The modern dancehall genre seems mostly comprised of overtly sexist nonsense, songs about getting wasted and depicting various vagaries related to living a lifestyle based on the present moment. Oddly, though, it’s dancehall out of all the various Jamaican strains which made the most distinctive impact on American charts with the likes of Bounty Killer and Buju Banton attaining relative acclaim. Sister Nancy, though, stands as a paragon of virtue among her peers, going so far as to pen a tune detailing the Swana School and its assistance in granting students a forum for learning in a safe and nurturing environment. Her songs address the same crop of miscreants Desmond Dekker spoke to—they just use radically different musical backing.
Regardless of dancehall being a nascent form of rap, the appearance of a woman discussing topical subjects and doing it as well as any male counterpart must have been a tremendous shock to attendees of various sound system parties during the seventies. In the States, folks just waited around for Roxanne Shanté. Seven years her senior, Sister Nancy factored into the dancehall’s codification by chanting overtop what would simply become known as the “Bam Bam” riddim. The musical backing has served too many toasters to quantify and remains one of the most recognizable songs springing from the fertile JA scene of the seventies and eighties. If listeners were to relegate Sister Nancy to one-hit-wonder status, it’d be reductive. The album “Bam Bam” appears on, 1982’s “One, Two,” sports only nine other cuts, but could likely pass for a greatest-hits retrospective. It’s to this MC’s credit that she possesses the vocal talent and cerebral clout to craft such unique offerings in a genre predicated on recycling hits. (Dave Cantor)
May 6 at the Shrine, 2109 South Wabash, (312)753-5700. 9pm. $10.