to 20,000 people (ie Semarang Ska Festival). Thailand and Vietnam also have Reggae festivals. Although Sing-Jays are few and far between, these sessions happen over Dub as sound system culture is slowly growing in the region. Through my community Singapura Dubclub we have been able to bring artists like Sister Nancy, Johnny Osborne, Cojie (Mighty Crown) and General Levy (UK) to Singapore to showcase from some of the pioneers of Reggae music and inspire from an authentic place.
In Singapore and Malaysia I have faced some stereotypes of being told that Reggae music is “poor people music”, with reference to beach boys in the island towns rocking dreads and playing Bob Marley songs on their guitar. With Bob Marley being a common point of reference, a mass audience in Singapore seemed to frown on the culture as they associated it ONLY to smoking weed. In a country where it is a serious crime to be in possession of Marijuana, I remember standing on stage as The Wailers ended their set with One Love in Singapore, juxtaposed by 20 Narcotics officers lining the back wall of the venue. My first Singaporean manager told me not to tell anyone I made Reggae music, never every wear Rasta colours, and introduced me as a Hiphop & Dancehall Artist instead since most people didn’t know what dancehall was, other than a quick reference to Major Lazer.
To respond to these stereotypes, we ensured that our first Singapura Dubclub parties targeted high end venues, with Donisha Pendergast (Bob Marley’s Grand Daughter) launching our events at Potato Head Folk or having epic dancehall battles at the top of Singapore’s iconic Marina Bay Sands. I also noticed that people were more likely to try a food they didn’t know, then a genre of music so we began developing food events like “The Great Singapore Jerk Off” that battled Jerk recipes and introduced Caribbean palettes to Singapore. (They got so big the government eventually asked for a collaboration…but we had to change the name to One Love Carnival lol.) These events led to the creation of my Suka Suka Sauce the first 100% all natural Jamaican Jerk marinade, grown in Southeast Asia. I hope to to develop this food product into a means of sharing Southeast Asian Reggae artists to the world, with music discovery in the twist top of the sauce packaging. We also wanted to help the culture take root in SE Asia by building community, so we spearheaded “private festivals” at different island locations in SE Asia for people to have a more intimate setting, closer to nature and showcasing both local and international Reggae, Ska, Dub and Dancehall Artists.
A sexual assault occurred on my tour with the headlining Jamaican Artist and my personal assistant. Since then, I have taken a step back from bringing international artists, and focused on developing platforms regionally. I am releasing a Reggae song called “Not All That Glitters is Gold” in January of 2021 that addresses this incident. I would love to address the topic of cultural appropriation, which is a common criticism when dealing in the business of sharing new cultures to a region geographically far away from the Caribbean or Jamaican diaspora. I have gotten into heated debates that “Chiney people are taking our culture and making millions of dollars off of it.” I would say this is not the case in SE Asia, as many passionate Reggae & Dancehall lovers here put a lot on the line to fly artists out or set up these festivals. If I wanted to make millions of dollars in this region, I’d probably promote K-Pop. We try to be as responsible as possible, to pay respects to the foundations and founders of the Reggae & Dancehall to share with authenticity in mind, while witnessing where fusions of the culture happen, whether listening to Cambodian Reggae, Thai Dub or Singaporean Dancehall. When I first moved to Singapore, I asked myself what the country needed because business is supply and demand. What I concluded was the people needed to be less stressed and have more time with loved ones. For me, the answer was simple sweet sweet Reggae Music.