Dancehall's roots REVISITED

Howard Campbell Observer senior writer

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

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CLARKS shoes, 'diamond' socks and Kangol hats were dancehall vogue during the early 1980s when photographer Beth Lesser made frequent trips to Jamaica to cover the country's post-Marley music scene.

Lesser, who has written voraciously about dancehall's formative years, continues that trend with Rub-a-Dub Style: The Roots of Modern Dancehall, her fourth book which will be released April 30.

Unlike her previous publications which utilised many of her photographs, 'Rub-a-Dub Style' is all text. Lesser told the Jamaica Observer she wanted to give readers as much information as possible.

"It was a transitional time and as it turns out, very influential. You can see it in today's music," she said. "Many artistes on one 'riddim', the

singjays...Those little seeds were opened in the 1980s."

The 58-year-old Lesser is originally from Manhattan, New York but has lived in Toronto with her Canadian husband David Kingston for almost 30 years. They were married in 1986 at a dance staged by singer Sugar Minott's Youthman Promotions.

One of dancehall's legends, Minott is the subject of Lesser's previous book, The Legend of Sugar Minott, which was released last year by British publishers Muzik Tree.

Lesser and Kingston first came to Jamaica in 1982, one year after Bob Marley died. Roots music was slowly giving way to edgy sounds coming out of the sound systems. It was the time of 'specials', slackness vs culture' and computerized beats like the Sleng Teng.

Some of the main stars of the period were Yellowman, Tenor Saw, Super Cat, Frankie Paul and Tristan Palmer who all got their break on the sound system circuit.

"At the time there were two radio stations (RJR and the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation) and they were not playing this music," Lesser recalled. "It took the clashes between Barry G (Barry Gordon) and (David) Rodigan to change that."

Gordon was the hottest disc jockey in Jamaica throughout the 1980s, while Rodigan ruled the roost in Britain. Their musical clashes were major

events and highlighted songs and artistes unfamiliar to the average radio listener.

For much of the 1980s, Lesser says she and Kingston came to Jamaica twice a year to catch up on the latest dancehall trends for their Reggae

Quarterly magazine. Kingston also hosted a radio show, Reggae Showcase, on CKLN in Toronto.

For her first book, 2002's King Jammys, Lesser focused on the prolific Waterhouse studio of producer Lloyd James, one of dancehall's biggest

names in the 1980s. It has rare photos of the era's leading stars such as singer Nitty Gritty as well as up-and-comers like a teenaged Yami Bolo.

Lesser says her company will handle distribution of Rub-a-Dub Style: The Roots of Modern Dancehall. It will also be available through Amazon.


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