Sei sulla pagina 1di 22

ELECTRONIC ORATURE: THE DEEJAY'S DISCOVERY Author(s): Hubert Devonish Reviewed work(s): Source: Social and Economic Studies,

Vol. 47, No. 1, Reggae Studies (MARCH, 1998), pp. 33-53 Published by: Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, University of the West Indies Stable URL: . Accessed: 27/02/2012 10:44
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

University of the West Indies and Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Social and Economic Studies.

Social and Economic Studies 47:1 (1998)





This paper traces the role of orature in the emergence of national languages and national identities associated with these.The main referencepoints are the language of the Greeks of theClassical period and theoriginallyoral works associated with them, i.e. the Iliad' and the 'Odyssey' traditionallyattributed

to Homer. The argument is that,longbefore thewidespread use ofwriting and print, the development and consolidation of national identities took place

With general use ofwriting and thedevelopment of works of orature. through the printing press with its increased powers of dissemination, written lan
and literature of Jamaica came and to perform its emerging this role. The national paper language, is suggesting Jamaican, that, in modern


the case

electronic technologieshave done for speech what print has done forwriting, i.e.massively increased thepotential audience for anygiven piece of language
communication. This has produced the re-emergence of orature as a means of

The example which projecting thenational language and thenational identity. is the focus of paper is the oral art form referred to as Dance Hall and its
performers, the Deejay.


IfHomer had a chance to come back again, he would come back a Jamaican deejay.Accompanying himself to a 'ridim'played on his phorminx or katharis, he would Ijuild' lyricsabout a powerful and fearless 'don' and Helen, his
the 'gyal wid di wikidis slam'. Menelaus goes to 'foreign* leaving woman,

Helen to 'run things'.She meets Paris, a visitor fromTroy. They fall for each other. Together, they strip Menelaus' house of its valuables, and run off to
Troy. On in Troy. men, not his He return, Menelaus has been 'dissed'. the leaders' is 'rahtid'. He That 'don was can almost hear them laughing to and lesser crew' in his something He gathers that happened his each 'massive one

to Menelaus, 'Community




from far and near,

a 'don'

Pp 33-53




area. And


them came


course of action. This Missing' by theoutsider from Troy cannot be allowed to

go unpunished. The 'posse' of 'posses' prepares for war, the dons and their followers

'posses*. Over

hot beer,

they decide

on a

armed to the teeth.They bear AK47s, M 16s,Uzis and Glocks and weeks supply of ammunition. They travel to Troy in a fleet of some of the finest
'krisaz' ever assembled, Lexuses, Benzes, BMWs, Audis... They open up on

Troy with heavy and sustained gunfire.Then, confident in their superiority, walls. They are greetedwith heavy gunfire theycharge towards the fortified
which posses ered, cuts many is thwarted. puts forward of them down. a The 'hartical and attack don' by Menelaus and and his posse of those to withdraw of gath in Odysseus, the craftiest pretend

a plan. Menelaus

his posse

disorder, leavingmany of their finest 'krisaz' behind. In the trunk of each

vehicle is hidden a man.

Paris and the people of Troy are overjoyed at the flightof theirattackers. Tiiey tow the vehicles back into theirfortressas trophiesofwar. That night,as theTrojans sleep, thehidden men come out of thevehicles,open the gates and
let the rest of the posse in. The guns bark, 'Booyaka, Booyaka', as Homer, the

The attackers deejay, inviteshis audience to symbolicallyjoin in the slaughter.

shoot everything that moves, man, woman, child, even dogs and cats. A special

chant of 'Boom By By' is reservedbyHomer and his audience for when Paris is
cornered, captured and executed. Blood everywhere. Troy is put to the torch.

The posses of posses departs, each don heading off in his own direction.
Behind them, johncrows circle over what remains of Troy.

This piece, called 'Iliad', is a hit when Homer performs it at the popular
stage smash New Homer sequel, 'riding'. show, hit. He York, goes on 'Sting1. He is invited goes to the recording at almost There and studio every and cuts a record. show, It is a to perform stage in Jamaica, for more. a kind of

London, back


and Tokyo. studio a

is soon

a demand record,

to the recording Iliad 'ridim',

cuts another deejay

the same


that every

in town

is now

The new piece is entitled the 'Odyssey*. This isabout the crafty Odysseus, and his adventures on his longand dangerous journeyback home. Eventually, Odysseus reaches home. He finds his house overrun bymen eating his food, drinking his rum and whisky, driving his Benz and his Pajero and tryingto
steal his woman, very men solid are Penelope. Batty', Penelope, has with a 'Cocoa Cola bottle shape' and a of they 'Bumper taking a body that every man not have dreamed wants. of This taking crowd had


they would

Electronic Orature:


thought guise. At paniment

that Odysseus, the opportune of 'Booyaka, and marrow

'the one moment, Booyaka' decorate



still alive. Odysseus his Ml6 and,


in dis accom

he outs executes

to the stacatto

them, one by one,

in their drunken

state. Blood

the walls.

