Is dancehall culture in UK getting the credit it deserves?

From Left: Chukky and Sean Paul

I used to be in the back of my yard in Jamaica dancing barefoot for hours in the sun, waiting for days like this,” says dancehall choreographer Chukky. He’s just been part of the choreography team for a big Christmas advert.

In the ad, for M&S, people’s jumpers make them dance – and a lot of the moves come from the Jamaican genre of dancehall. But there was a bit of backlash as some people felt the advert was co-opting a genre to sell jumpers, without giving credit to its Jamaican origins.

BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ Seani B – who plays a lot of Caribbean music on his show – posted on Instagram: “People in the mainstream need to know where this… comes from.” He put up a video of the ad which had replaced the original track (House of Pain’s Jump Around) with dancehall song Flair is in the Air by Ding Dong. But once he realised that Chukky and other Jamaican dancehall choreographers were involved, he posted another video giving them props: “I’m smiling, I’m happy… but we gotta gatekeep the culture,” he said

In another Insta post, Seani B said “respect” needs to be shown to Ding Dong and his team Ravers Clavers – who he says originally came up with dance moves you see in the M&S advert.

“This year Carnival and every festival where dancehall was played it was all about Gas…Now for Xmas it looks like everyone is gonna be flinging their shoulders. I remember in 2017 I told label execs see your superstar here. They listened but never heard me.”

Chukky – real name Keyama Cammock – is happy to share the style of dance with whoever wants to be involved. He teaches classes in London, where he says “everyone is welcome.”

And he says he borrows from other genres such as Afrobeat when he’s creating steps.

The signature move of the M&S advert is a shoulder roll – not a dancehall move – but Chukky says he was happy to incorporate it into the choreography.

Chukky’s been dancing professionally for over 10 years – but since he moved to the UK two years ago, he’s seen the genre grow in popularity. “When I first came in, there was no real scene for dancers like that.” Now, he says: “Everyone comes because it’s knowledge. It’s fun. It’s a vibe. And people crave for these things.”

Along with dancehall moves being more popular, the music has also made its way into mainstream pop. Rihanna’s Work, Drake’s Controlla and Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber’s I Don’t Care are some examples of this.

A few acts – such as Sean Paul – successfully move between dancehall and pop music. But he’s called out Drake in the past for not “giving more accolades” towards the Jamaican influence on songs such as One Dance. He said earlier this year that a “language barrier” might put people off the more hardcore dancehall music, but over time he thinks the genre will be better recognised.

Chukky and his dance crew Bulletproof 876 have also worked on a Levi’s advert and the music video for Nafe Smallz and Tory Lanez’s track Good Love. Rather than trying to block others from being influenced by dancehall, Chukky wants to see more unity within the community.

For him, it starts with more mutual respect between dancers and musicians. “Remember, dancers [in dancehall] have bigger fan bases than a lot artists. So if we dance to your song, and it goes viral, and then everyone starts listening, it’s only right for you to give that credit.”