It’s easy to relegate reggae to a Rasta-capped period in the 1960s, but to Jamaicans, that era is part of a longer tradition. And there have been variations along the way, from ska and rocksteady to the dancehall beats that hit the airwaves in the early 2000s. Singer Ce’cile was at the forefront of the dancehall movement: A featured artist on Sean Paul’s Grammy-winning Dutty Rock album, she has since released four albums of her own. These days, the music Ce’cile helped popularize has found its way into such diverse genres as jazz, rock, dubstep and house, but that doesn’t surprise the singer at all. In fact, you could say she—and the rest of Jamaica—saw it coming.
“Even though dancehall and reggae are synonymous with Jamaica, not many parents want their child to say, ‘I want to be a dancehall artist when I grow up.’ It’s better than it was 10 years ago, but back then it was really a no-no, especially for the kind of family that I had. My grandfather was the mayor of the town we lived in, and saying you wanted to be a dancehall artist was definitely not striving for high achievement. That’s a funny thing, because Jamaica is known all over the world for this music.
I did what I wanted to do anyway. And then my dad hooked me up with Ibo Cooper, who was a member of the band Third World at the time. We started hanging out and banging out music, and that’s where it really started out for me. So initially it wasn’t a love-love relationship between being in the family I grew up in and being a dancehall-reggae artist. But now that has changed. Coming from Jamaica now, it’s just phenomenal for reggae and dancehall.
I think it’s the vibe that’s so contagious. Everybody catches it, because you can go to a festival or something and, even if you don’t understand half of the things that are being said, the vibe and the music and the ambience and the energy, it’s infectious. You just have a great time, and it happens over and over again. We don’t have marketing strategies—most of us don’t do any of those business things. The vibe sells itself, and that’s what we have been going off for a long time.
If you are going to perform in Jamaica, you have to have energy, energy, energy, energy, energy—especially for the big shows. It’s completely different from the rest of the world. You can do a good slow show somewhere else, but you gotta be moving in Jamaica, man; they want choruses, choruses. It’s the same as how we record 100 singles a month. It’s crazy.
A reggae track will last, but a dancehall track? I have not heard any in a while that have lasted longer than three months on the radio, because they have so many more waiting to be premiered. That’s how we keep ourselves relevant on our island. You might be a big deal in the rest of the world, but if you’re not on top of your game in Jamaica, you are not relevant. You could have just come off tour in Europe and somebody will be like, ‘I’m not hearing anything new from you.’ That’s the way it is here.”