which Deejay The 'Odyssey', is a smash hit too.To understand the impact Homer has, one needs to understands the contextwithin which all this taking
place. This is a Jamaican state run by an elite whose claim to power is that

they are able to use English, particularly in itswritten form.English is the official language of this Jamaican state.Although Jamaican is spoken by ev
eryone, it is not generally written. And, as a 'bastard' language variety with

no widely known standardised writing system, it is not a fit and proper

medium Jamaican, for formal particularly public communication. try to use a The few cranks who spelling try to write for it, are if they standardised

mocked in the press as foolish promoters of 'Yahoolish'. on a sense of nationhood amongst its Every state relies for its legitimacy
citizens. Around the world, this national feeling has been promoted, ever

since the inventionof the printing press, through literaryexpression in the

national language. It is by this means that the English came to see themselves

as a distinct nation based on the fact that they spoke English, the language of Version of the Bible. Milton, Chaucer, Shakespeare and theKing James The Jamaican state,at the timeof independence in 1962,made English a
expression in that language. The founders of independent Jamaica were oper

was tryingto fosteralong with literary symbolof the new national identity it

print, dominated ating in a world inwhich writing, and more importantly, public language usage. For them, the fact that the vastmajority of the popula
tion spoke, though Literary they did expression not write, another was to be language, Jamaican, point was of the ir relevant. new state. in English the reference

This is illustrated by Brathwaite (1984: 28). He refersto an Independence

Anthology pendence anthology. of Jamaican in 1962. He According Poetry which on came out at the time of Jamaican of Louise Bennett inde in this indepen comments to Brathwaite, the treatment Bennett,

by the time ot Jamaican

dence in 1962, had published nine books in Jamaican and had established a
national reputation as a performer not appear of her own among poetry in the language. Yet, in the anthology, under she does the poets but at the back of the book from its

the heading


It is clear identity

that the Jamaican

state, and


tried to foster a national


a set of symbols




associated with the English-speaking and, more importantly, English-writing

elites of the country.

of Deejay Homer along with a number of other deejays, The intervention

would produce for Jamaican a body of orature, i.e. a body of creative spoken

language.They would achieve forJamaicanmuch the same kind of language

standardisation which occurs as a result of a language coming under the

can and which has relativelylimitedcontrol of English, either inwriting or in speech. In the years which follow, the Iliad and the Odyssey in Jamaican would give rise to a national identity rooted in popular rather than elite
consciousness, one, English. based In time, would give on a spoken language, Jamaican, rather than a written this increasingly strong alternative sense of Jamaican popular

influenceofwriting and print.The work of the deejayswould serve as a point of national identificationfor that sectorof the population which uses Jamai

nationalism identity. As

rise to a state which


a mass-based

it consolidates

its power,

this state

like every




this new Jamaica state might need to go a step further. It might entirely eschew the display of guns at official state ceremonies.Visiting heads of state one ofwhom point might be greeted by an unarmed ceremonial guard, twenty two fingersof the right hand skywardas the largespeakers in thebackground
reproduce the sound of synthetic

would become rather coy about the images of naked forceon which all state power is ultimatelybased. However, perhaps because of the explicitlyviolent nature of its founding traditionsas embodied in the oral works by itsdeejays,

Looking on at the effect that he had had, Homer would say to himself,
it again'. Providing a reference point for a shared language and iden



tity iswhat his Iliad and his Odyssey had done in Pre-ClassicalGreece. Works
of orature

1200 BC, preserved storiesabout theorigins of theGreeks. In thisperiod, the

Greeks powerful three used had developed a complex state system based on trade carried out by a fleet of merchant writing ships. During systems were purposes. epic poetry the existence Writing of Mycenaenan seems Greece, been



to the period

of Mycenaenan




different mainly

employed. The which

to have

for commercial of heroic

Greeks was

of this period, composed and


a tradition


a orally.The epics attributed toHomer, the Iliad and theOdyssey, are product of this tradition (Hansen 1978:8, 10). After 1200 BC, the civilisation collapsed. Knowledge of writing technol
ogy and more specifically the use of Mycenaenan writing systems, disappeared

Electronic Orature:




the state

system. The


for several



this col

lapse, lived in small, humble and isolated communities.Although knowledge of writing was lost, the systemof orally transmittingrecords and traditions
remained origin was intact. During preserved. This this time, was a sense of shared identity and common and trans achieved through the performance

mission of the oral epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Iliad tells of the assembling of a great army from the various Greeks states to fighttheTrojans and the ensuing battle. The Odyssey tells of the experiences of one of the victorious Greek warriors, Odysseus, who goes throughmany trials on his When he arrives home, he suc homeward journeywhich lasts several years. cessfullybattles those who have tried to usurp his home and his wife. The preservation of theseworks of orature over centuriesby bards who was crucial inmaintaining amongst learnt them and transmittedthemorally,

based on a belief in a common history. theGreeks a sense of a shared identity which the poems would This would have been complemented by the influence have had at the level of language.The Iliad and theOdyssey were composed

and performed in the Ionic dialect of Greek (Hansen 1978: 13). Since they wide geographicalarea occupied by the were widely performedacross the Greeks, of popularising this the languageof these oral poems would have had the effect
dialect as an oral standard.

