King of dancehall Bennie Man claims he created and named the Zimdancehall genre
Beenie Man has affirmed that he not only masterminded the creation of Zim-Dancehall, Zimbabwe’s local adaptation of Jamaican Dancehall, but also invented the term, quashing claims made over the years that it was coined by UK-based disc jockey Slaggy Yout.
Beenie was speaking on Radio Jamaica about Jamaican musicians’ influence on the African continent and his various sojourns to the Motherland, when he pointed out his pioneering role in creating Zim-Dancehall.
He said that years ago, during a stint in Zimbabwe, he had met some budding artists from the African country who wanted to become Dancehall artists, but, according to him, they had no clue what to do.
“Zim-Dancehall, a me meck it enuh. A me meck it. A me name it too – Zim-Dancehall,” Beenie told host of Radio Jamaica’s Two Live Crew, Dahlia Harris and Christopher “Johnny” Daley during the programme on Friday afternoon.
“Caw mi buck up a whole heap a artiste over there an dem nuh know weh fi do. Suh wi jus seh ‘studio!’ An wi guh a di studio an wi start mek riddim an seh ‘play dis, play dat’; play dis; guh suh. Guh roun suh. Gimme da base yah; gimme dah keyboard yah’,” the Romie artiste added.
There has been much debate over the years amongst Zimbabweans as to who coined the term Zim-Dancehall, and much discourse on the genesis of the music form.
A January 2015 article published in Music in Africa, titled The Rise of Zim-Dancehall, noted that the sub-genre “owes its origins to Jamaican reggae music which was popularised in the country by Bob Marley’s memorable performance at independence in 1980”.
According to the publication, subsequent visits by other Reggae artists, including Shabba Ranks in 1993, as well as Sizzla Kalonji and Capleton in 2010, among others, resulted in more people following the genre “as can be witnessed by massive turnouts at the events”.
It said further that local artists began to sing their own Dancehall songs in the 1990s, among them Major E, Booker T and Potato.
However, it said that “the rise of Zim-Dancehall in its present form began after 2000 with the increase of so-called ‘backyard studios’, which made use of cheap computer software to produce relatively quality music, resulting in the emergence of their own Dancehall music producers and popular artistes such as Winky D, Chirumiko and King Labash.
“More people began to appreciate the genre mostly because it is performed in vernacular languages,” the publication noted, adding that as a consequence, Zimbabweans began to appreciate their local Dancehall stars “over the highly rated foreign acts”.
“In 2011 Dancehall stars Sean Kingston and Mr Vegas came to Zimbabwe and received a rude awakening when local fans booed them offstage in preference of Zimbabwean artistes such as Winky D and Donald ‘Sniper Storm’ Chirisa,” it said.
Beenie Man had visited Zimbabwe for the first time in October 2010 for performances, and, according to reports, had said that saying stepping on Zimbabwean soil was “a dream come true”.
In 2017, the Simma artist had collaborated with Zimbabwean artiste Winky D for the single My Woman. But that same year there were claims by Zimbabwean media that The Doctor had flopped during a show in Harare and had even been upstaged by Winky D himself.
However, Punchline Entertainment founder and CEO Hillary Mutake, had dismissed the media reports as lies, noting that Beenie had put on a “splendid performance”.
“I think the media is not doing justice in their reporting. You cannot tell me Winky D outpaced Bennie Man. I’m so embarrassed journalists can write such stuff. The best that journalists could do is encourage collaborations and not ridicule these Jamaicans…,” he had said.
With respect to how the name came about, several publications have noted that the name Zim-Dancehall was created after Slaggy Yout created his own website dedicated to the genre.
Slaggy is described on Soundcloud as “a versatile DJ” and “founder of Black Scorpion Sound System in 1996 (Zimbabwe)” who moved to the UK in 2001, founded the Zim-Dancehall brand in 2006, ran clubs and radio stations around West Midlands area and is now settled in Glasgow Scotland…”
Scholars of Zim-Dancehall have posited that through exposure to mainstream Dancehall, local youth in Zimbabwe started off by toasting and went on by imitating Jamaicans, and that the majority, if not all, second generation Zim-Dancehall artistes have used a localised version of Jamaican patois in their songs, whereas first generation artistes sang in straightforward vernacular or formal English.
In May 2021 too, The Guardian newspaper also reported that Zim-Dancehall was one of the fastest growing genres in Zimbabwe.
“Instead of singing in Jamaican patois, local musicians mainly use Shona, and recently some Ndebele singers have also emerged,” the publication noted.