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A Photographic View Of Early Jamaican Dancehall Music

This is a wonderful find for us as we do our regular content creation. This article will take you on a photography journey back in time to the beginning of dancehall.

Emerging parallel to hip hop in America and electronic dance music in Europe, Jamaican dancehall was made possible by the introduction of digital audio production technologies in the early 1980s. By the time King Jammy and Wayne Smith dropped the fully computerized Under Mi Sleng Teng in 1985, it was game over for instrumental roots reggae in Kingston. The era of samplers and Casio keyboards had arrived, along with the streetwise lyrical stylings of musicians like Yellowman and Eek-A-Mouse.

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Early dancehall

Deejay Tiger laying down a rhythm outside his home in Kingston. © Beth Lesser

Canadian photographer Beth Lesser had her first run-in with reggae in late-1970s Toronto and, traveling to Jamaica a few years later, she fell in love with the sights and sounds of Kingston just in time to witness the scene’s transition from roots reggae to the harder, fresher dancehall.

Lesser articulates the shift: “I think the 80s are most important, in hindsight, as the time reggae and hip hop began taking off. Reggae began to be accepted by urban African Americans and Jamaicans began to hear something in hip hop that spoke to them. Then the digital thing happened and the conversation continued into what we hear today.”

Dancehall Music

Yellowman in Toronto, 1983. © Beth Lesser

A member of the Youth Promotion sound system crew poses with his speaker boxes. © Beth Lesser

A member of the Youth Promotion sound system crew poses with his speaker boxes. © Beth Lesser

Dancehall Music

Jah Stitch picking out records at a Youth Promotion dance at Sugar Minott’s yard. © Beth Lesser

Stur-Mars session with deejay U Brown. © Beth Lesser. © Beth Lesser

Stur-Mars session with deejay U Brown. © Beth Lesser. © Beth Lesser

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