Today is the Hindu celebration of light. Big up all my Hindu's inside the place. It's a national holiday in Myanmar, India, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Fiji, Singapore and to my surprise Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname and Guyana.
But today we are gathered here - in the dancehall world where I reside - for a whole different meaning to the celebration. Disclaimer: not to take over like the Christians did with Pagan festivals. We believe in unity so it's a parallel thing.
The Diwali riddim released ten years ago (yes, all the way back in 2002) by Stephen "Lenky" Marsden took the world by storm, becoming one of, if not the most successful composition in Jamaican music history in my opinion. (Yeah, I am about that mixing fact and opinion vida loca.) I think Diwali riddim earned its name from the Bhangra syncopation, plus I don't know the name of the instrument, but there's a sample in there. This came around the time Indian/Arabic samples were frequent in hip hop and r&b, mainly through hitmaker Timbaland. It was also quite prevalent in dancehall with the Bollywood and Egyptian riddims being two good examples. A lot of Bhangra is influenced by dancehall anyway so we're like bredrins.
It took dancefloors by storm upon release to the grassroots dancehall fans across the world. Initial standout cuts displayed versatility of the rhythm - something you won't find in any other genre. I always find it interesting to see how different artists interpret the same beat.
Party starters include "Energy God" Elephant Man's "Elephant Message" and "Party Time" by duo Danny English & Egg Nog, boasty "Ruffest and Toughest" courtesy of soon-to-be rookie of the time Assassin, and TOK's anthem for the hot girls "Galang Gal". I remember this tearing down a Jamaican independence in Tooting Bec common. Good times.
Then on the other hand you have what we call "conscious" tunes; the poor people's Governor Bounty Killer "Sufferer" proving to the doubters that he can do social songs without hit songwriter/producer Dave Kelly. "Born as a sufferer, grew up as a sufferer, struggle as a sufferer fi make it as a sufferer" struck a chord with the disenfranchised. Another relative newcomer singjay Wayne Marshall scored a hit singing "Many are called but the chosen few/ nothing in this world that you can't do/ Work hard for your dreams and they will come true" on the uplifting "Overcome".
All of this is just the underground success. Calm before the storm per se. 2003 saw the initial commercial success, cementing mainstream dancehall favourite Sean Paul's arrival as more than a one-hit wonder. Following up surprise hit "Gimmie Di Light" was always set to be a tough task, however, the follow-up "Get Busy" surpassed the predecessor topping the American Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. "Get Busy" wasn't even on the original batch of Diwali cuts, so was pretty new to most of us. The global star had a reworked beat with added synths and different re-arrangements.
Sean Paul admitted in an interview that he pulled a fast one on the label with this release - despite fighting with Atlantic for a release of "Get Busy" they stood firm on "Like Glue". Even down to the day of the shoot, they thought he was recording the "Like Glue" video, until he spoke to the director and said keep the same treatment, but they're doing the video for "Get Busy". And the rest as the say is history. This explains why "Like Glue" ends the video.
Chart performance: #1 = Hungary, Netherlands, Italy, USA. Top 10: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, UK. Gold certifications: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. #50 US decade end charts.
The next cut from the riddim is another re-worked cut which wasn't on the original riddim package. Singer Wayne Wonder scored a few hits in the 90s with the Penthouse label, then a few more towards the end with Mad House on the Bug riddim especially. However, "No Letting Go" turned his fortunes around. I remember this one burning a big buzz underground prior to commercial success. Although I don't remember any other riddim scoring two hits in such close proximity, I knew it would be a hit. I remember girls from the local girls school singing this on the bus home from school. Low and behold, it reached #3 in UK, #11 in USA and top 40 in Canada, Holland, France, Sweden and Switzerland.
American "singer" Lumidee was the first of many non-Jamaicans to utilise Diwali riddim's sound. "Never Leave You (Uh Oh)" became the third hit of the year off the same rhythm track (albeit altered by DJ Tedsmooth and Trendsetta). A remix with fellow New Yorkers Fabolous and Busta Rhymes giving it a more hip hop spin. Definitely the worse singer of the year, however it didn't stop her from topping charts in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Switzerland, while peak at 2 and 3 in UK and US respectively. Top 10 in Norway, Hungary, France and Austria.
Another hit from the riddim landed in 2004 courtesy of Jamaican sisters Brick & Lace. If I'm honest, I'd never heard of them before. I thought they were some foreigners trying to capitalise on the success of the riddim, 'cos once again, it had been altered. The sisters recorded on Lenky's re-licked XM24 version of the Diwali riddim complete with boosted synths, re-arranged . My goodness, what a re-lick! Probably the most underrated crossover dancehall songs. Really well-written, top notch production. Great video too.
I feel success in the UK was limited as the instrumental had been exhausted. Most of the success for this was in Europe, peaking at #13 in the European singles charts and charting in Belgium, Finland, France, Sweden, Switzerland and Norway. The duo also achieved success across African countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Nigeria amongst others.
2005 saw the riddim again, this time in form of blockbuster movie actor and multiplatinum selling rapper Will Smith. A comeback single of sorts following a hiatus from the rap game, "Switch" basically takes the bass drum pattern and over-emphasised claps from Diwali and even a Jamaican dancehall-inspired dance move to match. There was also the Elephant Man remix which almost became customary feature in pop music around this time.
Topped the charts in Australia and Canada. Top 10 in UK, Belgium, Austria, Holland, Italy and US.
And if you're debating whether the above is a dancehall/Diwali-inspired song, as people who have to see direct Jamaican/Caribbean relation before their ears hear what they see, we move on to the next. A then unknown protégé signed to Def Jam by the name of Rihanna burst on the scene with "Pon De Replay". Now I can't remember which way around the story goes, but I believe Will Smith rejected this beat for "Switch". Either that or she rejected "Switch" for this. So basically, if you didn't think "Switch" was dancehall-fusion, yet think "Pon De Replay" is, you probably think "Rudeboy" is dancehall-fusion and "Te Amo" isn't a.k.a. hear with your eyes.
Anyway, chart performance: #1: New Zealand. Top ten: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and US.
Now here's another debatable one, but I'm convinced I'm right. Ne-Yo's 2007 single "Sexy Love". Yes, five years straight after the original. You're thinking "Nah, that's a straight r&b/slow jam," but hear mi nuh man?! Listen to the bass pattern and melody. It's a slowed down version of the XM24 I mentioned earlier. Listen back to Brick & Lace "Love Is Wicked". And we all know Stargate are r&b like to copy dancehall... Like the two above, they aren't direct copies like Lumidee, but blatantly based on.
Chart performance: top 10: New Zealand, UK and US. Also charted in a few other countries across Europe, but nothing compared to the dancehall songs. Why? Because dancehall has longer legs and travels further...
Bringing up to current day, Nigerian star boy Wizkid's song "London Girl" samples the famous Diwali drums.
Lenky, we salute you.
p.s. I spoke with Sean Paul about this dancehall era's impact on pop culture. Click here to see what he had to say