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Outside King Jammy’s studio in Kingston | Courtesy of Beth Lesser/Soul Jazz Records Publishing
Outside King Jammy’s studio in Kingston | Courtesy of Beth Lesser/Soul Jazz Records Publishing
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Exploring Jamaica's Early Dancehall Culture

Picture of Sheri-kae McLeod
Freelance Caribbean Writer
Updated: 30 October 2017
Dancehall is one of the most continuously referenced and influential sub-genres in music today. Emerging as a spinoff of reggae, the genre’s distinct sound, clothing and DJ-lead sound-system culture was introduced in the early ’80s and is now one of the most popular styles of music in the world.

Writer and photographer Beth Lesser traveled in Jamaica throughout the 1980s interviewing musicians, DJs and promoters. She captured images that provided an intimate look into the early local dancehall culture. The images were later published in her book Dancehall: The Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture in 2008. We take a trip through early dancehall culture through her lens.

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U-U Madoo outside Skateland in Kingston, Jamaica | Courtesy of Beth Lesser/Soul Jazz Records Publishing

Dancehall DJs such as Yellowman, Junior Reid and Gregory Isaacs were popular in Jamaica in the 1980s. Leading the slew of new dancehall artistes, they established themselves as heavyweights of the genre and are now seen as dancehall veterans.

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Yellowman | Courtesy of Beth Lesser/Soul Jazz Records Publishing
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Junior Reid, 1985 | Courtesy of Beth Lesser/Soul Jazz Records Publishing
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Musician Gregory Isaacs in front of his African Museum store on Chancery Lane, Kingston | Courtesy of Beth Lesser/Soul Jazz Records Publishing

“You wouldn’t have known this was going on, looking at Jamaica from the perspective of Canada or the US,” Lesser notes on her website, “but when we got there, it was so huge you couldn’t possibly avoid it.”

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Eek-A-Mouse | Courtesy of Beth Lesser/Soul Jazz Records Publishing
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Major Stitch at a youth promotion dance at Sugar Minot’s House, on Robert Crescent | Courtesy of Beth Lesser

Lesser and with her partner David Kingston first got involved with reggae music and its culture when they started a fanzine in 1980 called Live Good Today, for Augustus Pablo’s organization Rockers International. The zine grew and eventually became Reggae Quarterly. As part of Beth’s duties, she took hundreds of photographs that captured the rise of dancehall culture.

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Youth Promotion Crew member, 1985 | Courtesy of Beth Lesser/Soul Jazz Records Publishing
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Outside King Jammy’s studio in Kingston | Courtesy of Beth Lesser/Soul Jazz Records Publishing
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DJ Nitty Gritty in 1985 | Courtesy of Beth Lesser/Soul Jazz Records Publishing