The role of performersof oral epic poems in both the preservation of Mandekan storiesof origin and in language standardisation is reported for the an are West Africa. They group associated ethno-linguistic speaking peoples of West Africa. According to Bird (1970: 148), with the ancientMali empire of dialects ofMandekan spoken 800 miles apart have managed through several

He attributes this to the regular centuries tomaintain a high levelof similarity. of stories origin by oral poets who use a performance of the Sunjata epic common dialect of the language for thisperformance (Bird 1970: 148,157-8). result of the emergence within a community of the sense that a language variety spoken by them is an entity separate and apart from all other lan Mandekan guage varieties. Let us again use the case of the Sunjata epic of the com speakers ofWest Africa, with which the Greek epics have often been in the is of A consciousness Sunjata strong language identity displayed pared.
epic. Here, ing peoples the importance is explicitly of language to the identity there of the Mandekan to those who speak were stated. In the epic, is reference Language consciousness is another product of orature. This occurs as a

marked the present at Sibi, theplace of thebattlewhich, according to the story, sons all the of Mali were foundation of theMali empire. It is stated that



there,all thosewho say 'N'Ko',1 all who speak the clear languageofMali were represented at Sibi' (Niane 1960: 55). Between 900 and 800 BC, as part of thisnew period of state (re)formation, theGreeks borrow and adapt foruse in theirown language thewriting system Greek oral poetry attributed toHomer of thePhoenicians. The influenceof the
spills over into writing when writing for literary purposes makes its appear

ance in Classical Greece in the 7th centuryBC. It is at this time that these orally transmittedepicsbecome committed towriting (Hansen 1978: 8). These
epic poems models at this point become works of literature and are transformed into of usage for written Greek.


Language hearers canonical is a system of oral communication with each designed other. Put for speakers another exchange way, and the in face-to-face communication


for language

is a spoken


who share the same time and space (Lyons 1977: 637). It is in interlocutors
this situation-of-utterance naturally to use language has that children without being in every culture taught over it. other about topic, forms of communication any topic, and including to transmit which and every society learn

Language available

an obvious It is able


to humans. however been

to communicate about that As

any message, have never





a consequence,

efforts by humans

through themillenia to improve their ability to communicate have been fo cussed on extending the scope of languagebeyond the here and thenow. There are two aspects of the problem. The spoken word, like the sped
arrow, cation comes not back. Finding a way one to make pieces second of task language communi permanent is, therefore, permanent, present solution the particular of giving places, where when task. The communication language of is that of ensuring conveyed to people A

that, once made who are not


can be message

the original aspects of

is produced.

rudimentary memorise the problem travels from

to both piece

the problem communication. permanence. be repeated took

is to have This

someone deals with

language some can

the message the message the original


if that person far away

to other the place

to audiences place.


say' inMandekan.

Electronic Orature:


The problem with this solution is that the human memory has limits. There is the problem of how much the person memorising themessage can recallwith accuracy.There is also the issue of how much the eventual recipi ents of the message will themselvesbe able to recall after receiving it from the
messenger. ensure The use of a variety messages of mnemonic represents devices to jog the memory application and recall of language the earliest of tech

nology to language.Poetic metre and music are the specificdevices that Iwill examine here. It is language towhich technologyhas been applied that I, after Ong (1982), will referto as technologised language.
The way technologised oral language works is that restrictions are placed

on the language form of themessage. To fitwhat is being said into this restricted mold, someone orally performingand improvisingon theway has to have resort to clich?d formswhich fit easily into the frame. From the perspective of the producer of such work, this set of prefabricated phrases

perspective of the hearer or 'consumer'of thiswork, the tightframe and the

clich?d construction which is forced on the composer/performer, within a very are easy to lan remember. In addition, expressing meaning constrained

constitutes thebasic building blocks for the orally performed poem. From the

guage framework, is aesthetically pleasing. This adds to the ease and the Artificial structure imposed accuracywith which the text can be remembered. on a piece of spoken discourse is a formof technology. The Greek oral poems attributed toHomer were structured in just this pattern. way. They were delivered according to a well established rhythmic

There Traditional Greek poetry worked on the principle of syllable length. were two kinds of syllable type inGreek, long syllables and short ones. The basic rhythmic pattern for the Iliad and theOdyssey involvedone long syllable followed by two short ones. Also permitted was a long syllable followed by
another up a long syllable. No metre other sequence iswhat was allowed. Six such sequences made 'line'. This or rhythm is referred to as a dactylic hexameter

Homer is supposed to have delivered (Hansen 1978: 11). It is to thisbeat that backed bymusic which he played on the phorminx or his lyrics faharis, an instrumentresembling the lyre (Hansen 1978: 22). An extreme example of the artificial impositionof constraints on a piece of spoken discourse is provided by traditional oral Somali poetry. Somali
poets work out a word-for-word composition in private. They then either

This poetry has recite it in public or teach it to someone who would recite it. an unusually complex and rigid rhythmic pattern.This rigidityand complex make it difficult for the reciter to improviseor otherwise vary from the ity



original.The reason is that,at any point in the poetic line,thereare few ifany words which the recitercould substitutefortheoriginalwork and which, at the same time, would both make sense and fit the rhythmic pattern.There are also
restrictions syntactic on what structures syntactic are allowed structures are allowed in this poetry. Only possible two in in this poetry out of the hundreds

normal speech (Ong 1982: 63-4).

In normal of well formed speech, sentences. a speaker is capable of producing an infinite number there By contrast, in the performance of oral poems

is a set of restrictionsimposed on what ispossible, e.g. (i) the kind of syntactic structuresas in theSomali case, (ii) theneed to fit what isbeing said into lines of a particular length,(iii) the requirement to conform to artificiallyregular patterns imposed by the requirementsof rhythm, rhyming,alliteration, etc. according to the traditionsof the genre.The result is thatwhat is possible in these oral performances isonly a subset ofwhat is possible in speech.
Music, very often guage. Long as we used have already noted with in relation oral poetic to the Greek devices poems, oral in combination traditional poems, is lan

to technologise etc. are often




sung or

music. Ong (1982: 63) chanted or performed to the accompaniment of specific Tale of the Heike' as a case inpoint.The narrative ischanted cites the Japanese
to a musical without background. However, from musical some sections of this narrative There are sung inter as accompaniment consist instruments. music. are, as well, who

ludes which young

entirely with

of instrumental an oral master,


begin and musi




the narrative

cal accompaniment through rigorousdrill over several years.Ong (1982: 63) suggests that in theTale of theHeike', themusic manages at some points to He argues that this is an example ofmusic seeming to completely fix the text.
assist in achieving In technologised bodies of material close to verbatim recall of an oral have narrative. it, producers now only has of such to differ language remember such as we the frame. analysed

