Meaningful Bodies in Jamaican Dancehall Culture
Sound Culture Series
- Published: September 2021
Jamaican deejay Yellowman divided a country with his bawdy songs and his very body: he has been wildly popular among dancehall fans, yet widely despised by polite society. Even though his contribution to Jamaican musical culture is immense, scholars have ignored him and reggae histories have largely misunderstood him.
King Yellowman: Meaningful Bodies in Jamaican Dancehall Culture is the first serious study of one Jamaica's most significant artists and dancehall’s first major international star. It is a critical biography designed to satisfy fans while furthering academic discourse on dancehall by offering a new perspective on the way Yellowman negotiates the slackness/culture binary in Jamaican music.
Based on years of ethnographic fieldwork, Brent Hagerman begins with the compelling story of Winston Foster’s early life as an abandoned ghetto outcast and his hard-fought journey to become the King of Dancehall, then goes on to a critical exploration of the marginalization of people with albinism in Jamaica and the use of slackness in Caribbean music. Through slackness and his mobilization of Rastafarian symbols, Yellowman subverts embedded Jamaican cultural notions of sexuality, gender, and race to overcome his cultural displacement, promote his yellow body as sexually appealing and forge a place for himself among the Jamaican body politic.
Part 1. The Life and Times of Yellowman
1 Abandoned: The Early Life of Winston “Yellowman” Foster, 1957–1971 19
2 From Alpha to Eventide: The Teenage Years, 1971–1976 30
3 Ranking Dundus: Breaking into the Music Business, 1977–1978 46
4 Mad over Me: Tastee Talent Competition to Aces International, 1979–1981 74
5 Ram Jam Master, 1981 94
6 Jamaica Proud of Me, 1982 127
7 King Yellowman, 1983–1984 150
8 Can’t Hide from Jah: Encounters with Religion 178
9 Sufferation, That’s All I Know: Cancer, 1985 192
10 Message to the World: Prayer and More Slackness 200
Part 2. Meaningful Bodies in Jamaican Dancehall Culture
11 Yellowman, Race, Sex and Masculinity 225
12 Yellowman in Reggae Histories and Scholarship 248
13 Yellowman, Slackness and Social Critique 286
14 Yellowman as Moral Regulator 296
15 Yellowman, Sex and Religion 313
Appendix 1: “Galong Galong Galong” 339
Appendix 2: Selected Album Covers 341
- Int'l Book Awards, Finalist, Performing Arts
STANDING BACKSTAGE AT A NEGRIL BEACH CONCERT
IN February 2013 with the moon illuminating the Caribbean Sea was where I experienced peak reggae moment. I stood beside Jamaican deejay King Yellowman, whom I had been researching for several years by this point and had even received a PhD based on a dissertation I wrote on him. Earlier that night I sat in a black Toyota HiAce driven by stoic Sagittarius keyboardist Simeon Stewart. I was in the third row of seats, behind 1980s dancehall star Johnny P and the van’s disc jockey in charge of the CD player. The king himself was enthroned in the front passenger seat. I thoroughly enjoyed these long drives from Kingston to various venues around the island, often in the middle of the night. They were part of my field research on Yellowman, and I always relished the enroute entertainment provided by him. Give him an audience – even a few of us in a minivan – and the king would hold court. This usually included a rich array of off-colour jokes, ridiculous boasts and lively sparring with clever jibes and playful insults. He thinks of himself as a comedian, so it is natural that he enjoys cracking up an audience as much as he enjoys dominating a music stage.