Kelly Beatz

Dancehall music’s year round relatability is the main reason more and more young ears are choosing the urban sound of the genre over the festive sound of soca, says producer Kelly Beatz.

Dancehall music’s year round relatability is the main reason more and more young ears are choosing the urban sound of the genre over the festive sound of soca, says producer Kelly Beatz.

Kelly Beatz, born Joshua Kelly, said whereas soca is largely seasonal in content and sound dancehall music speaks directly to everyday moments in people’s lives outside the limitations of a festival context.

“Soca is a happy, dancing, party music and not all the time you feel to party. Dancehall speaks about current events and situations that happening either in the country or in people’s lives. It’s current so it’s easier for the youth to relate to these artistes. Then the artistes are youths themselves and going through the very realities the youths facing,” Kelly told the Kitcharee during a candid exchange on Friday.

Kelly, 23, has been producing all genres of music for just over a decade. He describes his style as “a fusion of music I like” that includes elements of hip hop, afro beats and R&B. That hybrid has accounted for a number of recent hits for local dancehall acts including: Prince Swanny “Catch 22” and “Real Mad Dawgs”,; Boy Boy “Adrenaline”; and the late K Lion’s “Safe”.

Kelly said it all began when he first sat at a drum kit at just three years old. From there he grew into the musical set-up at his church. His path in music was later cemented when as a shy teenager he walked into gospel singer Koen Duncan’s studio.

“When I started playing drums at three years old my foot couldn’t even reach the pedals. I knew I loved music and when I walked into Koen Duncan’s studio, just the atmosphere and seeing the equipment and speakers really inspired me. It me made feel like, ok this is what I want to do. I want one of these,” Kelly recalled.

Navigating music politics

Kelly noted that the often violent and misogynistic lyrics in local dancehall music have come in for harsh criticism from a number of quarters. He said, however, he respects the expression of every artiste that comes into his studio and tries to keep the focus on the sounds he creates and not on their lyrical content.

“As a producer I’m very invested in the music and the way it sounds. The words that come out of artiste’s mouth are their way of expressing themselves and what they going through at that period in their life. It’s the same for me but I don’t use words I use sounds.

“I understand that all the artistes may not be putting out positive messages. Some of the messages may be misguiding to the youth, but at the end of the day is how they choose to express themselves and it’s what a lot of them see on a daily basis. They are just speaking their truth. I try to stay away from the politics and having opinions about the way people express themselves creatively,” he said.

The messages, however, will change as the artiste’s individual circumstances change, he said.

“I believe also the dancehall content will evolve as the time changes. Right now the country is a bit heavy because of the pandemic. Certain activities might be taking place in certain areas and that’s the way they choose to express themselves at this point in time. When things open up and the atmosphere is lighter you may notice that the tone and messages from these artistes may also change,” he said.

Kelly has set himself the lofty target of winning a Grammy award for production. He said, however, the award may not necessarily to come from his work in dancehall as he continues to work in other genres and has the long-term goal of returning to his gospel roots.

“Eventually because I come from a church background I would like to try and revolutionise the gospel industry in this country. When I have the necessary experience and knowledge I would like to go back to my roots and help each and every one of them accomplish their dreams and shed more light on the gospel acts in this country across the Caribbean and the world,” he concluded.

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