The memory

entiate between the possible language formswhich can fit into this frame, ratherthan the infiniterange of possible utteranceswhich could otherwise be produced. The tighter the frame, the fewer the possible utterances which What the frames create is a situation inwhich only could fit into the frame. a limitednumber of phrases and structures will fit. Oral poetry, therefore, comes to be formulaic, being produced throughusing and reusing selections
from a restricted set of phrases. as cited

The Greek epic oral poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey attributedtoHomer,
represent a case in point. The work of Milman Parry in Ong (1982:

Electronic Orature:


17-28) Taking Hector,


that these poems


composed names


entirely such

of formulae. as Odysseus, and in

the first, regularly Athena and Apollo,

occurring were

of characters used


relation to certain verbs.This ensured that they fitted into the rhythmic pat tern of the particular line in the poem. Odysseus, for example, is constantly
described evant as polymetis 'clever', action he irrespective is involved of whether in. The reason his cleverness is rel the to the particular is that, without

in particular


use of this adjective, the name 'Odysseus' could not have been easilyworked into the rhythmic pattern of the poem (Ong 1982: 58-9).

ferentiation is takingplace for the firsttime.The categoryof bards and poets who emerge in these periods is merely one of the craftand occupational groups which are appearing.This can be seen in the actual textof theGreek oral epic, theOdyssey'. In thispoem, oral performersplay a part in the storyand when they are mentioned are classified as public craftsmen,a group that included doctors and carpenters (Hansen 1978: 23).
A similar such classification exists in other societies and cultures. One

Evidence for viewing oral formulaicdevices as technology comes in the formof observations made by Renfrew (1987: 255). He suggests that orally transmitted epics date back to societies inwhich craft and occupational dif

such is the 16th century Soninke state of Jaara inWest Africa, the social
structure of which has survived to this day. One stratum of the society consists

of craftand occupational groups such as cobblers,blacksmiths and 'people of themouth'. Members of the last group are responsible for preserving and broadcasting the oral traditionof theirpatrons (Diawara 1989: 110). A simi lar kind of classification exists among the relatedMandekan speaking people
of West basket Africa. makers, Here canoe again, the craft and occupational group of carpenters, etc. includes repairers, leather workers and blacksmiths,

within itbards and specialists of theword. Some members of this last group
specialise in transmitting the Sunjata epic and other traditional accounts of

Mali empire (deMoraes Farias 1989: 153-4). the 13th to late 16th century Oral poets, be theyGreek Bards, Malian specialists of the word or Jamaica deejays, are technologists in the literal rather than just the figurative sense of theword. They apply technologies to bodies of language in order to
the problem of the impermanence of spoken language. overcome


Writing medium represents a fundamental language improvement messages over on oral time formulaic and devices as a them for preserving transmitting



over distance. As described byCoulmas (1989: 19, 35), writing is the engrav
ing or drawing, the scratching or incision of signs representing units of spoken

language.As argued by DeFrancis (1989: 56), the aspect of language repre

sented by all writing systems is sound. Thus, writing is not a system of commu

nication in and of itself. Rather, it is a formof technologyapplied to language. Writing gives solid, visible, relativelypermanent material form to lan
guage. It was, at the time of its invention five thousand years ago, the ultimate

technology capable of extending the communicative abilities of language be

yond the situation on of face-to-face Language interaction. could now Writing be used conferred an additional advantage language. as an efficient medium

for the keeping

of records.

The basic building blocks of any of the five thousand or so languages

spoken by the in the world is a small number Alphabetic in a of recurring writing Each units of sound signs referred to linguists individual as phonemes. phonemes systems message, use to represent how com


no matter

plex,will consist of combinations of the phonemes within the language.Thus, all thathas tobe done towrite such a message is to use the appropriate sign for
each phoneme which elements in the message. constantly Since, recur, the written signs are used to represent end up as re phonemes curring the written signs themselves

in the written



freeze messages message located was

limitation which existswith writing is that, even though itmanages to

language to a messages large in time, The it is not very effective in distributing could read such audience. only way to travel sent that one a written was

in the pre-print or have

era was

to where

the written


that written simply person


to one. Where this was with

the communication What, how

intended one

to involve wishing

two people,

no problem. a large body or

ever, about Moving travel

to communicate person

of persons? everyone The by

a written to where


from one

to the other have been copies


the written have

text is located, to


cumbersome. of documents






This situation hand, each ofwhich could thenbe sent to a potential recipient. would have placed and did indeed place a severe restrictionon the role of
writing as a medium of mass communication.

The emergence of the Gutenberg printing press inmid-15th century

Europe provided a solution to the problem of a mass readership for written

Electronic Orature:


material. The printing press allowed large numbers of identical copies of a

written people work willing and to be produced. the work. hundreds There A could be as many could copies as there were with to read even single writer now communicate


of thousands.

