Steven Harrington

I'm an artist and designer living and working in Los Angeles California.

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A Visual Study Into The Real Jamaican Dancehall Scene Back In The ’80s

Before we start, let’s just take a moment to establish that, like with all cultures, there is so much more to Jamaica than Bob Marley, weed and jerk chicken. It’s obvious to say, but then again, how much of Jamaica and its plethora of subcultures do you actually know? Well here’s a good start of something alternative to your “common knowledge” that you’ll be proud to share among your peers: Jamaican Dancehall—specifically during what many consider was its prime period of the 1980s.

While Reggae was indeed the catalyst for many offspring genres that thumped throughout the islands—Ska, Rocksteady, Dub and Ragga to name a few—Dancehall was the genre that rivaled its State-side and European counterparts of hip hop and electronic dance respectively.

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Similarly to the two aforementioned, Dancehall utilized digital technology to bring about its seriously infectious beats and rhythms; the use of digital audio productions was seeing a world-wide spread during the ’80s.

As the youth will so often do, you’ll often find Dancehall tracks written about local youth angst, sex and partying.

As with all things technology, its progression overtook the more traditional instruments of Reggae, where drums and the good ol’ guitar were making way for digital samples and Casio keyboards. Couple that with the lyrical flow of artists such as Eek-A-Mouse and Yellowman, and you’ve got yourself proper Dancehall.

The content that these Dancehall tracks were written about also took its own path away from the more universal messages that Marley imbued his masterpieces with. As the youth will so often do, you’ll often find Dancehall tracks written about local youth angst, sex and partying—all the fun stuff you can jive to that was coming out of Kingston, the original mecca of the sub-genre.

Thanks to our ever-astute friends at Timeline, we discovered the photo series by Canadian photographer Beth Lesser who was there on the scene to capture Dancehall in all its prime and glory. Having first visited Jamaica back in the late ’70s, Lesser fell in love with the place and remained to document its cultural transitions and developments. Check out some of her Dancehall-focused images throughout, as well as as some classic Dancehall hits, and head here to see more of Beth Lesser’s work.

Steven Harrington

I'm an artist and designer living and working in Los Angeles California.

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