Name: Patrick Henderson
PhD: American Studies
Thesis Title: 'Ghetto Youth A Bust': Dancehall and the Working-Class Jamaican Immigrant Experience in Late Twentieth-Century New York City
My thesis is the first comprehensive examination of the emergence of dancehall music and culture in New York City in the latter two decades of the twentieth century. I show how dancehall constructed a political space that operated outside of traditional social and cultural hierarchies, demonstrating the ways in which economically poor Jamaicans, both in their home nation and the transnational space of New York, traversed the manifestation of neoliberalism in a global context. I explore how the 1980 election of Edward Seaga’s Jamaica Labour Party with its neoliberal policies changed Jamaican culture in New York. As Payne (1993), Rubin (2006), and Melnick (2006) have highlighted, increasing poverty in Jamaican society during the 1980s encouraged the highest rate of migration to the U.S. in the island’s history, with the New York neighbourhoods of Flatbush and Crown Heights proving to be popular destinations. Coupled with this movement of poorer Jamaicans to the city was the exodus of gang members involved in the political violence of the 1980 election. Throughout Jamaican political history, gangs have been utilised by both leading parties to influence voters and maintains support in certain neighbourhoods. However, the 1980 election was especially bloody, with 889 murders taking place. Due to this exceptional violence, Seaga cracked down on the gangs that he had once relied on, leading to many immigrating to New York, whether legally or otherwise (Gunst, 2003; McCarthy, 2015). A large number of these criminal arrivals were also heavily involved in the dancehall movement, with gangs making a fortune through the booming international trade of cocaine and subsequently investing this money in running labels, events, and recording studios in the city. This led to a golden age of dancehall music within New York City from the mid-1980s to the beginning of the ‘90s, primarily funded by illegally obtained money. This increased presence of working-class Jamaicans coupled with the surplus money created by the newly-arrived Jamaican gang activity facilitated the rise of dancehall in the city – an art form that embodies the experience of the ‘ghetto’ and forms a central part of working-class Jamaican cultural identity. Scholars have not analysed this dramatic shift in the dynamics of Jamaican class and culture in New York and the ramifications of this demographic shift. My research thus focuses on how dancehall as a central marker of working-class Jamaican identity manifested itself in the terrain of New York City.
My research breaks new ground by challenging an academic framework that focuses predominantly on middle-class experiences of Jamaican New York. Several scholars have surveyed the experiences of Jamaican immigrants to New York in the second half of the 20th century, including Waters (1999), Waldinger (1996), Kasinitz (2001), and Vickerman (2001). But this research focuses on middle-class migration, and is often based on interviews with Jamaican teachers and students. Immigration studies has also neglected popular culture in general, and scholars have overlooked dancehall in particular as a distinctly working-class phenomenon: a musical movement embraced by Jamaican working-class communities across the world, occurring in community centres, bars, and on the streets themselves.
Supervisors and Institution(s):
- Dr. Nick Heffernan – University of Nottingham
- Dr. Anthony Huchison – University of Nottingham
- Professor Zoe Trodd – University of Nottingham
Publications (please include full details with page nos. or web links):
- “Race and Rights: Ferguson Part 5.” University of Nottingham Blogs. 19 Dec. 2014. Web.
- “A Time To Break Silence.” University of Nottingham Blogs. 20 Oct. 2015. Web.
Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:
- ‘From Ethiopia to the Inner City: Dancehall in New York,’ BAAS & IAAS Joint Conference, April 8, 2016.
- Introduction to screening of Edgar Arceneaux’s ‘A Time To Break Silence,’ Nottingham Contemporary, October 24, 2015.
- Part of Black History Month.
- ‘Underground Resistance: Afrofuturism and the Technonarrative of Blackness,’ The University of Nottingham, November 18 2015.
- Forty minute lecture presenting key elements of my Masters Thesis as part of the university’s Popular Culture Lecture series.
- ‘“Black Man Struggle” – Jamaican Pop from Mento to Dancehall,’ Nottingham Contemporary, April 28, 2016.
- Two-hour listening group with group discussion structured around an analysis of a variety of different musical sources.
Work In Progress Sessions
- First deliver on 11/05/16
- Due to deliver another on 08/03/17
In November, 2016, I went on a month-long research trip (amounting to £2,160 of funding) to New York City to carry out primary research. The individuals I interviewed were involved in the dancehall movement at all levels, including, but not limited to, listeners, record label owners, disc jockeys, artists, and soundsystem owners. This wide range of interviewees allows the most comprehensive survey of experiences within the scene and thus allows my research to be illustrative of the entire spectrum of movement participants. The full list of interviewees is as follows:
- Jeremy Freeman – Owner at Deadly Dragon Sound
- Rob Buschgans – Owner at Digikiller Records
- Screechy Dan – Deejay
- Mikey Jarrett – Deejay / Singer
- Keeling Beckford – Producer / Label Owner / Record Shop Owner
- Buck – Record Shop Employee
- Kennai – Dubplate Cutter at Channel One / Owner at Nayah Tone
- Jah Life – Producer / Label Owner
- Sir Tommy – Soundsystem Operator / Selector
As no primary research on the topic has been comprehensively synthesised, this is an essential part of my project and has been instrumental in revealing previously un-researched immigrant perspectives.
- Department of American and Canadian Studies outreach and engagement coordinator
- Role involves maintaining social media, as well as the designing and running of events and initiatives.
- Member of Race and Rights Research Cluster, University of Nottingham, 2014-Present.
- Part of the UK’s first Black Lives Matter conference
- Included the design and delivery of the day’s soundtrack.
- Attended the BAAS and IAAS Joint Conference (7-9/04/16)
- Teaching affiliate at the University of Nottingham
- Begun teaching a first year undergraduate module entitled ‘Approaches to American Culture 2: Developing Themes and Perspectives’, which takes place throughout the Spring semester. This involves teaching at three one-hour seminar groups a week, as well as delivering one two hour lecture at the end of the module on the Black Lives Matter movement (03/04/17). I will also be responsible for marking 45 1000 word essays and 45 one hour examination papers.
- Confirmed a place hosting a two-hour workshop on hip-hop in America as part of a module entitled ‘African American History and Culture’ (31/03/17). This is part of the activities of the postgraduate network for the RPA in Rights and Justice and part of the development work by the university’s Centre for Race, Rights, for its new Black Studies PhD degree
Other Research Interests:
- Immigration Studies
- Race Studies
- Class Studies
University email address:
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