The technologies associated with themid-15th centuryGutenberg press

in Europe were significant. Firstly, there was the use of letters cast in separate

could be produced by any of hundreds of identical casting from the same which would be mold. Words could be composed by using individual letters a to a on be for used assembled together printing involved plate.Making plate all of the techniques of the assembly line.Replaceable parts in the form of
individual pieces of type representing in each case a particular letter, were

pieces of metal type. Replicating of thismetal type frommolds meant that each individual piece ofmetal type in a given type face,was identical to any A given letter in print of the hundreds of other casting of the same letter.

assembled together to produce identical objects, printed words. Each printed version of the same word in the same type facewould be identical to any
other. It was this assembly line principle which, three centuries later, came to

be employed in manufacture during the Industrial Revolution (Ong 1982: 118-9).

This entire process placed the printed word at the centre of a manufactur

was being employed in print ing process. Extremely sophisticated technology on capital. In addition, given the heavy ing.This led to a heavy dependence number of copies produced, the cheaper the per unit cost. This led to a drive formass production of the printed word and the development of consumer Written language had been transformedby print into a com demand for it.
modity. Mass production and the accompanying stimulation of mass consump expense of preparing for the actual print reproduction of a text, the larger the

tionof commodities other than theprintedword only became generalwith the Gaur (1984: 203) argues that the arrival of the IndustrialRevolution. In fact,
shadow three centuries in advance.

European printing revolution represented the IndustrialRevolution casting its It is not surprising that the reproduction of written language involved the earliest application of many of the features of industrial production. In
fact, the mass tion, goods production For and consumption to the mass of ideas, knowledge production advances and and informa of is a necessary and services. precursor consumption with

trialRevolution to take place, thereneeded to be a period of rapid spread of ideas and knowledge. Language to which writing technology had been ap

the technological


the Indus



was the medium plied, and which in turnhad printing technologyapplied to it, bywhich thesemessages reached all sections of the potentialmarket.
Print guages. triggered i.e. an the emergence like technologised awareness of literatures orality, in European to build what vernacular language is supposed lan con to Literature, tended between


of the distinction

be the language of the group and thatwhich is the language of others.And,

also as with technologised orality, shared bodies of creative language, this

time in print, tend to become regarded as linguistic models forallmembers of

the speech who community. themselves This leads to language standardisation language amongst people 61). consider users of a common (Eisenstein 1981:

An awareness of difference relative to outsiders and of thatwhich is shared within the group is the hallmark of a developing national conscious
ness. Therefore, literature facilitated consciousness. by print becomes a cornerstone literature in the in print development of national It is, for example,

which facilitated the emergence of an English nation defining itselfas con sistingof people who speak the languageofMilton, Shakespeare, Chaucer and theKing JamesVersion of the Bible. A similarprocess of national formation Based on thedevelopment took place in Spain at the end of the 15th century.
literature in print, Castilian emerged as the national and official of vernacular

language of Spain, displacing Latin (Illich 1981: 37-47). The print revolution is possibly themost significant technologicaldevel millennium. It has resulted in themass production ofwritten opment of this language.The state,particularlyas ithas evolved since themid-15th century development of the printingpress, relies heavily on written and printed lan
guage for its existence. The existing Jamaican state is no exception. It oper

ates English as the sole official language, and the only language in which
written records are kept. And the elite version of the Jamaica national iden

point literatureinEnglish, tityon which this state isbased has as its reference
albeit literature produced by Jamaicans.


Deejay/dance hall is an art form involving the delivery of spoken language
to a predetermined bass and rhythm rhythmic pattern sound track. The established rhythmic by an accompanying background serves recorded to constrain

the text.The language produced, in addition to fittingthe oral poetic frame work established by the genre and theparticular piece,must fit into the frame which is set by the bass and rhythmtrack.To raid di ridim 'ride the rhythm',

Electronic Orature:


within the rhythmic what the deejay does, is to deliver lyrics frame set by the an at in bass and rhythmtrack. It is least,derives from the part imagewhich, disc jockeyoriginsof thedeejay.The disc jockey turneddeejay rides the rhythm on the sound trackof a disc.
The deejay/dance hall piece also possesses an internal structure which

complements the structure laiddown by the rhythmic backing.There is rhyme, the number of syllablesper line, the number of lines per verse, etc. Deejays often use the phrase biHriks *buildlyrics'to describe theprocess bywhich lyrics are composed. The image of 'building',I suggest, isone which implies the use of oral formulaicdevices. The act of building is one inwhich one brings to
gether already existing component parts to produce an overall structure.

There is a requirementof a fixed rhythmic pattern fora poetic 'line', 'line'

an inappropriate term for an oral genre such as this. For the Jamaican


deejay pieces I have studied,notably Buju Banton's 'Massa God World' which
is transcribed below, there are four prominent or stressed syllables per 'line'.


indicateprominence in the transcription,I have marked the vowel of each

syllable by an accent.


to rhyme with the last syllableof a preceding or following 'line'.The rhyme gives the final syllables an extra salience which is important to the whole system since the rhymingsyllable functions as a boundary marker between
'lines'. The from preceding three prominences They are in the spaced 'line' based are on assigned common backwards principles.

The entire poetic structure is constructed around the last syllable in the 'line'.This syllable ismarked to bear the fourthprominence in the 'line' and

this final


Either it is every other preceding syllable, every third preceding syllable or which isonly applied on The only constraint, every fourthpreceding syllable.
some nences the basic occasions, is placed pattern. is that the syllable must Quite be able on which one of the three non-final in normal even speech. promi This Banton is to bear prominence

often, however,

as can be seen

in the Buju

textbelow, the spacing of prominence is sometimes deliberatelyvaried within

the same line for effect.

What distinguishes theword bearing the fourthprominence in a 'line' from thatof the preceding three is the rhyme.It should be noted that,unlike
in English of word poetry, the location of the rhyme for a rhyme is not determined to exist by the location of words, all stress. Thus, in English, in any pair

soundsmust be identical fromthevowel of the stressed/prominent syllableup

to the end of the word. Thus, 'know', 'crow' and 'below', all of which stress the




syllable, would



the shared sequence

sequence would be

starts from the vowel '-ow'. This is also


the stressed items with 'order', 'brother' vowel

syllable. The


true for

stress on the penultimate syllables as in a pair such as 'recorder' and ' order' and 'protector' sharing '-ector'. However, and 'collector' sharing and 'father' would syllable as not rhyme since the sequences starting with ' is other' and '-ather'. prominence in normal the

of the stressed

in each word

These to the every same one

items borrowed syllable of

into Jamaican, in English. items Of

assign the


'-er' and

'-or' ending 'rikaada',

items above, 'kalekta',

the equivalent and 'faada' used

in Jamaican, able




are potentially by deejays,

to rhyme with

all the others. are the

In the poetic


the requirements

for rhyming as able to define cases

following.Provided that, in a pair ofwords, the vowel of the final syllableand

any following In relation here does consonants are the same, they are treated to rhyme. 'same'. 'Same' the This to final consonants absolutley share in rhymes, we need identical. Rather

not mean involved

it covers feature

in which




such as nasality.

can also be seen in thedeejay/dance lyrics ofBuju Banton's 'MassaGod World'

transcribed followed below. Here, there which are have rhymes which similar but not These consist identical of identical phonological which sound vowels fea have a by consonants ng

tures, e.g. n, m, common causes feature, them

in the text below.

are all consonants This makes them

the fact that they are nasal. in feature that an rhymes. entire

alike and

to take part the case In the Buju

It is often single rhyme.

deejay/dance two

hall related


operates are

a in




volved. The first is o+Nasai, for the first four lines and the last eight.The second is e+Nasal for the inbetween eight lines.Thus, even though there is a
deviation mon from the tendency to operate a single rhyme throughout, similar the com other. nasality hav m?rsi Som?di pl?iz... Tel mi n?u ?u massa g?ad worl a r?n in the two sets of rhymes makes them very to each

P?t di waar a b?k an priez g?ad yami s?n Tel mi n?u ?u pupa Jiiz?s worl a r?n Mek wi k?m tuged? kaa di f?ada suun k?m Dier w?z a bigining so dierm?s bii ?n Let os b?l a beta niem farowa gr?nchiljr?n An l?k inawi ?art an siw? wi kyanm?n Wier f?ud iz kons?rn dier ?za prabl?m Uman ky?an fain f?ud fi g?di chiljr?n

Electronic Orature: man hav di ch?kinbak a f?iddi daag d?m Wail di rich Bot wuo ?o b?i an tu d?m H? huu r?idz agens puor piipl shal p?rish ina di ?n Tel mi n?u ?u maasa g?ad worl a r?n P?t di waar a b?k an priez g?ad yami s?n mi waang n?o hou pupa Jiiz?s worl a r?n mek wi k?m tuged? kaa di f?ada suun k?m Chruu di p?our kyaan afuord di nalij d?m no get non Di richman hav di d?laz an no w?ang gi wi s?m Bragaduoshos an bu?osi taak ?ma fling d?ng A pier w?n nainti ?iBenz ?mbring d?ng ('Massa God World', Buju Banton, 1992) The
piece. nences


last syllable in each line' is central to the entire structure of the

as a reference the same point for the assignment serves of the other three promi the line'. It also to establish and maintain

It serves within

signed.Rhyme in the deejay genre serves to (i) demarcate the ends of 'lines', (ii) mark syllableswhich are going to correspond to the fourthbeat in the background rhythm,(iii) give unity to the 'lines'which make up the textby making them sound partly alike. An additional featureof how deejays proceed to bil liriks is their use of of dance hall clich?swhich are employed to fillout the poetic line.The lyrics an as 'Jomp shak out', 'Mi kom fi ram pieces are filledwith oral formulae such
daans haal', 'If yu api an yu lov i, ...', etc. These are either used to maintain a

relationshipbetween the particular line' and the other 'lines' in the text.This second function is achieved throughbeing the syllable towhich rhyme is as

patternwhich has already been set up or to fill inmaterial in a line rhyming the rhymingsyllablehas already been determined. which for ELECTRONIC
The development



represents recordings a are

of electronic


technologies Sound


to the problem

of the impermanence

of speech.

now able to freeze the spokenword in time,performinga role similar to that

played by writing. Sound recordings, however, involve a record of the actual

physical sounds produced and these can be heard when the recording is
played back. Writing technology, on the other in which units. hand, works by recording an abstraction sented from the spoken its individual message, sound the language sound message recording is repre on its





on itsability to reach a mass own, like writingwithout print,has severe limits


Other 20th century technologieshave come to the rescue.Through radio broadcasting, it is now possible forpeople separated by space to receive the
same spoken language message at the same time. This has overcome the

limitations imposed on speech by space.When it employs sound recordings, radio broadcasting does for recorded speech what the printing press did for
writing, i.e. itmakes a single recorded message available to a mass audience. and also Technologies portable media, for the mass e.g. gramophone reproduction records, of sound CDs, cassette recordings tapes, o cheap etc., have

had an effectsimilar to thatwhich print technologyhas had on writing. The

mass production in the of copies of gramophone of sound records, CDs, recording language. cassette production, The electronic tapes, an etc. has impor resulted industrialisation represents

tant element

of which



media have had the effectof making sound recordings available formass


Jamaica popular music as it began

music. It started as a form of import

in the 1950s was an

Rival opera


tors of sound systems which played amplified recorded music at dances were on the constant look out for music which was exclusive to their sound system. The predominant formof recordedmusic played during this period was US rhythmand blues. Records owned exclusivelyby a particular Jamaica sound
system were dances used as a drawing rival sound card to attract patrons to dances, and away from this quest at which systems would play. Eventually, however,

for exclusivity proved fruitlesswhen dealing with a commodity such as

gramophone bution. The records which Jamaican sound were mass produced and intended resort formass to using distri Jamai of of system operators, their own exclusively therefore,

can musicians 'specials'

to produce on disc

'one of a kind' for a particular

music, sound

in the form system. Many


these 'specials'would include lyrics which ithad praising the sound systemfor
been created. From this beginning, sound system operators expanded opera

tions, becoming producers of recordsof sale to the local public.They were the mim music directly this pioneers of the Jamaican recording industry.Initially,

icked the styleof themusic on the imported records.Gradually, however, it evolved a style and rhythm of itsown, eventuallydeveloping into the genres
as ska, rock steady and reggae.


Even though the language of the singing gradually drifted away from
that which one would expect on a US rhythm and blues recording, English

Electronic Orature:


remained This many tirely is not

the dominant to suggest


of Jamaican was


right excluded.

into the reggae The choruses

era. of en used

that Jamaican be

entirely and was some

songs would in Jamaican.


in Jamaican Jamaican

songs were

performed language


the subordinate

in the music, employed only when, for the sake of humour, directness or
cultural appropriateness, Jamaica English began would not be appropriate. of the recording studio, Modern music its life as a creature

as the epitome of an industrial music. This facthad an impacton theway that it reached its consuming public. It first reached itsmass audience primarily throughgramophone recordsbeing playedwith amplificationat dances and in other public places, as well as throughbeing played on radio stations. Itwas music came tobe usually aftergainingpopularity throughthesemedia that the performed by singers and bands before live audiences. There appeared systemsof sound amplificationwhich allowed both the recordedmusic and thedisc jockeypresenting it to be heard at the same time.

By thebeginning of the 1970s, thepractice developed at dances fordisc jockeys to do live talking improvisationsagainst thebackground of recordedmusic. To facilitate this, the recording studios began to produce dub sides, reverse sides of 45 rpm recordswith only thebass and rhythmtracksof themusic. Against thismusical background, deejays as they came to be called, would deliver im
provised Over lyrics to live audiences. a new genre These lyrics were known predominantly over in Jamaican. as dub, time developed, variously the years

rockers,deejay and dance hall. In the early period of this genre, aftermultiple presentations in the dance hall to live audiences, particular deejay pieces would themselves be come the object of recording technology. The recordingwould take the form of the deejay delivering lyricsagainst the background of an already recorded
bass mass and rhythm track. This recorded tapes, performance gramophone videos would and eventually disc reach records, By a audience through cassette compact on

the radio

and most


the 1980s, deejays had moved away from their origins as presenters of re corded music. They had become performing and recording artistes in their

through music



In the deejay/dance hall genre which emerged, the background accom

paniment, ent artistes. the The 'ridim', is often have identical become for several very as simple pieces and performed are often are by differ simply arti to have 'ridims'


ficially produced

by synthesisers.

As many

100 pieces


been recorded on a single Vidim'. Clearly, themusical form could hardly be



That the central element of thisgenre.The focus of the genre ison the lyrics. which is different from one piece to another is the lyricsand the style of
to convey the language form and the message created by the deejay.

The musical backing is simplya medium forhelping delivery of those lyrics. A frequent criticismof deejay/dance hall genre is that it is not music at
all. Or, the expressed end of in a different the continuum way, much which of deejay/dance exists between hall speech, is closer at one to ex speech

are simple treme,and song at the other (Zumthor 1990: 142). The rhythms
and repetitive and sense. the deejays They often in their delivery use a limited are well range nigh monotonous two or three in at the musical of notes,

most. If the background music isbasic and clich?d, and the 'singing*involves
very little variation in the notes used, then, I argue, one may not be dealing

with a genre which even pretends to be operating with the frameworkof

established music. What the deejays have done, of course, is to rediscover speakers the orality known But European-influenced 'international' norms about what constitutes

to the pre-Classical that is not all. They

Greeks have

or the Mandekan discovered

of the Mali


that the new


of sound


when added to the traditional ing and mass reproductionof those recordings, technologies of orality, could produce a new and powerful medium within
which spoken language can operate. in Jamaican, to a wide with a Thus, multiple copies unwritten discovery of recordings language, was of oral could be at a language produced time which Linked performances and spread in the main This




a newly


mass-based associated

national with

sentiment. lan

to this was



the mass

guage, Jamaican.The conditionswere rightfor the deejaymaterial to play the

same role in state as formation orality had and played the development in many of language states and national consciousness, pre-modern

The oral material produced by the deejays, predominantly in Jamaican, is

in fact fostering language consciousness. It is, in addition,

standardisationwithin the language. It is also becoming a focal point for the development of a national identity,albeit one which is quite distinct from thatbeing promoted by the existing Jamaican state.The deejaysmay be pre paring theway fora world inwhich the spokenword, this time electronically enhanced, is again the dominant medium for constructing linguistic and
national often consciousness give rise. and administering the state structures to which these



The industrialisationof sound production world wide has primarily in

Electronic Orature:







of Jamaica


African origin in the USA

traditional and technologies come and reproduction to have writing technologies


of people


via rap, have precipitated the linkage between

and the new This were The electronic of mass production was always in for sound. which kind innovation by deejay's a widely lease

of orature

unlikely which means and

from cultures

transmitted Jamaican without

languages discovery known on

print were in which system, now

dominant. there have are

that cultures used writing


the opportunity geographical without can any

for a new areas


Language using oral

standardisation models sense of the

across language

large and


possible and these

resort be

to writing by

print. A means. writing. A

of sharing

a common language

identity may




and official




the stage of

The effect which the printing press had on writing and vernacular lan inEurope is likelyto replicate itselfin the effect cultures and which the guages
mass production and and dissemination of sound recordings will have on non in literate cultures communities. Eventually, the role of audio-technologies

enhancing the power and importance of speech will have the same kind of effecton writing and print, thatprint had on oral language.Spoken language
comes By naturally to all humans language who needs do not to be have a speech related both impairment. written lan contrast, written taught. Where

guage and spoken language have equal power, spoken language is likelyto be preferred towriting.Therefore,writing and printingwill, with the passage of
newly technologised electronic mode.

time, eventually become technologies existing on the fringesof speech in its

I suggest that the popularity of modern Jamaicanmusic theworld over, notably deejay/dance hall, is at least in part triggered by an unconscious
recognition consciousness popular even of its pioneering around in highly speech literate role rather in constructing than writing. e.g. Western a The language fact that and national is the genre



Japan, USA,


which would facilitate themass transmissionof spoken rather than written creative languagematerial. This is the gift which Jamaican deejay/dance hall genre has given theworld. CONCLUSION
The new orality which deejay/dance hall represents, returns to traditional

is significant. The popularity of deejay/dance hall in highly literatesocieties that even among literates,there is a longing for a medium indicates simply



The musical oral formulaicdevices. This is done, however,with a novel twist. which is also formulaic, may be generated electronically. backing, the 'ridim',
The entire performance ismanipulated in one electronically. Finally, the end product is transmitted hall is a new, to the market electronically a national technology the deejay, decide electronic orality. form or the other. Deejay/dance It is producing relies a language con on


sciousness that


identity, neither from the has hung back

of which

for its existence press.

left-over Homer,

15th century,

the printing thousand

up his again

lyre three is not

years now. What generation



to come

the fact that a new

has rediscovered the use of orality in nation and statebuilding. It is the fact
that poet the new can technologies now give the oral poet awesome or a single powers. sound The oral reach millions of people by one broadcast recording.

This mass audience can be made to laugh together,cry together,and to feel that theybelong together in the same community,the same nation. This is a
once in a three thousand year experience. And, as Homer reaches for his lyre, he chants, Av morsi...

mi dis a wiil an t?n, Gi m? di Ilyad ridim, Unu klier out di wie, Diijie Horner a k?m!

Ranton, Baird, Buju. C. 1970. 1992. Massa The God World (song lyrics), Kingston. of Mandekan change', (Mading): in Dalby, A D. study in the role of (ed.) Language and

Development factors Frank Cass &

extra-linguistic History Brathwaite, E.

in linguistic Co.

in Africa.

Ltd., London. of Nation Language in

1984. History Caribbean

of the Voice: The Development Poetry, New Beacon, London.

Anglophone Coulmas, deMoraes C.

1989. The Writing 1989.

Systems of theWorld, to "pagan" Mecca The

Basil Blackwell, inMandekan

London. stories of origin



reported Centre

from Mali and

and Guinea-Conakry', Its Disguises: Series No.

in Barber, K. & Interpretation of Birmingham,

de Moraes Oral

Farias Texts, Uni

(eds.) Discourse for West

of African

African Studies

Studies, University


versity African DeFrancis,

1, Birmingham, Oneness

pp. 152-170. of Writing Systems. Mouton

J. 1989. Visible


The Diverse

Electronic Orature:


Publishers, Diawara, M.

The Hague. 'Women, servitude and history: The oral historical (Mali) traditions of



of servile condition

in the kingdom century', The

of Jaara

from the fifteenth Farias (eds.) for Afri

century to the mid-nineteenth Discourse West and Its Disguises: Series No. African

in Barber, K. &

P. de Moraes


of African Oral Birmingham

Texts Centre University

Studies, University

of Birmingham, pp.

can Studies Eisenstein,

1, Birmingham, about

109-137. society Devel pp. 53

E. 1981.

'Some conjectures

the impact of printing on western (ed.) Literacy and Social

and thought: A preliminary opment 68. Gaur, A. 1984. A History 1978. in theWest:

report', in Graff, H.

A Reader, Cambridge


Press, Cambridge,

of Writing,


British Library, London. inOinas, Epics, F. Heroic Indiana Epic and Saga: Press,

Hansen, W. An


epics and oral poetry', Great Folk


to the Worlds



pp. 7-26. Work, Marion Vol. Boyars, Boston. University Press, Cambridge. London. of theWord. Methuen, Lon

lllich, I. 1981. Shadow

Lyons, J. 1977. Semantics. Niane, D. 1965. Sundiata: 1982. Orality

2, Cambridge

An Epic of Old Mali,


Ong, W. don.

and Literacy: The Technologizing

Renfrew, C. Archaeology guin, London. Zumthor, P. 1990. Oral

and Language:



of Indo-European



Poetry: An



of Minnesota